NEW YORK — Jessica Seinfeld became a vegan almost by stealth. The cookbook author and philanthropist started quietly making separate meals for herself without dairy or meat.
“I just started doing it myself and experimenting with it and not talking about it and kind of seeing how I would feel,” she says. “I undeniably felt better.”
Over time, she has managed to win over her three teenage kids and her husband, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who all eat vegan these days. Now, she’s hoping to recruit even more with her new book “Vegan, at Times.”
With more than 120 recipes — from vegetable spring rolls with peanut butter dipping sauce to red curry with zucchini noodles — Seinfeld hopes the book can inspire more meatless Mondays (and maybe a few meatless Thursdays, too).
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get to be 100 percent vegan. That isn’t really my plan. My plan is to just do a really good job every single day with eating more vegetables, less meat and less dairy, and I’m succeeding,” she said.
“Vegan, at Times,” written with Sara Quessenberry, is a judgment-free book with practical recipes that avoid dairy and meat. They can be prepared from ingredients at any store and made in 30 minutes or so. Seinfeld hopes readers can ease into veganism. (There’s even a chapter titled “How Not to be an Annoying Vegan”).
“Myself and my family and lots of people that I know felt really intimidated by the aura around veganism, which is that it’s strict and it’s militant and unless you do it at 100 percent, you are not welcome,” she says.
“I have a real issue around shaming people for their food choices. I just think that food is a privilege and it’s a pleasure. And if you are able to put food on your table and make choices, you shouldn’t complain about how anybody eats.”
The book is broken up into breakfast, mealtime, snacks, dessert and sauces. It leans on such veggies as chickpeas, sweet potatoes and cauliflower, like sloppy joes that use cannellini beans and cauliflower florets. For those craving barbeque, she broils eggplant slices and puts them in hot pita pockets with homemade coleslaw.
Jen Bergstrom, senior vice president and publisher at Gallery Books, says Seinfeld has a talent for creating accessible, affordable and approachable recipes.
She says the book’s collection of plant-based options “will appeal to even the biggest carnivore. I’ve tried a number of the recipes myself, with very tasty results, including my personal favorite, sweet potato tacos with corn salsa. I look forward to readers discovering the pleasure of going vegan, whether occasionally or every day.”
The fast-casual chain Chipotle is popular in Seinfeld’s family, so the author challenged herself to recreate the taste of their dishes at home without meat. Hence her cauliflower rice and beans, which her 16-year-old son admitted he was surprised to like.
She also makes mac and cheese with a plant-based cheddar and cashew or almond milk. “You can’t go from zero to 60 with people. You have to wade in slowly. And so I make their favorites, but I make them vegan.”
“Vegan, at Times” is Seinfeld’s fifth cookbook. She’s also the president and founder of Good+ Foundation, a nonprofit that provides services, educational resources, tangible goods and support for low-income families.
She turned to veganism after her doctor recommended eating less dairy and meat. She also embraces its benefits for the planet and animals.
Seinfeld says she was stunned early in the pandemic when giant meat-processing plants would not close despite their workers becoming sick. She thought the priorities were skewed.
“I just thought, we’re so addicted to meat in this country that we can’t even keep workers safe and we can’t even shut down,” she says. “That really made an impression on me, it really bothered me, and that was when I went full-on into this concept.”
She has found inspiration in recipes from outside America, where meat and dairy aren’t the star of every dish. “How do we inch towards a healthier lifestyle overall as a country? If we look at other countries, it makes it feel more doable to me.”
Whatever she’s doing seems to have worked. Two of her three children are in college, but her teenage son and husband are stepping up. “We just committed as a family a couple of nights ago to four week nights a week going vegan,” she says.