For chef Chloe Coscarelli preparing vegan meals is more about being creative and adding variety with new ingredients and flavors than simply not using animal products in her recipes.
Coscarelli, who stopped eating meat while still a child, is a classically trained chef who shot to fame after winning the U.S. cooking TV competition "Cupcake Wars" in 2010, after impressing the judges with a variety of vegan cupcakes.
In her first cookbook "Chloe's Kitchen" the 24-year-old California-based chef dishes up 125 recipes and proves that vegan food can be exciting, delicious and creative, as well as healthy.
Q: What made you decide to become a vegan chef?
A: "My love for animals inspired me to choose a vegan way of eating and cooking. But once I went to college I just decided I wanted to intern in a restaurant and learn more creative ways to prepare vegan food because a lot of the old-fashioned notions are that it is dry or bland or boring. It was my mission to break those stereotypes and find delicious creative ways of eating vegan."
Q: How do you dispel the belief that a vegan diet is bland?
A: "For me as a chef, flavor is the most important thing. It is not so much about taking away ingredients and making this a restrictive diet, but instead opening it up to more creative possibilities and adding more flavors and relying on a more varied array of produce and vegetables and spices and herbs. And it is really making sure that no flavor is sacrificed when you are taking out the animal fat."
Q: How difficult is it to cook without butter and milk and cheese?
A: "It is much easier that you think. With just a couple of tricks you can veganize almost any traditional recipe. For example, when I make my cupcakes I rely on a very simple technique, and that is using just a couple teaspoons of vinegar in the batter. I know that sounds disgusting and I promise you won't taste the vinegar actually in the cupcake. It is just a chemical trick. The vinegar reacts with the baking soda and it binds the cupcake and makes it rise, so it replaces the egg. That is an extremely reliable technique."
Q: What are the main sources of protein in a vegan diet?
A: "It has been proven that vegetarians and vegans actually consume more proteins than people who follow a traditional diet because if you are following a healthful vegan diet you are eating vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, all these different sources that you may have never consumed before and they are packed with proteins."
Q: How do you develop most of your recipes?
A: "I have been cooking for a while. My mom is the one who taught me how to cook before my whole family was vegetarian, and we took a lot of old family recipes and actually veganized them. We used some simple techniques that I developed to make them vegan. I like to get a lot of my inspiration from things that are not vegan and turn them vegan."
Q: What would you advise to someone who is thinking about switching to a vegan diet?
A: "I would say try it. Try it once a week, twice a week. I think the worst thing is when people get bogged down with thinking this is an all or nothing type of diet. That is not the case, at all. Every vegan meal that you eat, every vegan cupcake that you bake is a healthier option. It is great for your environment. It is great for the animal and it is great for your body. It is just fun to try something new."
Q: Does being a vegan help to maintain a healthy weight?
A: "I found that it did for me. When you are a vegan you are naturally slashing out so many fat sources and calories sources. You are eating a cholesterol-free diet because vegan food has no cholesterol. You are eating a much, much lower content of saturated fat because you are cutting out all the animal fat and also you are eliminating a lot of processed foods because those usually have hidden animal ingredients."
Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (Makes 14 cupcakes)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour plus teaspoon xanthan gum)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold coffee, water, or coconut milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 to 5 tablespoons soy, almond, or rice milk
1 1/2 cups hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) cupcake pans with cupcake liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together coffee, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Do not over mix.
Fill the cupcake liners about three-quarters full with batter. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.
To make the frosting: Using a handheld or stand mixer, beat the shortening until smooth. With the mixer running on low, add powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon nondairy milk at a time, as needed, until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. You may not need to use all of the nondairy milk. Beat on high for 2 more minutes until light and fluffy.
Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, slice off the top 1/3 of each cupcake and slather with frosting and sliced strawberries. Place the top of the cupcake back on top and add an additional bit of frosting and sliced strawberries. Dust with powdered sugar.