It's as if Samuel L. Jackson went on a health kick and started a Tumblr.
Thug Kitchen is a food blog with a penchant for profanity (motto: "Eat like you give a (expletive deleted).") and healthful vegan dishes. And since the blog started in September, vegans and nonvegans alike seem to be eating it up. In April, Gwyneth Paltrow name-dropped the blog on an episode of "The Rachael Ray Show."
Mystery is apparently one of the most-used ingredients in Thug Kitchen. Perhaps taking their cue from the recently unveiled Ruth Bourdain, the Los Angeles-based bloggers insist on anonymity, agreeing to be interviewed only via email. Despite the blog's first-person voice, they told me, "there are multiple cooks in the kitchen." They are all vegan, with the exception of one omnivore, who eats "mostly vegan."
Thug Kitchen may be the latest iteration of the vegan food blog that's militant, but not in a "meat is murder" way. It's in your face — they take broccoli more seriously than your mom probably ever did — but it's also just plain funny. Other vegan food blogs, such as Post Punk Kitchen and Vegan Black Metal Chef, have used some combination of humor, charm and counterculture and fared similarly in attracting a wider (read: not necessarily vegan) audience. But part of Thug Kitchen's street cred can no doubt be attributed to veganism's growing popularity as high-end restaurants cater to vegetarian palates and prominent devotees, such as former President Bill Clinton, espouse the health benefits of a diet devoid of animal products.
If you're late to the party, Thug Kitchen is here — as they say in the blog's FAQ — "to drop some knowledge on your (expletive deleted)." The recipes may come with a side of shtick, but the bloggers say the message is simple.
"Yeah, the food we cook is vegan, but we really just want people to eat some more (expletive deleted) vegetables," said the bloggers. "It isn't more complicated than that."
A decade ago, it might indeed have been more complicated. "The Internet opened up so many more avenues for vegans," said Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who gained a following of vegans and punk music fans when she launched her show "Post Punk Kitchen" on Brooklyn public-access TV in 2003.
At the time, Moskowitz had already started sharing vegan recipes on her website. She said she aimed to show that being vegan didn't have to be "dreary and tedious," an ethos that was less than mainstream at the time.
"A lot of information on veganism was very stoic and depressing, and it was outdated," she said. "I just wanted to do something that was fun."
Her site has grown, along with what could be called an empire of branded merchandise and vegan cookbooks, the latest of which ("Isa Does It") will be released in October. In a nod to the Internet days of yore, the PPK site hosts a forum, on which a user playfully mentioned Thug Kitchen in April: "I've been enjoying the shiitake out of this blog, recently, bisques."
Thug Kitchen, too, has misconceptions to clear up. "You don't need to have a disposable income to eat well," the bloggers said. That's reflected in their recipes, which are also sprinkled with colorful language. Their Spiked Citrus Iced Tea recipe calls for maple syrup but concedes, "this (expletive deleted) can be expensive so feel free to replace it with agave or honey."
Jess Scone, a Portland-based blogger and co-founder of Vida Vegan Con, a conference geared toward vegan bloggers, says veganism's move into the mainstream, coupled with the growth of social media, has allowed bloggers to get more creative and reach a wider audience.
"I saw vegan mozzarella on 'Master Chef' a few weeks ago, and it wasn't even a big deal," said Scone, who also cultivates an air of mystery by using a pen name and refusing to divulge her real one. She attracts nonvegetarians to her own blog, Get Sconed!, with cocktail recipes that are vegan, using, say, coconut milk creamer in her take on a White Russian.
Thug Kitchen bloggers, also known to whip up a cocktail or two, hail from a generation more likely to get a recipe from Pinterest than from Grandma's recipe book. The blog's Twitter account has more than 30,000 followers, and its Facebook page displays more than 300,000 likes. Recipes are announced like memes: bright, enticing photos of dishes with words emblazoned on top. "How about a nice tall glass of chill the (expletive deleted) out?" screams the text imposed over a Blackberry Bourbon Fizz cocktail, one of the blog's most-shared recipes.
That Thug Kitchen's recipes resonate with those outside the vegan community isn't surprising to Brian Manowitz, the Vegan Black Metal Chef, who gave veganism an edge when he started appearing in YouTube videos in full armor while using swords and daggers to chop ingredients.
Manowitz, who lives in Orlando, Fla., points to his own carnivorous fans, often drawn in by a shared love of metal. Some, he said, take a "pry the meat from my cold, dead hands" approach to food but say they really like his recipes.
"That's both humbling and awesome," said Manowitz. "It's good in the sense that that's the real goal, to get people interested."
The bloggers behind Thug Kitchen (named "Best New Blog" for 2013 by Saveur magazine) say a profanity-laced cookbook is in the works. They've also turned their attention to upgrading their site, catering specifically to readers, who don't seem to mind the bloggers' anonymity.
Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burritos
Makes 6 to 8 burritos
Minus the salty language, here’s the most-requested recipe on ThugKitchen.com. The roasted vegetable mixture can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in a large skillet over low heat. Adapted from Thug Kitchen.
1 large yellow onion
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded
1 large broccoli crown (10 to 12 ounces)
3 cups cooked or no-salt-added canned chickpeas (from two 15-ounce cans), rinsed and drained)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (may substitute tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos)
2 teaspoons chili powder, or more as needed
1 teaspoon ground cumin, or more as needed
1 teaspoon mild smoked paprika (pimenton), or more as needed
½ teaspoon ground coriander (may substitute more ground cumin)
Freshly ground black pepper or ground cayenne pepper, or more as needed
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 to 8 burrito-size flour tortillas
Baby spinach leaves, for optional garnish
Sliced avocado, for optional garnish
Chopped cilantro, for optional garnish
Fire-roasted salsa, for optional garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Have a large rimmed baking sheet at hand.
Chop the onion, red bell pepper and broccoli into chickpea-size pieces, placing them in a bowl as you work. Add the drained chickpeas, then the oil, soy sauce (to taste), chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika and coriander, tossing gently to incorporate. Season with black or cayenne pepper to taste.
Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, then stir in the garlic. Return to the oven and roast for 15 minutes. With about 5 minutes of oven time left, you can wrap the stack of 6 to 8 tortillas in aluminum foil and place them in the oven to warm through.
Squeeze the juice from one-half of a lime evenly over the roasted vegetables. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Lay half of the warm tortillas on a work surface. Divide half of the vegetable mixture evenly among them, spooning a pile at the center of each tortilla. Add some or all of the optional garnishes before you fold the burrito, tucking in the open ends as you go. Repeat with the remaining vegetable mixture, optional garnishes and tortillas.
Serve right away, with wedges of the remaining limes.
Per serving (based on 8): 400 calories, 13 g protein, 60 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar.