Way Beyond Brown Rice: A chat with vegetarian cook and cookbook author Martha Rose Shulman

Renowned cookbook author and New York Times writer Martha Rose Shulman will be in the Twin Cities signing her newest book and doing a cooking demo on Saturday, May 24th, so we thought we'd lob a few questions her way in advance. 


The author writes the Recipes for Health column for NYT, and is the author of over 20 cookbooks, many of them vegetarian and all of them geared toward inspiring home cooks. Her newest, The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking, gives a fresh take on the topic, and she tells us why.


What got you started as a recipe writer, particularly your focus on vegetarian cuisine? 

I loved cooking before I became a vegetarian; I learned to cook using books from Julia Child and Elizabeth David, and basically, I just loved good food. Growing up in the early 1970s, I ate so much meat that I felt like I'd hit my quota. But in looking at what was available, it felt like every recipe called for brown rice. So, my goal was to make something that tasted good, that drew on the insight of these amazing cooks that I loved, but to have recipes adapted for people like me.


You write a recipe every day for The New York Times — do you ever get stuck for ideas?

Recipes for Health is thematic, so I have to sit down every month or two to look at what's ahead in terms of seasonality. It's not too difficult to be inspired because of the farmers markets. If I'm stuck, I go out and look at produce and get ideas. Also, I lived in Paris from the 1980s until 1993, so I always have that experience to draw on when it comes to inspiration. But mostly, my ideas have come from what's around me, because there's always great produce available.


Over the past 30 years, it seems like there have been so many changes in health recommendations that it's hard to know what's defined as healthy anymore. How have you viewed that evolution?

I think I see a healthy diet as one that's diverse, that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, but I know what you mean about different recommendations. In the 1980s, the thought was that fat was a big evil, so when I wrote recipes I was trying to keep fats down without sacrificing flavor. I still feel like a good way to control calories is to control fats, but I understand now that it's not that bad to include them. I think my idea of health has always been the same though — that the beginning of the battle to have a healthy diet begins with knowing how to cook.


How do you use that idea in your writing?

I try to make cooking accessible, with recipes that are good but not that hard. I think the health crisis in our country comes from the fact that people have just stopped cooking. So much of the food people eat is not prepared by them. So, I focus on the fundamentals, to empower them to take charge of their own kitchens.


How does your new book differ from ones you've done in the past?

This book is unique, because although there are hundreds of vegetarian cookbooks, no one has really looked at a vegetarian main dish, and created a language for it. For example, if you're cooking meat, you can just say "chicken." When you're a vegetarian and you ask about dinner, it's always some long explanation of what's in the dish. So, I've broken the whole thing down into templates like frittata, big bowl, risotto, and pasta, among others. I give a bare bones recipe for frittata, for example, then give variations and specifics. What I'm trying to do is help readers learn to cook, instead of offering them a single recipe.


Catch Shulman at Cooks of Crocus Hill in the Edina location at 3925 W. 50th St. on Saturday, May 24th from noon until 2:00. She'll be signing books, doing a cooking demo, and of course, sharing a wealth of wisdom about vegetables, simple meals, and eating well. 


Elizabeth Millard is the editor of Simple, Good and Tasty and has worked as a freelance journalist in the Twin Cities for 15 years. Have an idea about what you'd like to see on SGT? Reach her at