MINNEAPOLIS — The Guam-born siblings behind the vegan “meat” shop Herbivorous Butcher have a new cookbook that guides and encourages readers to make their own plant-based meat substitutes and offers a variety of recipes built upon proteins like “faux gras,” carrot lox and even a vegan porterhouse steak.
“The Herbivorous Butcher Cookbook,” released Aug. 16, is the culmination of a yearslong success story that began as a Minneapolis Farmers Market experiment and turned into a hit brick-and-mortar store in northeast Minneapolis that now ships nationwide — plus a south Minneapolis vegan restaurant called Herbie Butcher’s Fried Chicken.
The Star Tribune spoke with Aubry and Kale Walch about how to use vegan meat, whether people should go beyond Beyond Burgers at home, and why Spam is the hardest product to replicate. (It has something to do with the “plop.”)
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What was the process like to turn Herbivorous Butcher recipes into a cookbook?
Aubry: We actually started writing it the first summer of the pandemic. And I think the process of cooking all of this food at home and getting things written down, it was sort of therapeutic because of where the world was at that point. It was also very difficult. But Kale and I, at the time we lived in a fourplex and he lived upstairs and across the hall from me, so we would drop food off at each other’s doors while everyone was quarantining. It was labor-intensive, but really, really fun.
Kale: I feel like we probably would have been doing something similar anyway, dropping food off for each other. It just so happened that we had a reason to write it all down.
Q: You experimented for a long time to create the vegan meat products that you sell in your store. Do you have any concerns that you’re giving away trade secrets?
Kale: The recipes in the cookbook are our original recipes, but we’ve advanced quite a bit, and our cooking methods at the shop have changed a lot. So the products are a little different than they were represented in the cookbook. But one of my goals in the cookbook was to give people the joy of exploration that I had when I first discovered how flexible this medium is, so this allows for that room for creativity.
Q: And this gives more people the ability to make this kind of food, which is a good thing, right?
Aubry: Oh, yeah, I mean, we’re kind of on this mission to spread the word of vegan food and we can’t do it alone. So we want a lot of people to join in.
Q: How doable are these recipes for the home cook? Some of the meats take a lot of time and ingredients people might not have in the pantry.
Aubry: Chapter One is all the meats, so if you’re really ambitious, you can make the meats for the other recipes in the book. But we do call out the products we like to use at home that aren’t always our products, because we understand that in the middle of Nebraska, you can probably get Beyond meat but you can’t get our food. We have a lot of other vegan companies that we really love — Follow Your Heart and Tofurkey and Miyoko and Beyond. So it’s definitely encouraged that if you don’t have time to make the meats, you can order ours online or come get it at the store, or you can use whatever is comparable in the grocery store.
Kale: The nice thing about the meats and the broth bases is that a lot of the recipes utilize them. And the meat freezes really well, too. Aubry and I have turkeys in our freezers from last year. So a little goes a long way.
Aubry: And as far as the ingredients, when Kale and I first started this business, we were at the farmers market, so we were buying ingredients at the co-op in the bulk section. It’s been one of our goals as a business in general, but also for the cookbook, to use stuff that you can pick up at your local grocery store. We always stand behind the fact that we don’t want weird things in our products you can’t pronounce.
Q: For people who are wading into this for the first time, can you talk about the two foundational ingredients in most of your vegan meat recipes, nutritional yeast and vital wheat gluten?
Kale: The vital wheat gluten is basically the protein that’s separated from wheat flour. It’s very high-protein, usually 75 to 80 percent. And it’s very flexible. With the same base you can get anything from an Italian sausage to a porterhouse steak. So it’s a nice blank canvas on which you can paint just about any meaty picture you want. And nutritional yeast serves to give the meats a savory backbone and it additionally supplies some B6 and B12 vitamins that you would normally be missing in the meats. We’ve got some recipes that utilize other things also.
Q: Like soy lecithin granules?
Kale: Bob’s Red Mill makes a soy lecithin. You might find that at Cub. That’s just used to make butter. But you know, there are more vegan butters than there are stars in the sky now.
Q: It does seem like there’s been a renaissance of plant-based products. Why should people go to the effort to make these recipes themselves?
Aubry: Like Kale was saying, you can do anything with it. You can make a vegan porterhouse steak with chimichurri actually in it. Our brat, for example — when we were first experimenting, I quickly realized that I can put pesto in it and I can chop up some sun-dried tomatoes and I can put some toasted pine nuts in there and all of a sudden I have this Italian brat that has everything I want in it. You can do any flavor you want. It’s something that you can’t really do with real animal meat; you can’t make completely flavored steak.
Kale: There’s something more special about making something yourself. I think a lot of people discovered that during the pandemic, like making loaves of bread, for example, where it’s special because it’s yours. Making a burger, steak or a sausage just feels better than unwrapping something.
Q: Reading these recipes, they obviously come from a place of loving meat at some point in your life.
Aubry: We definitely really love food. That’s why we started the business to begin with. It’s always been such a huge part of our family. We moved to the United States when Kale was only 6 months old and I was 13, and all we have is each other and our parents here, so it’s trying to bring all of the love of having a huge family that we had in Guam to someplace where there’s only a few of us. That’s why it’s so important to us to let people know that you can make your family recipes with your family and you can still put meat in it. It’s just not going to be animal meat. Kale and I cook for all the holidays and everything’s always vegan, even though our family’s not all vegan.
Q: So it’s not just some alternative for the vegan people at the table that’s filling some hole. This has become the centerpiece for your family’s meals?
Aubry: Yeah, exactly. I always say that we don’t hate the taste of meat or the texture of meat. We just love it so much that we don’t actually want to eat the animal version. And we’ve spent a lot of time creating something that we could eat.
Q: You also write about how Minnesota is such a meat-and-potatoes kind of place, but at the same time, Herbivorous Butcher has taken off here and people have really responded to it.
Aubry: Kale and I both had no idea the first day of the farmers market what was going to happen. We were like, all right, we’re going to show up and if we don’t sell anything, at least we got this far. And the reception was so good immediately. Our first day we sold out within a couple hours and I think what we realized is Minnesota is really meat-and-potatoes, but people are trying to change their diet for a plethora of reasons — health or maybe they’re getting into animal rights or climate change. There’s just so many reasons and I think that people really appreciate having the option of not having to eat meat every day but also not missing that on their plate.
Q: Herbivorous Butcher is a new vendor at the Minnesota State Fair this year. Speaking of coming really far in meat-and-potatoes land, that’s the ultimate.
Aubry: Omigod, yes. It was really funny because Kale and I had applied to the State Fair years ago a few times and never heard anything. And they called us only a month ago and said, Oh, we have a spot that’s open. We realized we couldn’t say no, so we figured it out really fast and Kale came up with some great items. We’re nervous and excited. I have butterflies in my stomach like I’m gonna go on a first date.
Q: How have your lives changed as the Herbivorous Butcher has grown?
Kale: It’s been pretty wild. One thing leads to the next and you forget how far you’ve come. But I think in our heart we’re the same. Just like when we started, we still want to save the world. I think we’re a little more realistic now about the scope of that, but our drive, the reason we get up in the morning, hasn’t changed.
Aubry: And when I’m craving something that doesn’t exist, I still text Kale and say, oh, can you make this, do you think? Because I haven’t had it since I was like 8 and I really, really want it. The love of food and our insatiable hunger has not changed.
Q: What’s an example of something that you haven’t created yet but you really wish you could?
Aubry: This is gonna be a sensitive spot for Kale: Spam. He’s been trying for years and years, and it’s just, it’s not — he never really ate Spam. I ate it as a kid and absolutely loved it. I think that’s the one thing that, for me anyway, that I wish we could do, but you can’t get that gelatinous hammy hunk.
Q: But you have you have a ‘sham’ recipe in the book. Does it come close?
Kale: If I added some nitrates to that, then it would get close.
Aubry: It’s really close, it just doesn’t do the plop.
The book: “The Herbivorous Butcher Cookbook: 75+ Recipes for Plant-Based Meats and All the Dishes You Can Make With Them,” by Aubry and Kale Walch (Chronicle, $30); available in stores and online now.
Makes 2 big sandwiches.
Note: While “The Herbivorous Butcher Cookbook” (Chronicle, 2022) gives recipes for many kinds of plant-based meat substitutes, you can also substitute other meat alternatives. Authors Aubry and Kale Walch recommend Herbivorous Butcher’s bacon brats, or Beyond brats, for this recipe, which is inspired by a Guamanian dish.
2 tablespoons vegan butter, plus more for the sandwiches
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup grated carrots
2 tablespoons jalapeño, seeded and diced
7 ounces ground vegan meat (see Note)
2 cup Just Egg plant-based egg replacer
1/8 teaspoon kala namak (black salt)
4 slices vegan cheese
2 hoagie buns
Sambal mayo (see recipe)
Sliced green onions, for garnish
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt the vegan butter. Sauté the garlic, onion, carrots and jalapeños until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the ground vegan meat and cook until lightly brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the Just Egg and kala namak. Pour 1 cup of the egg mixture into the skillet and cook over medium-low heat until the egg begins to set. Flip the omelet as best you can to cook thoroughly.
Once the omelet is cooked through to the center, top with 2 slices of the vegan cheese. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for another minute or until the cheese is melted. Set omelet aside and repeat with the remaining egg mixture.
Meanwhile, toast the hoagies. Spread butter and Sambal mayo on the tops and bottoms.
Put an open bun face-down on each omelet, place an upside-down plate on top, then flip so the sandwich is on the plate.
Top with green onion and cilantro and close the buns before serving.
Makes 1/2 cup.
Note: “This is the perfect mash-up of saucy and sassy. Try the spicy spread on any steak or chicken sandwich to give it a punch or use it as a dip to make raw veggies more exciting. This recipe makes ½ cup of sauce, so you might want to up the amount for double-dippers or to have it on hand for anything else that needs a kick,” write Aubry and Kale Walch in “The Herbivorous Butcher Cookbook” (Chronicle, 2022).
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sambal chile paste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
In a medium bowl, combine the vegan mayo, sambal, cayenne, turmeric, five-spice powder and garlic powder.
Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.