Mark Bittman Wants to Help You Cook Everything (Without Meat)

November 6th, 2017

Mark Bittman’s original How to Cook Everything Vegetarian was such a hit the first time around that the award-winning food writer decided it was time for an update. On November 7, Bittman will release a new edition which includes new recipes and information about the benefits of reducing meat consumption. We spoke with Bittman about what’s different in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition and the many reasons why he felt it was time for a do-over.

1. What do you think has changed about plant-based eating since the first edition of your book was published? What compelled you to do a new edition?

Everyone wants to eat “healthier” than they did 10 years ago, and most people know that that means eating less meat. (When I ask audiences who’s eating less meat than they were 10 years ago, almost everyone raises their hand.) And there are so many resources available to vegetarians – and more importantly, semi-vegetarians or flexitarians – that it seemed worth an update. Plus, frankly, I was a little disappointed with aspects of my approach in the original, so I got to fix that.

2. Do you think that more people understand the benefits of eating less (or no) meat now? If so, what has contributed to that change? If not, why do you think people are resistant to that change?

Most, but not everyone. That goes without saying. (And see above.) Why? Overwhelming evidence that overproduction of meat is harmful to the environment and overconsumption is harmful to individuals. Not to mention producing animals as if they were widgets.

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3. Do you believe it’s easier to cook vegetarian?

Anyone who only cooks animal products is missing out on a universe of flavors and textures that can’t be found elsewhere. Foods from the plant kingdom are generally easy to cook, but they’re also healthy, they’re inexpensive, they can be cooked in bulk, and they last for a long time. That’s not about “cooking vegetarian” – it’s about cooking. Period.

4. It says on your site that your mission is to make food “understandable.” What are people not understanding about food and how do you like to explain it to them?

The sheer amount of information out there—much of which is misinformation—is overwhelming, to say the least. I’m constantly reminding people that food can be delicious without being complicated; you can make something great with three ingredients. Once they’re on board with that mindset, it’s a good idea to get comfortable with substitutions and winging it. The goal of the recipe variations in the How to Cook Everything books is to get people to understand that they don’t have to follow a recipe word for word. In fact, it’s better if they don’t because whatever variation they use, whether it’s one of mine or something they come up with, will be tailored to their particular tastes.

5. Some people aren’t quite ready to change their entire diet or give up meat completely. What are some recipes that work for quick, weeknight Meatless Monday dinner?

Here’s the first line of HTCEV: “I’m not a vegetarian, nor am I invested in you becoming one.” Many foods are naturally meat-free, and the point is that we need to be eating more of those than we do now. That doesn’t mean not eating animal products – it means changing the focus. There are no sacrifices here. Consider recipes like Cream of Spinach Soup, Cauliflower Salad with Olives and Bread Crumbs, the infinite ways to make Beans and Greens (black beans with kale, cannellini with escarole, lentils with fennel, etc.), and the zillions of non-meat pasta dishes, like Pasta with Walnut Sauce and Pasta with Caramelized Onions.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition is available on Amazon beginning November 7.