If the DVD version of “The Dance,” a live album recorded by Fleetwood Mac in 1997, was playing in the living room of my childhood home, I knew I was in for one hell of a meal.
On a Friday or Saturday, my parents would often start the evening with a glass of something bubbly in hand and — with the sounds of Christine McVie’s maracas echoing through the stereo — favoring grilled lamb chops, cod on the stove, or oven-baked chicken.
Whether they were making dinner for our family of four or throwing a party for our neighborhood in the Atlanta suburbs, every meal felt like an occasion worth celebrating. The enthusiasm they expressed in the kitchen was something I absorbed at an early age.
Although I helped out here and there—my contribution was usually reserved for making dumplings or empanadas—an interest in cooking skills came much later in life.
Instead, I was drawn to the rituals my parents practiced, to their displays of hospitality, to what cooking was all about: making food was a chance to have a little fun. While I emulate many of their habits to this day, right down to the soundtrack (songs by Fleetwood Mac, D-Train, Steely Dan and Shalamar to name a few), the dishes that arrive at my table don’t always reflect theirs.
The dinners I grew up with were often of the meat and three variety. That means protein served alongside a green salad, grilled or steamed vegetables, and fries—a non-negotiable side if red meat is on the menu.
My own home cooking is now a little less meat-centric, with the amalgam of vegetables playing more of a supporting role in the production. This is often the case for many readers of The Veggie, my weekly newsletter for The New York Times. The newsletter is dedicated to delicious vegetarian cooking, but is not limited to vegetarian readers.
Although all of the recipes featured in The Veggie are meat-free (and many are vegan or easily adaptable), I am truly an omnivore. But I don’t see this perspective as a weakness. It’s an opportunity to meet people right where they are. After all, 63 percent of Americans are trying to eat less red meat.
Each week, in an effort to appeal to a range of eaters, I set out to answer the questions longtime vegetarians and novice, vegetable-curious cooks alike might ask: What should I do with all that zucchini? What pasta salad should I bring to a holiday meal? How do I cook with nutritional yeast? I provide answers that include a selection of delicious vegetarian recipes suitable for home cooks of all experience levels.
Since joining The Times’ food and cooking desk in 2020 as an editor, I’ve sought to cultivate the kind of encyclopedic knowledge of our recipes that makes the answers to these questions easy to work with. (I joke with friends that my brain’s real estate is divided into three distinct neighborhoods: Drake’s discography, The Times’ Stylebook, and the NYT Cooking database.)
I browse our database like someone might browse the RealReal or Facebook Marketplace, eager to dig up forgotten gems. But I often don’t have to dig too deep. The Cooking desk’s output of vegetarian recipes has only increased since we introduced the newsletter two years ago, with Tejal Rao writing it and me as its editor (I came on board to write after Ms Rao became a critic at large). Now, when I hear a co-worker is working on a delicious-sounding recipe, I’ll find the draft and make it at home before we post it—the editor’s equivalent of the chef’s treat.
While reader service is my top priority, keeping things fresh comes second. Nearly 10 months after I wrote The Veggie, I don’t have a routine to put together a newsletter so much as a life I shamelessly mine for inspiration. To recall Nora Ephron, “everything is a copy,” so breaking up becomes a lesson in minimal-effort dinners; a friend’s mother’s generosity becomes an ode to stone fruit baking; the desire to become a morning person turns into a menu for breakfast from Monday to Sunday.
When my own plot feels a little thin, I turn to our readers. Some of the funnest email correspondence I’ve received has resulted from my Recipe Matchmaker ads, where I ask subscribers to write in with their very specific recipe requests. In turn, I match a request with the perfect dish. (I often think of the woman who writes for help in pleasing her younger lover: “It can be salty or sweet.”)
And when all else fails, I have the seasons to fall back on, the most reliable of muses for someone willing to reveal to readers week after week just how festive cooking with vegetables can be.
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