In October I wrote about the book launch party for The Conscious Cook, and how a few of my fellow party attendees asked me to prepare a vegan dinner party for them. Panic set in. I’d never cooked anything vegan, the recipes in the book looked quite complicated, and the dinner guests would be people that the author himself had cooked for! When you have a classically trained, internationally celebrated chef like Tal Ronnen preparing the food it is practically guaranteed to be exquisite, but what happens when a non-classically trained novice to the cuisine tries her hand at it? That was how The Conscious Cook Challenge was born. In the following weeks I started working my way through the recipes in the book, learning his techniques, and sharing the scrumptious meals with my delighted “guinea pig” friends.

Yes, even a self-taught cook can master these sumptuous recipes. They do require stocking a few staples you may not already have, a search for ingredients spanning more than just one store or farmers market when you don’t have access to a restaurant supply company, and some extra forethought and prep time in the kitchen, but the tantalizing recipes are well worth the effort.

Julie Anne Rhodes with Chef Tal Ronnen


At great risk of sounding like the president of his west coast fan club, I did have to pinch myself yesterday when I was invited to sit amongst the staff and students of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts watching, learning, and even cooking (well making tortellini) with Tal himself. Now, I’ve grown up surrounded by luminaries of the fashion, sports, art, and music worlds… even royalty… but yesterday was one of only two occasions I actually felt completely awe-struck (the other was when Andy Warhol invited Carly Simon to my 25th birthday party). I probably blushed as I re-introduced myself to him. You see… this man reignited my passion for cooking and changed my entire approach to eating. I admire him greatly for making it his mission to educate other chefs on how to offer infinitely more desirable vegan or vegetarian choices on their menus, and hope I can help translate some of this for the home cook to master too.
Chef Tal Ronnen at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts
Let me start by reiterating that I am still an omnivore, and I promise more animal based recipes for all of you who also still want to eat poultry, meat, and seafood. However let me challenge YOU to try replacing just one or two meals a week with animal free or at least vegetarian ones as Tal Ronnen did for me with his book The Conscious Cook. You will be doing yourself and the environment a great favor. Replacing just a couple meals a week is enough to begin reversing the damaging effects of diseases like diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease that our current western based diet promotes (read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, or watch Food Inc. for more insight about the effects of our food industry on our health and the environment).
What made The Conscious Cook a life-changer for me is that Tal’s approach is much more similar to how I’m already accustomed to eating. Gone are the plates filled with boring brown rice, steamed vegetables, hummus, and sprouts for anyone wanting a vegetarian meal. They’ve been replaced with hearty meals centered around a protein.
Tal pointed out in his lecture yesterday (citing Michael Pollan’s work) that ours is one of the few cultures that doesn’t put the onus of that protein focus on plant based proteins. In India they use lentils, South America quinoa (an ancient grain high in protein), in Mexico black beans play a major role in diet, Indonesia uses tempeh (a form or fermented soy beans), and throughout most of the Far East tofu (curd from soy milk) is considered the mainstay of protein in their diets. Poultry, meat, and seafood may play a role as well, but more as an accent to the meal rather than the main attraction. When you look at the rates of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease in those areas of the world… it makes a strong argument for integrating more plant based proteins into our diet. Having said that, I also believe in balance over extreme measures. There are studies that show too much soy for people that are not of Asian decent (whose bodies have adapted to digesting soy over generations) might cause problems too, so I strongly believe moderation and diversity is key in our quest for a healthier diet.
Learning side by side with Chef Tal Ronnen

I want to continue The Conscious Cook Challenge periodically over the next few months to share my experiences from yesterday, and to explore and delve deeper into all the options available to us today. I hope to inspire discussions both here and on the ‘Jewels from The Roving Stove’ facebook page on what we are learning along the way and share our favorite vegetarian and vegan recipes… that means YOUR recipes too! Just as Tal spends enormous time and effort teaching restaurant chefs and the future chefs of tomorrow to incorporate some vegetarian and vegan meals into their menus… I want us home cooks to explore all the possibilities for our own repertoires, and how we might adapt some of our existing recipes to a plant based approach… for at least one or two meals a week. One of you lucky participants might even win a signed copy of The Conscious Cook!
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  • January 13, 2010
    11:57 pm

    I am loving your journey into vegetarian cooking. I've been veggie since the age of 11 and learnt both cooking and my love of food through it (having been brought up on 1980s over processed packaged food that could be zapped or baked by my busy working mother).It's so fascinating to learn how someone like you who loves food so much and isn't vegetarian is working with the limitations and finding new joy through it. It reassures me that I'm not missing out too much.I literally learnt my cooking via the Linda McCartney books which taught me what spoon to use, how to peel vegetables and eventually had me experimenting like crazy. Now I get most of my inspiration from the mediterranean. There are so many vegetable based foods in the Italian and Spanish diet, and so many that are easily adapted. One of my favourites now is to throw together a vegetable paella.Keep up the good work, please keep us all updated, and thanks for inpiring me into some further experimentation too. …you've even persuaded me into buying a bread machine which I hope to eventually get a good panettone out of.

  • January 14, 2010
    12:40 am

    I'm not very good at writing recipes as I'm a "throw things in" kind of a cook and only cook for myself and friends, so this may need you to tweak it a bit. It's the meal that my meat eating friends and family request I make the most. They always request that I make it en masse as they like to also eat it cold as their lunch the following day so I'm afraid this makes enough for 6+ portions.It's very easy to make and adapt to your own taste, and can be made in someone else's kitchen so long as they have a wok (I always end up doing the cooking when I go to stay with people). I've even made it on a tour bus before as musicians just don't eat properly on the road and rarely come into contact with vegetables so I have an extensive tour bus kitchen repetoire.I don't have a name for it either, maybe you can suggest one?- – – – – – – – – INGREDIENTSToasted sesame oil with ginger and garlic250g tofu (chopped into small bite size pieces500g fresh fusili pastamixed dried herbsBITESIZE CHOPPED VEGETABLES (enough to almost fill the wok)carrotscauliflowerbroccoli (very good source of vitamins for a vegetarian diet)mange toutmini sweetcornSEASONING (or cheat by buying a sweet chinese 5 spice)1 tsp ground star anise1 tsp garlic powder1 tsp onion powder1/2 tsp ground black pepper1/2 tsp ground fennel seeds1/2 tsp ground ginger1/2 tsp ground cloves1/2 tsp ground cassia (or cinnamon for a sweeter, more subtle taste)INSTRUCTIONS- Warm wok on full heat. – Cover bottom of wok in sesame oil – Stir in seasoning (usually a light sprinkling that covers the bottom of the wok)- Add chopped tofu and start to fry, stirring frequently until it starts to go a light golden brown- Cover the pasta in boiling water, simmer til al dente and then drain and put to one side- when the tofu is a light golden brown, add the vegetables- stir the vegetables, adding small amounts of the oil until you are satisfied that the vegetables are all lightly coated in the oil- sprinkle a light layer of the seasoning over the vegetables according to your taste- stir on full heat until the vegetables reduce in size but the carrots are still quite crisp- cover the vegetables with the pasta and flatten it out so that the pasta allows the vegetables to steam and remove from the heat.- sprinkle quite a heavy amount of the mixed herbs on top of the pasta.- when the contents of the pan go quiet (the vegetables will be making an audible hissing sound when you have covered them in pasta), stir and serve.

  • January 14, 2010
    1:33 am

    Looks absolutely divine, and so adaptable to anyone's taste. This is going to be sooooooo much fun! How about PremierludwigsTour Bus Surprise?BTW, thank you for the mention, and I just added you to my list of inspirations. Maureen and Isaac were at my wedding in 1984. I miss her dearly, but very happy to meet you!

  • January 14, 2010
    6:29 am

    Hi Julie Anne,I want to hear everything that Tal Ronnen had to say. Thank you for posting about your experience. My love affair with soy has come to an abrupt end. At this point I think it is making me hormonally unbalanced. My next milk substitute is almond milk, the Pacific brand seems do able. Yesterday I cooked Butternut squash enchiladas with mole sauce. The butternut squash was roasted in 1" cubes in vegetable oil for 1/2 an hour till soft. I then mixed them in a bowl with a can of refried beans, cilantro and a drop of red chile paste. Put the mixture in flour tortillas rolled them up and baked the enchilladas for 15 minutes. I didn't do a good job of making mole sauce, so next time I will research brands and buy one. The housekeeper at my client's house told me proper mole takes days to produce. Top enchiladas with warm mole, sour cream and a sprinkle of lime. Delicious.

  • January 14, 2010
    5:02 pm

    Hi Hillary…The enchialdas sound divine! I love that in sharing our vegetarian recipes, we also seem to be taking a trip around the world. One of the things my clients have commented on most over the years… is that by my constantly varying cuisines ( ie I I would do one typically American meal, but then an Italian, Asian, Moroccan, and something with either Mexican and/or Southwestern roots)… they never got bored with my cooking. That would be true in your own home too, and this is a great way to start learning the ingredients and flavor profiles.BTWHillary, you can try rice milk as well if you are trying to avoid soy. The sweetened one is really nice in tea.

  • January 14, 2010
    11:12 pm

    Hi Julie Anne,What an exciting time it has been for you and what an experience you have had with Tal Ronnen.This whole idea of sharing wonderful vegetarian recipes is also very exciting as well.I have one that I would love to share with you & everyone else in cyberland.It is a Mixed Vegetable and New Potato Casserole. It would be perfect for your winter there in the States and everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere right now.Here goes……Ingredients:4 tbsp olive olive oil1 large onion2 eggplant cut into small cubes4 zucchini cut into small chunks1 red and green pepper (or yellow)seeded and chopped1 cup of fresh or frozen peas4oz french beans or any beans you may prefer 1lb new potatoes, cubed1/2 tsp cinnamon1/2 tsp ground cumin1tsp paprika4-5 tomatoes, skinned14oz can chopped tomatoes2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley3-4 garlic cloves, crushed1 & 1/2 cups of vegetable stocksald & freshly ground black pepperblack olives & chopped fresh parsley to garnishInstructions:Preheat oven to 375F. Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a heavy-based pan, add the chopped onion & fry until golden then add the eggplant & saute for 3 minutes. Add the zucchini, the green & red or yellow peppers,peas, beans & potatoes, together with the spices & the salt and pepper. Stir well. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring all the time. Transfer to a shallow ovenproof dish. Halve, seed & chop the fresh tomatoes & mix with the canned tomatoes, parsley, garlic & the remaining olive oil in a bowl.Pour the stock over the eggplant mixture & then spoon over the tomato mixture. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Serve garnished with black olives & parsley.Note: This is absolutely yummy served with fresh crusty bread or you can use it as a side dish…..mmmmmm….Gosh I love food!ENJOY!Aussie Mum

  • January 14, 2010
    11:17 pm

    Hey Aussie Mum… spice rub on it's way to you. Hope it makes it there OK and passes customs!Love the recipe! Right up my alley… anything savory with cinnamon in it I lurve!J xo

  • January 14, 2010
    11:47 pm

    Hi Julie Anne,Yay!…I am so excited right now…thank you so much for the spice rub. I cannot wait to use it with some steaks on the BBQ. I hope it passes customs too…glad you like the touch of cinnamon in this dish…I "lurve" it too….hope you will be able to make it someday as I would love to know what you think of it.Excited Aussie Mum

  • January 15, 2010
    4:32 am

    One of the things I like best about your blog is that you take a well rounded and educated approach to your suggestions. The Golden Mean makes a much tastier meal than any restrictive meanie.(My mother has been harping about the potential for issues with excessive soy in Western diets for years. It was nice to see someone else mention that.)

  • January 16, 2010
    2:13 am

    Thank-you Julie Anne, it's so lovely to hear fond words about Maureen, I've long found her an inspiration and never heard anything but love and praise for her.I recall she had a vegetarian slant too and always wonder if it was thanks to her that I can enjoy a veggie burger at the Hard Rock Cafe. I rarely eat such things these days but when there the very idea of them is just too irresistable. They're deffinately the best I've come across though I have no idea what they make them out of.I love to adapt and experiment with food so the recipe is like that on purpose. It also works nicely with a pork style meat substitute in place of the tofu, some kind of sun dried tomato and a little more of spanish style spice….Aussie Mum, I am drooling at the very idea of cinnamon and paprika. Cinnamon is so rarely used in the UK and I'm addicted to it. It's a wonder I haven't tried eating the Pied De Pepper cinnamon foot cream made by lush yet, LOL! It smells so totally edible that I keep thinking I should try to invent something with it's ingredients one day – cocoa butter, olive oil, cinnamon and ginger.

  • January 16, 2010
    2:54 am

    Hey Premierludwig… She was by far and away one of the coolest women I've ever known. I can't answer as to wether the Hard Rock veggie burger was down to her or not. I'll have to try and track Isaac down. Last I heard he was in India, but now you have my curiosity roused too. What pork alternative do you use in England? It would be helpful to let people know what is available elsewhere since I know Gardein is only available in the US and Canada right now, and I think Match Meats are only available in the US at this point.I seem to be getting wined and dined a lot lately, so I haven't been in the kitchen much. I can't wait to try all the recipes above!

  • January 16, 2010
    11:16 am

    Hi Julie Anne,It is lovely to hear that you have been wined and dined lately. It is always nice to have others spoil/pamper you. However, you must be itching to get back into the kitchen and experiment, not to mention try out what you have learnt from Tal Ronnen….until then, enjoy the moment…..oh and Premierludwig, you make me laugh! I know exactly what you mean with the Pied de Pepper Foot Cream by Lush. I love the ginger in it and love the whole spicyness of it all…..yes, it does make you want to eat it..heheheAussie Mum

  • January 16, 2010
    10:50 pm

    You let yourself be wined and dined. Surely eating is as much research for you as cooking itself. 😉 Plus, it's a good chance to let you enjoy food purely as the pleasure of eating and not connecting it with all the work of creating it.We're very spoilt in the UK these days as most of the major supermarkets now do their own lines of vegetarian sausages and such. However, I like to use the Cauldron range ( ) as an ingredient if I need a meat style substitute for a dish. Very suited to Italian/Spanish/Oriental dishes. I can highly recommend their sausages, pates and tofu. The other good source is Quorn, but quorn has a taste of it's own so I use it differently to most vegetarian substitute food (TVP, tofu, etc) which tends to be more of a blank canvas that absorbs the flavours around it.'t managed to get anything really tasty out of a Quorn roast yet, no matter what I do with it. My tendancy is to fall back upon the Linda McCartney "meatless meatloaf" recipe if I need something Sunday Roast style.Oh, and of course there's the Linda McCartrney range. The veggie mince is a really good product and when Linda McCartney sausages are made into sausage rolls they go quicker than the meat ones do at a buffet.

  • January 16, 2010
    10:52 pm

    Aussie Mum – a gentleman friend of mine once ate my lemon face mask from Lush. It was one of those that had to be kept in the fridge and he thought it was a lemon pudding. Apparently it was "very nice, apart from the pips".

  • January 18, 2010
    2:22 am

    All of the recipes listed above sound delicious! I eat mostly vegetarian but some light meats and limited seafoods. Personally i think i was a rabbit in a past life because i adore fresh raw veggies!What i'm aching to find is a simple completely tasty marinade for shrimp… I want to be able to pan cook or indoor grill the shrimp and serve it with saffron or tumeric (my new favourite spice) rice.Would love some ideas!Laura

  • December 16, 2010
    9:10 pm

    Hi Jewels, love you blog, Have a wonderful Holiday. Denise C. from Tampa, FLorida