When you think of spring rolls, you probably envision the kind that are served as an appetizer at nearly every Thai restaurant in this country, a tangle of sometimes-identifiable vegetables rolled in a thin wrapper, deep-fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce.
But spring rolls go far beyond that. They’re found all across Asia, with wrappers, fillings and cooking techniques that differ from one country to the next. Fresh spring rolls, sometimes called summer rolls, are a staple in Vietnam. Most typically, they’re made of rice paper filled with rice vermicelli, cooked meat or shrimp, raw vegetables, basil, cilantro and mint. They’re wonderful, a rare combination of substance and light.
Let’s get one thing straight: Mark Bittman is not a vegan. The first thing he does, sitting down to breakfast at a beautifully curated vegan feast while on tour to promote his mostly-vegan eating manifesto, is demand some dairy.
“What do you say we send this whole vegan thing to hell and get some milk around here?” he says. On cue, dainty milk pitchers arrive, and Bittman’s coffee gets a hearty dose.
The scene is an apt introduction to the longtime New York Times food columnist’s new and entirely nondogmatic approach to eating, outlined in his new diffusively-titled book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 To Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…For Good. The book promotes a principally-vegan diet before 6 p.m., permitting reasonable freedom after that time to eat whatever you darn well please. Well, almost. He puts a few soft restrictions on the nighttime freedom, namely common sensical advice like not eating milkshakes until dawn and “all but” eliminating junk food (the “all but” being a nod to the truth that “everybody needs to break the rules sometimes”).
When you argue, as I frequently do, that cooking has the potential to help us deal with many of our dietary problems, you often elicit a kind of “I don’t care, I hate cooking” response in addition to the expected “I don’t have time.” And that’s fine; cooking isn’t the only route to eating better, and besides, those who hate cooking, or can’t make the time for it, may be lucky enough to have someone else cook for them. As long as they wash the dishes.
But it pays to remember that it’s been 40 years or more since cooking went out of style for most Americans, and that a positive approach to it — one that encourages cooking and counters the ongoing marketing surge that helped make it seem so “unnecessary” — could help to change matters. And although that kind of approach can be effective with anyone (I’m constantly meeting people who began cooking in their 30s and 40s, for example), it’s bound to be most effective with kids, who haven’t yet been fully brainwashed to believe that there are better ways to spend their time than cooking — like watching television, for example!
Question: I don’t know if I could give up bacon and eggs. How do you brunch on VB6? Answer:Making the change is not as difficult as you might think. At first I craved a bagel with cream cheese or bacon. But my habits changed after a few weeks, and now I enjoy my VB6 breakfasts as much as I did the old ones. Oatmeal with fruit, a smoothie, or fruit salads are all great brunch options.
Q: What was your inspiration for writing VB6? A:After five years of success on VB6, I came to really believe in the lifestyle. Then I started to hear from friends and coworkers—even strangers—and realized it wasn’t just a quirky little thing.
Q: Do you have a favorite spicy seitan recipe that is VB6? A:I like pan-searing, roasting, or grilling setian and then tossing it in sauces or stir-fries.
Q: What’s a favorite go-to vegan lunch for you? A:I don’t have go-tos; I pretty much cook what I’ve got. But I would say my most frequent lunch is either chopped salad, if I have a bunch of veggies laying around; and if I don’t, I almost always have cooked beans and grains, so I’ll throw something together with them. Having said all of that, it’s rare that I’m home for lunch, so I hit a salad bar or go out for falafel.
Attention, significant others of mothers: Breakfast in bed is a thoughtful, time-honored gesture for Mother’s Day. There is, however, an alternative to a precariously balanced tray of eggs, orange juice and coffee, all of which she eats by herself while the kids hang around watching. That alternative is a simple but wonderful dinner, cooked by you and those same adorable children, eaten together at an actual table.
Here’s a three-course meal, easy enough for novice cooks to pull off and impressive enough so that those who know how to cook will be pleased. It features a chicken dish that may become a lifelong standard and a can’t-fail version of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s warm, soft chocolate cake.
I’ve also included a comprehensive battle plan — a timeline for everything you’ll need to do in the kitchen with suggestions for the tasks to delegate to your kids. (If they’re the better cooks, they can delegate to you.) Just remember: Even though you cooked, you still have to do the dishes.