THE BLOG
08/31/2015 08:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Meatless Monday: The Vegetable Lady and the Easy-Going Overachiever -- Kathy Hester and "The Easy Vegan"

Recipe developer, slow cooker guru, pr pro, cooking instructor and five-time cookbook author Kathy Hester owes her success to being an overachiever who's not afraid to fail. "You can't be successful at something unless you're willing to fail brilliantly," she says. "I do some boneheaded things just to see if it'll work." With her new book, "The Easy Vegan," she's done the hard work to make it easy in the kitchen for "normal people who don't like a lot of stress in their lives." That's probably you.

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Though as stress-averse as the next guy, Hester's happiest "being in the kitchen, experimenting. I love recipe development." She's not your standard issue in-your-face Type A overachiever. A Southerner born and bred, "I'm just that vegetable lady." She's been that vegetable lady since she was 18, back when "vegetarian was way crazy. It was very underground. You couldn't get tofu in the grocery store, you had to go to special co-ops, in people's houses. I moved with the outcast crowd," she says with a laugh.

How did she learn how to cook? "I fumbled around. I made a lot of mistakes." Hey, it's all part of the journey.

Hester's journey began in earnest during grad school. "That's when I started cooking," feeding friends almost every night. "I worked in a co-op so I had huge boxes of grains and rice. I would make these crazy mixtures, put a bunch of things together till it smelled right," she says. "If I can do it, anyone can do it."

But with so much nutritional information out there, making food choices can feel hard. "As a culture, we tend to see one study and we grab onto it -- this is how we can win, this is how we can beat the system," Hester says. "The trend is to be extreme. No grains, no carbs, no fats, no oil. People are getting to be afraid of food. I see it more and more. It's not healthy."

Healthy, accessible and easy all come together in Hester's recipes. A former web developer, she designed "The Easy Vegan" to be user-friendly. "Vegetables are easier than people think." They take center stage in comfort classics like chili and lasagna and in Hester's playful eats like carrot hot dogs and cauliflower po'boys. "Feed people something tasty and they don't have to know what's in it," she says.

Behind Hester's nice vegetable lady demeanor lurks an ulterior motive -- "To make people feel safe, to feel comfortable to try new things -- to make a cake or a casserole or a whole nice dinner." With "The Easy Vegan," the vegetable lady makes it easy.

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Photo by Ann Oliverio.


Spicy (or not) Cauliflower Po'Boy

Recipe from "The Easy Vegan Cookbook" by Kathy Hester, copyright 2015. Reprinted with permission by Page Street Publishing.

"Living in New Orleans makes you think anything can be made into a sandwich," writes Hester. "After all, if you can have a French fry po' boy, why not one made of cauliflower?"

Please note that the cauliflower will be bone dry after it's roasted, so it will need to be "dressed" in some kind of saucy condiment. In New Orleans, if you order a sandwich "dressed," that means you want mayo, lettuce and tomato.

Serves 4

½ head cauliflower, broken into florets
½ loaf soft French bread, cut into 4 pieces depending on loaf size ( or use gluten-free bread)

Dry mix

½ cup white whole-wheat flour or regular whole wheat (or gluten-free flour blend)
¼ cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Wet mix

2 tablespoons unsweetened nondairy milk
1 tablespoon not-too-hot vinegar-based hot sauce

Spicy mayo
¼ cup (60 g) vegan mayo or cashew sour cream
1½ teaspoons garlic Tabasco or the hot sauce
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a large sheet pan with oil or line with parchment paper). Set aside.

Combine the dry mix ingredients in a small mixing bowl and the wet ones in a separate bowl.

Toss the cauliflower florets in the wet mixture then transfer to the dry mixture and coat well.
Spread the florets on the sheet pan and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Cook until the cauliflower is tender and is easily pierced with a fork.

While the cauliflower roasts, mix the mayo ingredients together. If the French bread is fresh, there is no need to toast it, but if it's getting dry, go ahead and toast it.

Spread a thick layer of the spicy mayo on both sides of the bread, then layer with the cooked cauliflower. You can top with more hot sauce, lettuce and tomato.