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Interview with vegan cookbook author Dreena Burton

Dreena Burton's Yellow Sweet Potato Pie with Basil Gravy | Recipe recreated & photographed by Anna Pelzer

Dreena’s Yellow Sweet Potato Chickpea Pie with Rosemary Gravy | Recreated & photographed by Anna Pelzer

Dreena Burton

Dreena Burton

This week, we welcome a guest who we both find very inspiring, Dreena Burton.  Following our interview, Dreena shares two recipes:  Yellow Sweet Potato Chickpea Pie with Basil, and Rosemary Gravy, both perfect for Thanksgiving or any special meal this fall.

Dreena has been vegan for over 20 years, in that time writing five bestselling cookbooks charting her journey as a plant-powered cook and at-home mother of three.  Always passionate about creating nutritious recipes, she is an advocate of using the “vegan basics” to create healthy, delicious food for the whole family. Dreena is one of the pioneering vegan cookbook authors, with a loyal following and reputation for reliable, wholesome recipes.

Dreena graduated with distinction, receiving her Bachelor of Business Administration degree from University of New Brunswick. After working in marketing management for several years with an international satellite communications company, Dreena followed her true passion of writing recipes and cookbooks. The Everyday Vegan was her first project, following her father-in-law’s heart attack. When the cardiologist strongly advised a low-fat plant-based diet to her husband’s parents to reverse heart disease, Dreena knew there was information needing to be shared – most importantly, how and what to eat as a vegan.

After having her first child, she wrote Vive le Vegan!, which represented her journey as a mom, and more wholesome, easy recipes. Then came eat, drink & be vegan, a celebratory recipe book which has become a must-have cookbook in the vegan community, known for its entire chapter on hummus and inventive flavor combinations. Let Them Eat Vegan came next, containing over 200 wheat- and gluten-free recipes, and reaching amazon.ca’s bestseller list (top 5 of all books).

In 2013, Dreena wrote her first ebook, the Plant-Powered 15, a collection of 15 whole-foods, plant-based recipes. Plant-Powered Families is her fifth title, comprised of whole-foods recipes and Dreena’s insights and tips as a mother of three “weegans”. Dreena has appeared on television and radio, and is a recipe contributor for well-known sites including KrisCarr.com, Forks Over Knives, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). She has written for Yoga Journal, Today’s Parent, VegNews, and has been featured in other publications including First magazine.

Join Dreena’s community at plantpoweredkitchen.com and on facebook, instagram, google+, twitter, and pinterest.

What was it like being vegan 20 years ago as compared to now?

Totally different worlds! There were very few vegan substitutes at all, and the ones that did exist were lacking. I recall we had access to just a couple of brands of non-dairy milks (versus dozens now), and tofu was sold in water barrels (eek)! It was really the hippie era of veganism, and there was no internet or social media, so being vegan was truly eccentric. We have such vegan abundance now, and it has primarily taken place over the past 5-8 years. I joke that new vegans have it easy now!

Which of your cookbooks are you most proud of?

That’s tough. They all hold a special place in my heart. But, my work has been under the radar for a number of years, and there was a time I considered stopping my work. It was a lot of effort for little reward. As much as my work is part of me, and truly is my passion, it’s challenging to continue wondering if it’s making a difference. I’ve had rejections from agents, and also from publishers. It was after Let Them Eat Vegan that I contemplated stepping back from my work. I had put a lot of heart into that book, and we had a number of issues with the book release and print/production matters. Not only disappointing but also discouraging for some time. Still, I had a desire to put my vegan motherhood knowledge and recipes into a book. My heart and gut told me to continue despite some setbacks. I’m so glad I did, because this book has resonated with so many families, vegan and also those working towards eating more plant-based meals. So, I’m probably most proud of Plant-Powered Families.

What is it like raising three weegans in a meat-centric society?

You know, it’s not as hard as it might seem. Our kids love their food, so I don’t feel pushback from them at all. Also, kids are used to allergies in school and so eating ‘out of the norm’ isn’t as peculiar in our time of heightened food allergies. Sometimes the questions our kids get are funny more than anything… like “what, you don’t like celery? But you’re vegan!” … and “is your car vegan?”… and “are you hungry, here are some carrots?”… It’s a reflection of the vegan stereotypes, and what is very misunderstood about eating vegan. Good for amusement, though.

What is your food philosophy?

Always vegan, with a focus on whole foods. In my books and on my blog I’ve discussed that we aim to eat about 80-90% whole foods with the remaining room for convenience foods – and yes, treats! Food is to be enjoyed, and if we are feeling stressed about eating perfectly, that doesn’t bring much enjoyment. I also accept that I eat more leafies and veg and whole foods than my kids. As parents, we of course want our kids to eat healthy, but I feel we need to be realistic about what that may look like for kids. It takes time for some kids to accept certain foods and vegetables, and our palates really do mature with time. So, patience is important, and modelling enjoying healthy foods for our kids.

Do you have any tips on making foodie videos?

I may need tips, because I don’t post that many! I do enjoy doing them, it’s just hard for me to get organized with it. I guess my tip would be to talk through the food as if you’re teaching someone at home – or at least as best you can!

What is your current favorite grab-and-go meal?

For me, grab-and-go means food I can cook quickly for my kiddo to take on the road for hockey. Those nights I make burritos or wraps, or burgers with home fries. But, other nights I just need quick fixes. Some of my favorites are:

  1. Amy’s Baked Beans: all of our girls love these. I always transfer to a baking dish and stir in a can of (rinsed/drained) pinto beans. It stretches the meal, and there is plenty of sauce to coat that extra amount of beans. Then, I can serve over quinoa or rice (which I batch cook and have ready in the fridge most days). I tend to prep a curry bean dish for Paul and I those nights. I like the Kan’s Gourmet Foods chana dal. I add extra beans to that too!
  2.  Happy Planet Soups: I often use these soups in a pinch, and like the baked beans I ‘boost’ the soups with extra veggies, and beans and such. I did a post on it to explain how to do this, as these types of meals can be time (and stress) savers!
  3. Veggie Burgers: Always a hit for our family, we love Amy’s Sonoma Burgers, and my husband really likes Hilary’s burgers. I *just* discovered a new brand this past week – Vegetarian Gourmet Artisan Vegan Burgers. They are really good! Bean-based, with great flavor combos and decent size patties.

What are your thoughts on celebrating Thanksgiving as a vegan?

Funny, I don’t have a lot of memories of Thanksgiving as a kid, so it wasn’t a huge holiday for us growing up. Now, I keep it casual, as our bigger dinner event is during Christmas. I love holiday dinners, and think they might be the best time of the year to showcase vegan foods. Pumpkin, winter squash stuffings, root veggies, potatoes, gravies, savory loaves and pies – all stars for vegan recipes, at least in my opinion! Sometimes we put far too much pressure on ourselves to “prove” to others that our food is just as good or better than traditional Thanksgiving dishes. I’m past that. We know what we love! I’m also past overdoing it during the holidays. I used to prep everything from scratch. I still prep most things, but now I may pick up a dessert or a component of the dessert. Or, for Thanksgiving sometimes I pick up one of the holiday products by Field Roast, and pair it with all the amazing side dishes (those are the best for me anyhow)! Less pressure, more enjoyment.

What was it like working with Neal Barnard on The Cheese Trap?

This project was a dream come true for me.  Dr. Barnard is also just as compassionate and considerate as he appears in his videos. He’s so professional and has done so much for the health of humans and the lives of animals, it’s remarkable. The Cheese Trap releases in February, and I cannot wait to see it in print. I’m now working on a second project with the good doctor, and I feel very grateful.

What are some recipes we can expect to see in The Cheese Trap?

In addition to dairy and cheese replacements (recipes like sour cream, cream cheese, ricotta, feta, cheesecake) this book has recipes from breakfasts to dinners to desserts. Some of my favorites are the Sour Cream ‘n Onion Cream Cheese, Cream of Broccoli Soup, Sesame Quinoa Salad, Italian Meatballs, Sour Cream, Chickpea Tacos, Pistachio Pesto (now my fave pesto!), and the Cheesecake.

Tell us what else we can expect to see from you in the future.

I’m finishing up an ebook of oil-free salad dressings. I plan to get it online soon, hopefully before the end of October.

 

Dreena Burton's Yellow Sweet Potato Pie with Basil Gravy | Recipe

 

Yellow Sweet Potato Chickpea Pie with Basil

This pie is somewhat like a quiche in appearance, yet offering a unique flavour and texture. The sweet potatoes and chickpeas work as the base for the pie, giving both body and flavor, along with seasonings and herbs, including fresh basil.

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon water or olive oil (to sauce)
  • 1 – 1 1/4 cups diced onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1⁄2 (scant) teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 1 3⁄4 cup)
  • 1 cup cooked yellow-fleshed sweet potato (skins removed)
  • 1/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoonDijon mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for color)
  • 1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil
  • 2-3 tablespoons pine nuts, for sprinkling (optional; slivered almonds are also nice)
  • 1 (9-inch)prepared whole wheat pastry crust, thawed (or other crust of choice)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. In a skillet over medium heat, combine the water or oil oil, onion, garlic, 1⁄2 (scant) teaspoon of salt, and pepper.
  2. Cook for 9 to 12 minutes, until the onion has softened and becoming golden (reduce heat if needed, to prevent garlic from burning).
  3. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine all the remaining ingredients, including the remaining 3⁄4 teaspoon of salt, except the basil and pine nuts (and pie shell!).
  4. Puree until very smooth.
  5. Once the onion mixture is cooked, add it to the food processor and puree again until smooth.
  6. Add the basil and puree fairly well, but leave a little more unprocessed with green flecks.
  7. Transfer to the pie shell, scraping out all of mixture.
  8. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 375°F, sprinkle on the pine nuts, and bake for 20 to 22 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

 

If This Apron Could Talk

I cook the sweet potato in advance by baking it whole in the oven. Simply scrub the potato, leaving the peel intact, and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Bake at in a preheated 400°F oven for about 45 to 60 minutes, until tender throughout (time depends on size of the potato). The first couple of wedges of pie will be the trickiest to cut and serve; the pie is much easier to slice and remove from the pie plate after it has been allowed to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

Savvy Subs and Adds

You can use cannellini beans or other white beans in place of the chickpeas. The pie will be a touch looser with white beans, as chickpeas are firmer, but still great!

Serving Suggestions

Serve the pie with a fresh salad, and another vegetable such as Simplicity Asparagus or steamed broccoli. A side of long-grain brown rice or roasted potatoes is also good, and the pie can be topped with a sauce or gravy of choice, such as Smoky Spiked Tahini Sauce or Rosemary Gravy.


Rosemary Gravy

Fresh rosemary really brings this gravy to life. It is made with millet flour for a gluten-free mixture, and this flour is very forgiving to work with, not forming clumps with whisking. Easy to make, yet full-bodied in flavor, this gravy can be used for everyday meals or special holiday dinners.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp olive oil (or can use other oil, such as avocado)
  • 3 ½ tbsp millet flour
  • 1 ¼ – 1 ½ cups water (see note)
  • 1 ½ – 2 tbsp tamari
  • 1 small-medium clove garlic, grated (see note)
  • 1 – 1½ tsp pure maple syrup or agave nectar (to taste)
  • ½ tsp dry mustard
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 – 1 ½ tsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

Preparation

In a saucepan, add oil and flour and whisk together over medium heat. Whisk for a couple of minutes, and then slowly add water (starting with 1 ¼ cups) while continuing to whisk. Add remaining ingredients (starting with 1 ½ tbsp tamari and 1 tsp agave) and bring mixture to a boil. Once at a boil and thickened, turn off heat or simmer at low until serving. Add remaining water (or more) to thin as desired, and taste to add more tamari to season and darken in color as desired, and additional agave to sweeten to taste.

Serving Suggestions: Pair with “No-Fu Love Loaf”, “Smashing Sweet Spuds”, “White Bean Mashed Potatoes”, “Festive Chickpea Tart”, baked white and sweet potatoes, and other veggie burgers/loaves.

Kid-Friendly: Try adding 1-2 tbsp of nutritional yeast to the gravy. Not too much, just a little, to contribute another flavor note that may be enjoyable for you (or children).

 

dreenabIngredients 411:

– I like the level of saltiness using about 1 ½ tbsp of tamari, but you can adjust using more to taste, as noted in directions.

– I use a kitchen rasp to grate the garlic directly into the pot before heating. You can also sub some garlic powder, about ¼ – ½ tsp to taste.

– When you first make this gravy, using about 1 ¼ cups of water seems about right. But, it thickens even more after standing, and you may want even more than the full 1 ½ cups if the gravy has sat for a little while and needing reheating.

 

Dreena Burton's Yellow Sweet Potato Pie with Basil

 

 

Have any comments or questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

2 Responses to “Interview with vegan cookbook author Dreena Burton

  • Tara (greentaraliving on Instagram)
    11 months ago

    Thank you for doing this lovely interview, Anna! I’m such a Dreena fan! Her first cookbooks really helped me construct healthy plant based meals when we were transitioning from vegetarian to vegan. Always delicious and nutritious, I completely trust her recipes to turn out great! Thank you Dreena, for your ongoing contributions to people’s health, the well being of our creatures, and the planet! You are so very much appreciated!

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