Vegetarian Ruth Friedlander and vegan Rosie Percival recently self-published a cookbook of their favourite recipes, titled ‘Martha Goes Green’.
After living together in Melbourne and often cooking together, they decided to compile their recipes into a small cookbook as gifts for family and friends. But a print run of 20 soon turned into 500, then 1200. They have now sold more than 2000 copies and say they simply aimed to show people that vegetarian cooking could be easy, delicious and would open your pantry up to a world of new produce options.
When and why did you decide to become vegetarian?
RUTH: I first became vegetarian when I was 12 or 13. At first it was more of a faddish thing – because my big sister and the kids at school were doing it. Then about five years ago the ethical reasons became more important – I didn’t like the way that meat was produced – either the environmental effects or the factory farming – so I decided to cut it out of my diet.
ROSIE: I became vegetarian when I was 16. I had always loved animals and I started meeting people who were involved in environmental activism and animal rights issues. I had never really thought about it before but after being exposed to those ideas, going vegetarian seemed the obvious thing to do. So I started and I’m 24 now and haven’t had meat since. About 18 months later I went vegan because I learnt more and I just felt really good and happy for doing it.
How did you find adjusting to the new way of cooking?
ROSIE: I started attending pot luck dinners in my hometown, which is a shared dinner where everyone brings something along. That was my main introduction to vegan food. I was just a spring chicken – a teenager hanging out with these older people – but it was really inspiring. Sometimes I think, gosh if I wasn’t vegan, it’s probably unlikely I would have discovered so many amazing foods. Even simple things like millet and spirulina and brown lentils – I sometimes forget that a lot of people don’t cook with these things. It has really opened up my pantry, and my appreciation of food in general.
Were your families supportive?
RUTH: Absolutely. I owe a lot to my mum. She had three girls, three years apart, who all decided to become vegetarian, and rather than try to convince us otherwise, or go about it in the wrong way by just giving us the boiled vegetables that accompanied a typical meat dinner, she went out of her way to create amazing and nutritious meals. A few of the recipes in the books are childhood favourites that Mum created – like the vegetarian shepherd’s pie, and the bean nachos were my dad’s specialty.
ROSIE: My mum was very supportive. She comes from a Muslim background so she never ate pork. She was excited because all of a sudden I became more interested in what she was cooking. She showed me how to cook with tofu and lentils – it was amazing to have a mum who could show me how to do that. My dad took a little longer to come around to the idea. For years and years he would say, “Have you grown out of it yet?”. Now my sister is vegetarian, too. So we’re hassling Dad, saying, “Have you grown out of eating meat yet?” Last year we went hiking in Milford Sound and Dad bought along vegie dogs and lentil burgers. He has always eaten a very typical meat-based diet, so for him to do that, I thought, “Wow the world really is changing!”
What did you hope your cookbook would show people about vegetarian cooking?
ROSIE: Just how easy it is. We have included a lot of familiar recipes – home-style recipes most people are familiar with – like lasagne and pies and so on – so they don’t feel scared or worry that it will take a long time. We also tried to include some more gourmet things – like sago pudding that people might not have tried. We wanted it to be welcoming and inviting.
What do you think are the main benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet?
RUTH: There are the obvious environmental benefits and the ethical reasons, but money is also a big thing – it’s really quite cost effective to reduce the amount of meat you buy, and you can replace some of the money you would be spending on meat with fancier ingredients. You can really go to town with good-quality pasta and cheeses. There are also the health benefits. Generally you are eating a lot more vegetables and pulses and whole foods and you need to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables for all the nutrients.
Obviously the vegetarian diet has to be very well balanced and take into account the lack of vitamins and minerals you would be getting from meat – how easy did you find it to strike that balance in your own diet?
ROSIE: It happened pretty naturally – I was quite paranoid for about five years about b12 and iron deficiencies and I would get blood tests done every six months just in case. But I’ve never had a deficiency. If anything the doctors say my results are better than normal. It just comes down to being informed about what you’re eating, and eating a wide and balanced diet.
Have you come across any amazing ingredients that do a really great job at delivering those proteins or minerals you would traditionally get from meat?
RUTH: An ingredient I’ve been using a lot more of recently – and unfortunately we didn’t include any recipes in the cookbook – is quinoa. It’s a seed but it basically takes on the role as a grain. You can use it to replace cous cous, rice, barley – you can even eat it as a breakfast cereal – I often have warm quinoa porridge with nuts and seeds which is delicious. It is low in calories but packed with protein, as well as containing all of the essential amino acids.
What has the response to your recipes been like?
ROSIE: Overwhelming. We have a friend who has a shop in Hamilton. He told us that he got a call from a customer who phoned in to say how our book had changed their life – they said they had been trying to go vegetarian for a while and bought this book and that it had these amazing recipes they couldn’t wait to try, and that they felt happy going to bed every night knowing they were now on track to becoming vegetarian. And last year a woman emailed us saying that she wanted to thank us for the book because her son was vegan and she had always struggled to make him Christmas dinner. So she cooked him all the vegan recipes from the book and said it was the best Christmas dinner ever, and that she was so happy to be able to do that for her son.
Our resident office vegetarian mentioned that barbecues can be tricky when it comes to bringing food and was hoping for some non-meat barbecue suggestions …
RUTH: I think tofu is actually a really great thing to marinade overnight, and then put on skewers or make into a burger pattie. You can pop it in a honey-soy marinade overnight. Here in Melbourne there is a huge range of vegetarian options on offer – soy sausages and vegie burger patties. Even big field mushrooms done on the barbecue can make a great pattie substitute.
What else is in the pipeline for Martha Goes Green?
RUTH: We have exciting plans to create more of a blog on our website which we’ll be adding recipes to – as well as an online resource for vegetarians. We’re also stowing recipes away for Martha Goes Green 2, which we’re hoping will be finished next year.