I remember the first time I tried to prepare tofu: I clumsily cracked opened a package of it, cut it up into little cubes, rolled it into some cornmeal and attempted to dry-fry it over high heat. As I bit into the slightly charred and totally tasteless pieces of tofu, I felt nothing but disgust … who could possibly eat this and think it tasted good?
Before I learned to cook, I had an intense dislike for things like tofu and vegetables, because I thought that they were boring and tasteless, which can be partially true, depending on how you approach them. It wasn’t until I learned to prepare them properly—applying the correct methods and techniques, and pairing them with complimentary components and flavors—that I began to truly appreciate them.
I’ve always been a vegan mentally—I just didn’t always know it. I ate meat up until high school and then altered between sporadically abstaining from and consuming it during college and my early twenties. Something wasn’t quite right with all this, but I could never put my finger on it. I was always trying to eliminate something from my diet, but lacked the insight to pinpoint exactly what that should be. Then, one day in my mid-twenties, I had an epiphany: if I told people I was a vegetarian, then I wouldn’t have to eat meat. Genius. Something just felt right about it.
But this feeling was short-lived and the urge to eliminate something else from my diet came back. It was gnawing and slightly annoying. One evening, I announced to my then-boyfriend, who is now my husband, “I’m going to go vegan.” He laughed, then said, “are you serious?” and then, “what is that again?”That was more than nine years ago and, since then, I’ve felt a definitive and overwhelming peace, as well as a large sense of relief about my decision. When I first went vegan, I never really cooked or had any experience in the kitchen. In fact, I could barely boil water, found cookbooks to be amazingly boring and never watched a cooking show. My current diet reflected this and I was bored to death with figuring out what to eat. I slowly began to scour vegan blogs and cookbooks like Vegan with a Vengeance for ideas and found out that I could actually cook. After a few years of studying and replicating other vegan cooking ideas and methods, I thought: I could totally do this myself, and created Olives for Dinner in January 2011.
My approach to cooking is centered around the strategic selection and application of spices, herbs and oils with other complimentary textures and flavors. I specifically enjoy veganizing classic dishes as well as developing asian-inspired flavors and techniques. A few things about my views towards vegan food in general and the recipes on this blog:
Most of them are not low-fat. In fact, I use lots of oils and nuts to introduce and impart a richness and depth of flavor into tofu and vegetables. Fat is good, fat is flavor.
Ethical veganism and dietary perfection are not the same thing. I am an ethical vegan. Ethical veganism (for me) is motivated by compassion and empathy, which is based on feelings and emotions—a gut reaction. This is completely opposite from dietary perfection, which is based on logic and sometimes fueled by anxiety, and is often and unfortunately perceived as the same thing. Veganism for me is about adding things to your diet, and enjoying flavors and cooking—without the use of animal products. Therefore, the recipes you’ll find on this blog may not always be 100% healthy, but they are all 100% vegan.
I use hot sauces liberally and frequently. Nothing is better than the taste of sriracha, fresh habanero or chili flakes.
Recipes on this blog are not representative of how I eat all of the time. Most days of the week I am eating plainly prepared fresh kale and tofu, beans, smoothies, oatmeal and tea. While this blog has many practical recipes for everyday use, others represent fun and creative ideas that pop into my head during the week.
I can’t stress enough how important pressing is when preparing tofu. Read all about it.
I use, create and love mock meat and cheeses. People often ask me why I continue to create and eat things that taste like meat and dairy if my diet, by definition, excludes them. I didn’t become vegan because I hated the taste of these things—I removed them from my diet because consuming “the real thing” did not sit well with me.
It’s all about balance. I try to keep a balance here of “quick and easy” or weeknight recipes that utilize common ingredients and easy techniques with more elaborate and time-consuming recipes that utilize harder-to-find and more difficult techniques. Embracing both enables me to challenge myself in different ways and allows me (and perhaps you!) to be more creative and daring in the kitchen.
I believe that presentation is as important as taste. I love arranging and plating pretty food. My husband is a fantastic photographer who really understands light and composition, and makes the photos you see on this site possible.
I realize that a vegan diet isn’t for everyone; however, I would like to debunk the myth that vegan food is tasteless, boring and inaccessible. I hope that my blog doesn’t just tell you this, but shows you this, and proves to be easy to replicate in any kitchen with any pantry items, at all levels of cooking abilities and within various time intervals.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my dry-fried cornmeal tofu catastrophe marked the beginning of my culinary journey. Since then, I’ve transformed that disgust into delight, and have thoroughly enjoyed every step along the way. I hope that my blog and recipes can inspire you in your own journey, in the same way other vegan blogs have inspired mine.
Questions? Email me at erinwyso [at] olivesfordinner [dot] com.