Bryant Terry Taught Me How to Groove

To me, “vegan” is a curse. Take away my ability to use bacon in every recipe and I just might cut you. Yet Bryant Terry took me by surprise recently, after I discovered his 2009 cookbook Vegan Soul Kitchen. His recipes pack so much flavor, all my thoughts of bacon and aggression simply evaporate in the delicious-smelling steam of mustard greens and roasted yam soup. Throw in Terry’s accompanying notes on culture, from art to albums to books, and I’m actually considering buying tempeh, to barbecue while jamming to Bob Marley.

Terry’s book takes well-known recipes of the African diaspora—Southern, African-American, and Caribbean—and remixes them to a vegan beat. Take his version of collards. He takes a pass on the traditional cooking method that simmers till they turn a dull, brownish green for one that preserves their bright green color and fresh, earthy richness: blanching, then refreshing under cold water, sautéing with garlic and raisins, and finishing with orange juice for brightness and a touch of acidity.

Terry’s conversational, personality-loaded approach in Vegan Soul Kitchen almost makes me feel like I’m grabbing a beer with him. I love his take on gazpacho, a cool, spicy blend of watermelon and cucumber cued up with the track “Ease Your Mind” by Goapele (featuring Pep Love). Terry’s twist: making a salsa out of watermelon pickle to spoon on top as a garnish.

He turns grits into a Caribbean breakfast dish via coconut milk, ginger, cinnamon, and roasted plantains, to a suggested soundtrack of “Tie My Hands” by Lil Wayne, and a visual accompaniment of The Block by New Orleans painter Terrance Osborne.

Thanks to Terry, I’m learning that, while cooking vegan does, indeed, mean saying goodbye to bacon, it’s also a positive act of embracing flavor. Cool.

WATCH Bryant Terry roast tofu in this 2010 CHOW Tip!

Leena Trivedi-Grenier is a Bay Area food writer and cooking teacher with an undying love for pot stickers. She earned her master's in gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu. Her writing appears on her blog Leena Eats and in various food-based encyclopedias.