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Chef Del Gives Us 300 Reasons to Become a Vegan

Chef Del Sroufe, co-owner and executive chef of Wellness Forum Foods in Columbus, Ohio, has created tasty recipes that are not only plant-based, but also oil-free and low-fat. His diverse collection of vegan recipes were featured in the New York Times best-selling book, “Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health”. 

Chef Del recently finished writing his own cookbook, “Fork Over Knives – A Year of Meals”, which will hit bookstore shelves in August 2012. In his upcoming book, the culinary author shares 300 days worth of his own vegan recipes that seem too delicious to be healthy. Ranging from comfort foods to unusual international dishes, Chef Del’s fresh and organic recipes are so full of flavor that even non-vegans will enjoy these dishes. 

In this exclusive RecipeCorner.com interview, Chef Del dishes on his secret to fat-free flavor and shares one of his most versatile recipes:

RecipeCorner.com:   What caused you to become so passionate about vegan cuisine?

Chef Del:   I have been cooking vegan and vegetarian cuisine for 23 years. When I was first starting out in the industry, I had wanted to get management experience and I was offered a part-time job at a vegetarian restaurant in Columbus. 8 years later, I became a vegan and opened up my own vegan bakery. The passion for vegan cooking came on slowly. I was really affected by the changes I saw in people with degenerative diseases, who adopted a low-fat plant-based diet. I have seen people with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer reverse their diseases with this diet.

I choose to cook vegan because you can find meat virtually anywhere, but what people really need help with is getting the beans and legumes on their table. I teach a health and wellness class and through that I have met other people like myself who have adopted this lifestyle. If you are going teach this way of eating, you have to be passionate about it because no one is getting rich off of this. Dr. Caldwell Esselton, director of the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, could get rich doing cardiovascular surgery, but instead he uses plant-based diet to prevent and reverse heart disease in his patients. When you put a stint in an artery to address a blockage, you are just treating one problem spot while cardiovascular disease continues to run rampant through the patient’s body. But with this diet, you treat a patient once and they get healthy, so they aren’t repeat customers.

RecipeCorner.com: We’ve tasted some of your culinary creations and we have to say, your take on vegan cuisine runs circles around traditional vegan recipes, many of which include oils. What is your secret to maintaining bold flavor without using high-fat oils?

Chef Del:   It is very easy to eat an unhealthy vegan diet. A lot of vegan foods are processed and contain high-fat oils. A few years ago, I gained 200 pounds on vegan diet. It is not enough to eat vegan. You have to cut out high-fat oils.

The key to my ability to cook without oils is the fact that I love international and ethnic foods with flavor. A lot of flavor in these dishes is achieved with spices and fresh herbs. Repeated use of fresh spices and herbs changes the way you look at building flavor in the dish. I like to use aromatics like garlic and onions. My spice pantry contains 25 herbs and spices and I think that’s part of the secret. I am constantly using spices like turmeric, coriander, saffron, cardamom, cumin, dill, tarragon, chili powder, oregano, etc. It really adds flavor. 

I never follow the rules and I am a very experimental person. I remember in my early cooking years when I was living with my roommate, we had friends over for dinner and every single dish had tarragon in it because I was exploring the way that it related to food. I looked at spices that I hadn’t used and really explored them. I will pick a specific spice and steep it in hot water like a tea, so I can taste it without the influence of the foods getting in the way and see what the spice does when it is alone.

RecipeCorner.com:   What is your favorite original vegan recipe?

Chef Del:   I have a simple recipe for cauliflower bisque that has inspired me in a few ways. It has me really excited because I found a new, unique ways to use it in many other dishes as a base.

Start off by dicing 2 shallots and cooking them in an oil-free sauté. Sauté them in a large saucepan over medium heat and add water as needed to keep the shallots from sticking to the saucepan. Be careful not to use a lot of water because then you will just be boiling the shallots. You want the shallots to caramelize, so start off with 1 tablespoon of water and once that evaporates, if the shallots are not yet tender, add another tablespoon. 

Next, add a couple cloves of minced garlic and two teaspoons of dried thyme or one tablespoon of fresh thyme to the pan. 

Add 4 cups of cauliflower and 4 cups of vegetable stock. Cook the mixture until the cauliflower is tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can carefully pour the mixture into a food processor and puree. Then add about 1 cup of almond milk. Finish it off by adding salt and pepper to taste and serve. 

You can do this with any vegetable. The flavor intensifies when you puree the vegetable mixture. Cauliflower’s flavor is very neutral so this recipe can actually be used like a simple cream sauce. I have used it to make creamy spinach lasagna. You can add other spices and herbs to make the sauce fit the meal you are making. If you wanted a curry cream sauce, all you have to do is add curry powder and ginger, which can be paired with pasta. You can pretty much flavor it any way you want to. It is fat-free and soy-free. I am trying to find a way to use it to make a vegan cream cheese or dessert. It may or may not work. I have to keep experimenting.

RecipeCorner.com:   Do you have any recipes that even meat lovers will enjoy? 

Chef Del:   I make creamy spinach lasagna at the Wellness Forum and that recipe is not in the book. We serve it at our monthly dinner. The filling is made of spinach, tofu, and ricotta. The meat-eaters seem to love it.

I also have a little cookbook of oil free salad dressings like vegan mayonnaise. It is made of silken tofu, garlic, onion powder, mustard powder, and red wine vinegar.

Here’s another fan favorite: 

aboverecipetaquitos.jpg

Orange Black Bean Taquitos with Spiced “Sour Cream”
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced small
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 2 chiles in adobo sauce, minced or 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
  • Zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • Two 15-ounce cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 18 corn tortillas
  • 1 batch Spiced Sour Cream (see recipe below)
  • 1 jar salsa

Instructions:

  1. Saute the onions in a saucepan over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Add water, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time to keep them from sticking. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add the cumin, chiles in adobo sauce, orange zest and juice, and black beans
  2. Season with salt and puree the mixture in a food processor until smooth but still a little chunky.
  3. Place the tortillas, a few at a time, in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Heat the tortillas until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Wrap in foil and repeat with the remaining tortillas.
  4. Spread 3 tablespoons of black bean mixture over half of each tortilla, then roll up tortilla and set it aside. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, then place all of the taquitos into a large non-stick skillet and heat over medium-low heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Serve with the Spiced Sour Cream (see recipe below) and salsa.

Spiced Sour Cream (makes 1 ½ cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of extra firm silken tofu
  • 1 tbsp. of lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. of red wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp. chile powder
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

Instructions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.
  2. Chill until ready to serve.

RecipeCorner.com:   That sounds so tasty and it seems like a great low calorie, low-fat alternative to traditional southwestern dishes, which typically use a lot of cheese and oils. Speaking of low calorie recipes, what are some techniques you use for cutting calories without sacrificing flavor?

Chef Del:   You can easily cut calories and fat by just getting rid of oil. Every tablespoon of oil you remove from your dish is 140 calories and 14 grams of fat saved. I make a black bean chili and if I made that with oil, it would add 260 calories and 28 grams of fat. By taking the oil out, the chili is pretty much fat-free. That’s the easiest trick. 

I also use unsweetened almond milk, which only has 40 calories per serving, in place of soy milk, which contains 130 calories per serving. I also stay away from seeds and nuts. Peanut butter has 180 calories and 16 grams of fat in just two tablespoons. Another suggestion would be, instead of using cream for sauces, use pureed silken tofu to cut down on the fat content of your sauce.

For more information about the use of vegan diet to combat disease, check out Recipe Corner’s exclusive interview with Dr. Pam Popper. To sign up for Chef Del's vegan cooking class, go to the Wellness Forum's website.