Chef Alexander Gershberg is the author of Plantbased: 80 Nourishing Umami-Rich Recipes from the Kitchen of a Passionate Chef. I loved reading Alexander’s cookbook cover to cover and testing out some of his recipes. I’m excited to virtually sit down with the chef to chat about his newest and third cookbook, who some of his culinary influences are, and how he discovered the joys of vegan cooking.
I love vegan cookbooks. When I get a new one, I love pouring myself a glass of wine, snuggling up with my dog Harper, and reading it from cover to cover like a novel. I love getting to know the author and their point of view. Reading their recipes and assembling each dish in my head as I scan through the recipe text is so satisfying. I love discovering new-to-me techniques and ingredients and being inspired to dive in deeper and learn even more about them. Plantbased delivers on all of this and more.
Alexander Gershberg: Vegan Chef, Cooking Teacher and Writer
Previously trained as a contemporary dancer and working as a private chef, Alexander is an artist, incorporating movement and intention into his cooking. In his cookbook, he covers the health benefits of a plant-based diet, breaking down basics like why it’s important to pressure cook beans and grains. He talks about being present while cooking, and how it’s an act of love. In Plantbased, he writes:
Good cooking—real cooking—comes from the heart. Cooking is an intimate act done for the people you love as an act of nourishment and support. The way you stand in the kitchen, the way you breathe, the way you look, smell, touch and taste should all be done from the most loving, pure, calm intention.
I like how he includes vignettes about how he connects with other chefs, his students and clients over food. For those of us who love to cook and eat, this can range from merely interesting to quite emotional.
Check out Alexander’s instagram for more on his cooking and what he’s been up to recently.
Plantbased Cookbook: Layout and Flow
Plantbased is laid out into chapters that make sense and flow logically. They include:
Whole Grains: Why they are so nutritious and how they provide stable energy throughout the day. The recipes in this chapter go from simple recipes like whole-oat porridge with dried apricots to the more involved, like dim sums with spinach, shiitake and seitan.
Beans and Proteins: Alexander talks about the importance of incorporating these into our diet daily and provides lots of recipes including his killer chili sin carne with kidney beans, guacamole and fried tortilla chips recipe!
Root Vegetables: This type of produce provides energy to the body, and Alexander explains how. Recipes like his parsnip and carrot croquettes and beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke and caper quiche are playful ways to incorporate different root vegetables into your diet.
Sweet Round Vegetables: Alexander describes these are vegetables that grow more or less at the ground level. Caramelized sweet potatoes with thyme and roasted fennel on a bed of apple and kohlrabi purée are great ways to try new-to-you produce or ways to use up what’s in your CSA box!
Green Vegetables: We all know these are healthy, but Alexander provides some insight as to why. Recipes like his sautéed oyster mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, spring onion and broccolini embrace lovely, leafy vegetables.
Easy Pear Salad
It also includes this Pear Salad I made! It was simple and easy to bring together. I loved the dressing, which was perfectly balanced with tangy, acidic and sweet components. When drizzled over pears, it worked perfectly with their sweetness. The toasted almonds added a nice crunch and the basil was an unexpected but super fresh and beautiful addition. This salad was bright, crisp, light and clean—perfect for this summer and one I’ll be making often! Be sure to check out the recipe for it below.
Sea Vegetables: These underwater plants are so healthy, and Alexander shows ways they can be used and what flavors can help contrast their flavor to create a balanced dish. His wakame, daikon and peach salad recipe looks so delicious and intriguing!
Pickles and Fermentation: Alexander discusses the difference between wild fermentation and quick pickling. His pickled red onion and onion tamari pickles will be perfect for summer and sandwiches!
Fruits and Dessert: This chapter offers a sweet and fun collection of desserts like chocolate mousse with cherries and Dutch doughnuts. I love how they are all light, easy and playful.
Plantbased: A Note About Ingredients
If you are in the United States, some of the ingredients in Plantbased may not be familiar or readily available. However, this is part of the fun: figuring it out (you may be surprised) or turning it into an adventure! Alexander does list some resources and online shops where some of the ingredients can be found in the back of the book. He also provides suitable replacements and substitutes in lots of recipes.
I’ve already discovered a few new-to-me ingredients while using the cookbook, like dashi powder, shiro miso and kuzu. Since Alexander touches quite a bit on umami, some of these ingredients appear in several of the recipes and are worth the search for if you don’t use them already. He also provides ways to sub or make these from other ingredients in some instances.
When did you start to cook and what about the process kept you interested in it?
17 years ago I moved from Israel (where I grew up) to Amsterdam to follow a bachelors of 4 years to become a professional contemporary dancer. During the second year of the studies I had a skin sickness that I couldn’t cure with mainstream medicine. Everything I tried failed and the skin condition became worse and more painful by the day. A classmate of mine who grew up with the macrobiotic lifestyle have suggested that I change the way I eat. I was a bit reluctant and skeptical but at the same time also quite desperate, so I thought, why not, let’s give it a try. I made few simple adjustments to my diet and the skin condition was gone within a week.
How a Plant-Based Diet Can Impact Our Health
I was so amazed and surprised by what food can do to you and what big impact it can have on our health. I started to read more about macrobiotics and about a whole food plant-based diet and learned that you can prevent and reverse most of the sicknesses just by changing the way you eat. How come most people don’t know about it I thought?
I soon realized that I want people to find out about the great benefits a whole food plant-based diet has on their health, mood and well-being. As a dancer I could feel it. I felt stronger, more flexible and more energized by the day. I could sleep better and was in a better mood.
I also realized that the best way to convince is not by talking, but by cooking good food. Once people will taste it and would like the taste, they will be interested in cooking and eating it. I started to organize pop-up events in Amsterdam through which people heard about me and started to ask me to cook for them privately or cater for events. After tasting my food they asked me if I was teaching cooking and if there was a book where thy could find my recipes. That’s when I started to teach and write cookbooks.
On Using the Freshest and Best Ingredients
What influenced your love of cooking?
When I cook I try to put my love and my heart in the food. I also want to use the best ingredients and cook the most fresh and heathy food I can. Food for me means nourishing our bodies and souls in the best way we can. When I cook for other people or just for my self I want to nourish them in the best way. I want them to enjoy the best taste and at the same time to feel more energized, strong an vital after the meal. I want people to say, wow, that’s the kind of food I want to eat every day.
Describe the best dish you’ve ever made.
Miso soup is one of my signature dishes. A client who often asked me to cook for him, his friends and his family, told me that he would only invite me if I made my miso soup for him. Over the years, I have probably made thousands of miso soups. To this day it is probably one of the dishes I love to eat the most.
Miso is a paste made from soybean, salt and koji rice (Japanese mould-fermented rice). The moulded rice ferments the beans and brings out the umami flavours. Umami is the fifth taste (next to sweet, sour, bitter and salty). Umami is very important in Japanese cuisine. You can find it in tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives. Miso is also full of umami.
The quality of the miso you use will strongly determine how good your miso soup is. If you’re into quirky fermentation (and delicious food), I recommend making your own miso paste. I promise that nothing in the world will taste as good. It’s not that difficult, but the fermentation time is 8 months.
How Miso Soup is Used in Plantbased
In my cookbook Plantbased there is a recipe for a spring-like, summer-like, uplifting miso soup. You can, however, make it any time of the year and any time of the day, as a daily meal or for a festive meal for your friends. Miso soup is a classic. It’s something that everyone always likes to eat and it makes everyone feel good. Wherever you are, whenever you are, eat a miso soup.
Do you have any culinary heroes or influences?
I was in Kerala, India, with a friend and we were hiking for a few days through the mountains. We were extremely hungry at the evening when we came to sleep in a small village. We found a small hut in the middle of the village where a woman was cooking. There was no place to cook there and it was amazing that she could manage it considering that there was rarely any counter top or any appliances.
I will never forget how good and tasty this food was. And that’s what I learned everywhere I travelled; the best food is traditional food, made with fresh ingredients by women or grandmothers. The best food I ate when I travelled was cooked by women or grandmothers. And all the best cooking I’ve ever learned over the years is cooking made by women.
Plantbased: Recipes and Influences Behind Them
How would you describe the recipes in Plantbased and what are some of the influences and inspiration behind them?
Plantbased celebrates pure, healthy, delicious, and simple cooking.
I wanted to write a book that will convince you, your friends, and your families that whole food plant-based cooking can be irresistible.
In the introduction of the book, I explain how to create a nutritionally complete plant-based menu to ensure your body receives all the necessary nutrients. Each chapter in the book focuses on a different food group that comprises the whole plant-based diet, including whole grains, beans, various types of vegetables, seaweed, ferments, and fruits.
Growing up in Israel, I bring together my Israeli culinary influences along with my fascination with traditional Japanese cuisine. I hope this book will inspire you to cook many amazing dishes and be pleasantly surprised by the incredible taste and experience of plant-based food.
Stay in touch with Alexander!Print
This easy pear, basil and roasted almond salad is perfect if you feel like eating something simple, fresh and light. When the hot sun is shining straight onto your face, this refreshing bite is exactly what you’ll crave.
for the salad
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1/2 cup almonds, chopped roughly
- sea salt
- 3 pears, unpeeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 2 3/4 oz. basil, leaves picked
for the sweet and sour dressing
- 2 TB balsamic vinegar
- 1 TB shoyu (soy sauce)
- 2 TB umesu (ume plum vinegar)
- 1 1/2 tsp pure maple syrup
- 2 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice
to toast the almonds
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the almonds and two pinches of salt and roast. Stir constantly, for about 3 minutes or until golden brown, making sure the almonds don’t burn.
- Immediately transfer to a bowl, to avoid further roasting or burning.
to make the dressing
- Combine the balsamic vinegar, shoyu, umesu, maple syrup and lemon juice in a bowl.
- In a salad bowl, combine the pear, roasted almonds, basil and dressing. Serve and enjoy!
This recipe from Plantbased is written by Alexander Gershberg and reprinted here with permission.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 3 minutes
- Category: Lunch, Side
- Method: Toasted
- Cuisine: Japanese
Keywords: pear salad, summer salad, salad with basil