The Pollan Family Shares Plant-Centric Recipes in Their New Cookbook
To call plant-based a craze is putting it lightly: between 2012 and 2018, the number of new US food and drink products mentioning “plant-based” in their advertising grew a whopping 268 percent. There’s now a certified plant-based label; “alt meat” is so popular that the brand Beyond Meat went public with one of the highest IPOs in 2019; and the #plantbased hashtag has been used on Instagram more than 22.5 million times.
It’s been 10 years since Michael Pollan penned the phrase “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” but it’s the women in his family who are now taking advantage of the phrase in today’s plant-based world. Their new cookbook “Mostly Plants,” — co-written by Pollan’s mother Corky and sisters Tracy, Dana and Lori — showcases recipes from their personal approaches to food, from strict vegetarian to loose flexitarian. Dana, co-founder of the Pollan-Austen Fitness Center, has been vegetarian since she was 16. Tracy, an actress, actitivist and board member of her husband’s Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, was vegetarian for two decades, but now occasionally eats meat. Lori, also co-founder of the Pollan-Austen Fitness Center, self describes as “flexitarian ovo-lacto vegetarian,” which she further defines as a flexible diet including dairy and eggs, but no meat or fish. And matriarch Corky, a former magazine editor, grew up with the typical meat-centric diet of the 1940s, and limits her meat consumption these days, but still enjoys dining on meat.
Catchphrases, titles and the only slightly annoying glamification of plant-based aside, eating mostly vegetables is a great idea, and, frankly, one that we should all ascribe to. Since most of the meat Americans eat is industrially produced — raised in a way that is destructive to the environment, inhumane to animals and a major contributor to greenhouse gases — eating a diet focused on vegetables, especially those grown locally without pesticides, really is the future of food (recent UN climate reports agree).
But instead of cutting specific ingredients out, “Mostly Plants,” stresses adding ingredients in, including lots of healthy beans, whole grains and seasonal produce. By pulling from experiences of their unique diet choices, both strictly vegetarian and flexitarian, the four Pollan women have created a cookbook full of valuable tips for enhancing flavor and relying on whole foods to create satiating, vegetable-focused recipes. Whether you’re a meat eater and your partner is vegetarian; you’re looking to start a Meatless Monday habit; or you just want to nail a delicious veggie burger recipe (see here, or below), “Mostly Plants” has some great ideas for incorporating more plant-based recipes into your kitchen. It’s on trend, after all.
Get Your Pantry Plant-Based Ready
The first rule of the plant-based diet is to keep a well-stocked pantry. While our goal may be to meal plan like a queen, reality is that cooking often happens on the fly. “A stocked pantry is key,” says Dana. “Have legumes, beans and lentils in your pantry, along with whole grains and whole grain pasta. Once that’s all in your pantry, it’s much easier to cook an impromptu meal.” The cookbook’s first chapter includes a great shopping list (don’t forget the capers!), along with essential tools (salad spinner!) and a guide to shopping for produce, as well as dairy, meat and fish, if and when you choose to do so.
Protein, But Plant-Based
For a lot of people, the biggest concern about a plant-based diet is protein. (PSA: most people in the US already eat nearly double the daily recommended amount of protein.) Cooking for a die-hard bacon burger lover? Hot tip: focus on the beans. “I think a really great way to get people who are staunch meat eaters to really enjoy a meatless meal is with something like our red lentil and bean chili,” says Tracy. “Beans and legumes are just such an amazing way for people to get a satiating protein. It’s so flavorful and everybody is very satisfied by that dish.”
Lori is a big fan of chickpeas, featured in her current favorite recipe from the book, a cauliflower-chickpea patty. “There’s so many diverse ways you can use them,” she says. “They’re so healthy, they are a very good source of protein that is not harmful to the environment, they are so tasty and serving them with a whole grain makes a complete meal.” For the patties, the chickpeas are mixed with nutrient-rich cauliflower and spinach (plus lots of Mediterranean spices), then coated in panko breadcrumbs and shallow-fried until crispy, making for a pretty addictive protein bite.
Pack in the Umami
For a vegetarian cookbook to tell you to pack in the umami is nothing new. Meat-missing vegetarians have been using soy sauce and miso paste since the dawn of time (more like the 1900s when umami was discovered) to add robust, savory flavor to vegetables. “People often traditionally thought vegetarian food wouldn’t be substantial,” says Lori. “Putting the umami flavor into our recipes, we have found that friends and family come away from the table feeling very satisfied.” Their recipes lean on ingredients like fermented black beans and shiitake mushrooms (which create the base for a vegetarian mapo tofu) or nutritional yeast and cremini mushrooms (mixed into veggie burgers) to pack in that earthy rich flavor. Tracy often adds roasted portabellos to their sheet pan tacos, one of her favorite recipes from the cookbook, for that extra oomph. Don’t sleep on the list of umami-rich ingredients in the front of the “Mostly Plants” cookbook.
Plant-Based Isn’t Plant Only
While the book focuses mostly on plants, it’s not a vegetarian cookbook. But even the flexitarian recipes keep the meat portions light. “Almost all flexitarian recipes have only a small quantity of meat,” says Corky, “but there’s so much flavoring in the sauces or the marinade that they’re such complete recipes.” Take her favorite recipe, a Turkish-spiced chicken. A typical recipe calls for two chicken thighs per person, depending on the weight of the meat. The “Mostly Plants” recipe instead calls for six thighs total, for four to six servings. (Unless those are gigantic thighs, that is roughly half the amount of meat.) The thighs are marinated in spices, including smoked paprika and turmeric, to infuse lots of flavor, then roasted with onions and sweet potatoes to bulk up the meal.
Make It Work for Your Family
While their eating habits have shifted in some ways, all four sisters adopted a vegetarian diet as teenagers. While their mother Corky did not — and at first declared she wouldn’t cook anything extra for her divergent daughters — she quickly started exploring the wide world of vegetables and cooking more and more of them for her family. “Growing up, there were not a lot of greens or chickpeas on my table,” says Corky. “Those are two things I’ve really grown to like so much.”
That type of influence has gone both ways. While Lori doesn’t eat meat or fish, her children — in their 20s and generally cooking for themselves these days — do. “They tend to take the recipes from our books that are vegetarian and add meat, some shrimp or some pork, or something like that,” she says. “So, it’s kind of influenced them to be more plant-based without having to give up the meat that they like.”
Recipe: Transcendent Burgers
Tracy, Dana, Lori and Corky Pollan, “Mostly Plants”
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
These robust veggie burgers are both flavor-packed and intensely satisfying. The mushrooms deliver that delicious umami flavor while the quinoa and black beans add the desired crispness and double the amount of protein. We love that these burgers are super moist without being mushy. Serve on a warm toasted bun with your favorite toppings and a dash of Zen, and you’ll be transported to a state of bliss.
3 cups 1-inch cauliflower florets
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 ½ cups cooked black beans
¾ cup cooked quinoa
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
6 cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, cut into quarters
½ teaspoon paprika
6 hamburger buns, preferably whole wheat or multigrain
Toppings of your choice: sliced tomato, sliced avocado, sliced red onion, lettuce, pickles
- Place the cauliflower florets in a food processor. Pulse until broken down into tiny pieces resembling couscous. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and slightly browned. Add the cauliflower, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, combine the cauliflower mixture, black beans, quinoa, bread crumbs, ketchup, nutritional yeast, mushrooms, paprika, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Pulse until combined. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. Pulse again until combined by not mushy.
- Form the mixture into 6 patties and set them on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.
- In a large nonstick pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add half the patties and cook undisturbed until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook until browned, an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the burgers to a plate. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and repeat with the remaining patties.
- Place the burgers on the buns and serve with your favorite toppings.