There are so many fabulous food bloggers out there that I adore because they constantly inspire me with their original recipes, beautiful instagram feeds and diy creations. I love keeping up with their lives through their blogs, and getting a better understanding of the way they think as well as what drives them to constantly create. My most favorite bloggers are those that I want to sit down with over a good vegan meal after reading their blogs and get to know better. Since that’s not always possible, I came up with a column on Olives for Dinner called Why I Cook that virtually allows both me and you the chance to get to know great bloggers better.
In this column, I’ll ask some of my favorite bloggers questions around, well … why they cook! If you don’t already know about these noteworthy bloggers, you’ll be introduced to some great ones and, if you are already fans, you’ll learn something new about them here! This week, I’m excited to feature super-talented blogger, new cookbook author and probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet—Sophia DeSantis of Veggies Don’t Bite.
VDB is centered around healthy + delicious food that’s inspired by kindness, centered around a love for healthy ingredients and delivered with a generous dose of enthusiasm and joy in each recipe. Her recipes are kid-friendly, approachable, beautifully styled and now in print with the release of her first cookbook, Vegan Burgers and Burritos! VB&B features 75 delicious recipes accompanied by a photo for each one that utilizes wholesome and easy-to-find ingredients. Beginner or more advanced? Sophia’s recipes are marked from Level 1 to 3, with a focus on making the majority of them as easy as possible to follow. With 27 burger recipes, 26 burrito recipes, 19 sauces and four sides, VB&B is completely plant-based, gluten-free, free of refined sugar and whole-food based.
Before we get into the interview, I’m also excited to host a giveaway for Sophia’s new title! Keep reading to learn about who influenced her love of cooking, what ingredient she always has on hand, and then check out her recipe for Autumn Burgers, included in the cookbook!
To enter for a chance to win a free copy, just leave a comment below that includes your favorite type of vegan burger or burrito. I’ll choose a winner at random on November 22. Shipping is restricted to US only. Good luck!
This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered and congrats to the winner, Denise!
When did you start to cook and what about the process itself kept you interested in it?
My mom was a full-time working mom that cooked and made everything from scratch. She wasn’t the mom that bought store bought cookies—she made them instead. I have no idea how she did it all but I grew up in a homemade food household so I don’t remember a time when I didn’t cook or help with it. Being an artistic person, and a stay-at-home mom, cooking is my way of getting my creative outlet (that and photographing!). Plus, it’s very therapeutic and calming to me. I am also very math- and science-oriented and I think cooking is very scientific!
Describe your process of recipe development. How do you come up with fresh and new ideas on a regular basis?
How do I STOP coming up with new ideas should be the question! My brain is always thinking of new things. Especially at night when I am lying in bed. I have so many notes and ideas stored of things I want to make, create and perfect that, at this point, until I learn to clone myself I will never shrink that list. More often than not a new recipe leads into a new idea and so on and so on … it’s a little bit of a crazy house!
What influenced your love of cooking?
Like I said before, my mom for sure. Also wanting to live a healthy lifestyle really inspires me to keep recreating traditionally unhealthy dishes into a healthier alternative that tastes just as good and even better. The challenge keeps me going and I love the look on people faces when they try one of my creations!
Define your own style of cooking.
Well, before I was a food blogger, I was known to look at the fridge and pantry that supposedly had “nothing in it” and make an amazing meal. I would just throw stuff together and bam! Done. It frustrated my husband because I wasn’t always able to make the same thing twice. LOL. So when I started blogging and sharing my recipes, I had to slow down and actually write it all down. It was hard at first but now I am use to it. I absolutely love to create indulgent, comforting-filling meals that are packed with healthy ingredients.
Describe the best dish you’ve ever made.
Oh man, that’s a hard one! I love food and it all depends on what I crave that day. I’d say my family’s favorite is probably lasagna, like this new one that was devoured by everyone.
I don’t make lasagna weekly just because it’s a long process but the layers of flavors in this really are incredible together! But for me, my most recent success and proud of myself creation is actually the Grateable Vegan Parmesan I made to top this lasagna. My theme is mostly sticking to whole-food, plant-based ingredients that are easy to find at any grocery store. So the fact this this falls right in that category, is super simple, and is legitimately grateable and very parmesan cheesy tasting is huge! I haven’t seen anything like it online yet and I am getting so many great comments on it!
I do have to give a shout out though to what my friends and family sometimes call crack (baked buffalo cauliflower dip), if you like spice and creamy yumminess then this one is for you.
If we want to veer from healthy, this seven-layer dessert lasagna is pretty much indulgence in a pan.
If your current self could give your past self one piece of sage cooking advice, what would it be?
Go with your gut. Don’t create just because someone else says it’s trendy or “in” … if you create what’s in yourself and what drives you to drool, then your passion will show through and people will love it. What’s trendy isn’t always what will drive people to your site or give you traffic. Your individuality and uniqueness will. Also, don’t do any serious creating with kids around. It is very easy to burn whatever it is you are making ( a “friend” told me that ;))
Do you have any culinary heroes?
I honestly don’t really know a lot about famous cooks so I couldn’t say anyone famous or known has influenced me. Going back to my mom and watching her cook was probably my biggest influence. That’s where I get my gut with cooking. She can taste a dish and say what else it needs. I’m the same way. It’s ingrained in me just like some people can play music by ear versus reading it on paper. I couldn’t do that for anything but put me in a kitchen and I am a beast!
If you could choose anyone to cook with in the kitchen, who would it be?
My grandma (on my mom’s side). She’s been gone a while but I loved her. It would be so cool for her to see me cook! Alive, I would say my husband. I know, sounds weird since we live together but with three little kids I never get him to myself to truly focus and cook together. He doesn’t exactly love cooking, so it’s more of a chore to him. But I’d love to have him be by my side for a day and just cook!
If you could throw a party for anyone, who would be there and what would the menu look like?
I would throw it for my entire Greek family! I am first generation and, other than my immediate family, most of them think I’m crazy with this whole plant-based thing. I would love to make all the traditional Greek dishes I have recreated into plant-based versions and watch them realize they are actually still delicious. All of them have been approved by my mom (who loves them all) which is a huge stamp of approval! Case in point: this Moussaka is my mother’s traditional meal passed down from generations but without meat and dairy. Even my dad loves it!
Name one ingredient and a kitchen gadget you can’t live without.
Gadget: Vitamix, hands down! Ingredient: probably cashews. I love the creaminess they give to so many things!
Yield 4-5 burgers
Reprinted with permission from Vegan Burgers and Burritos by Sophia DeSantis, Page Street Publishing Co. 2017.
From sweet butternut squash to thyme and sea salt, the fall flavor intensity here has a “go big or go home” attitude. A little extra effort is truly worth it because these little patties are insanely delicious!
for the burgers
- 4 cups (719 g) chopped raw butternut squash
- Low-sodium veggie broth (about 8 tbsp [118 ml]) or drizzle of oil, divided, for roasting
- 2 tsp (10 g) sea salt, divided
- ¾ cup (135 g) peeled and chopped apples
- ¾ cup (114 g) sliced leeks
- 1 ½ tbsp (14 g) chopped garlic
- 1 ½ tbsp (2.5 g) dried thyme
- 1 ½ cups (241 g) cooked brown rice
- 6 tbsp (55 g) pumpkin seeds
for the lemon-thyme mayo
- ¼ cup (55 g) Healthy Vegan Mayo WHAT? (recipe included on page 147 in the cookbook)
- 2 tsp (10 ml) lemon juice
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 4 to 5 buns
Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C).
for the burgers
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the squash with 5 tablespoons (74 ml) of broth or a drizzle of oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the squash on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the apples, leeks, garlic and thyme in the bowl and mix well with the other 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of broth or a drizzle of oil. Add this mixture to the cookie sheet with the roasted squash, mix around to incorporate and roast for 30 minutes.
- While the vegetable mixture is roasting, place the rice, pumpkin seeds and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt into a food processor. Pulse until chopped well.
for the lemon-thyme mayo
- Combine Healthy Vegan Mayo, WHAT?, lemon juice and thyme in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside for serving.
- Once the veggie mix is done roasting, allow it to cool a few minutes, then add the mix to the processor and pulse only a few times to incorporate. Don’t overpulse.
- Place the mixture into a bowl, and put it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes; an hour is best. Making this the day before and letting it sit overnight is optimal. This helps all flavors marinate and leads to a sturdier burger.
- To cook, shape the mixture into patties. If you’re not using a nonstick pan, then you may want to prepare the pan by brushing it with a tad of oil to avoid sticking. Place the patties in a pan on the stovetop over medium heat for 15 minutes on each side. Pans and stovetops vary, so begin to check the patties at 10 minutes. If you try to slide your spatula under a patty and it won’t give, then it isn’t ready and needs to cook longer.
- You can also bake the patties on a parchment-lined cookie sheet at 375°F (191°C) for about 20 to 25 minutes on each side. Allow the patties to cool and set for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve on buns with the Lemon Thyme Mayo and toppings of your choice.
Kids: Make patties into a smaller slider size or into nuggets. Serve mayo on the side as a dipper.
Reprinted with permission from Vegan Burgers and Burritos by Sophia DeSantis, Page Street Publishing Co. 2017. Photo credit: Sophia DeSantis