DULUTH — On the first Thursday of December 2016, six people met in the Blue Room of Mount Royal Branch Library to talk about vegan cooking. They called their group The Vegan Cookbook Club. Three years later, more than 100 individuals have joined the group, and they’ve published a cookbook.
The Vegan Cookbook Club is not really a club — you don’t have to be vegan to join — and its main purpose is not writing vegan cookbooks. It is simply a monthly gathering for anyone with an interest in a plant-based diet and in search of information and inspiration.
“The Vegan Cookbook Club has helped me find recipes which are delicious, simple and healthy,” said Pam Griggs, who was one of the six people at that first meeting in 2016. Another longtime attender, Carol Kalm, described it as “a friendly, diverse, helpful, accepting group,” and added, “You’re never too old to learn a new way of eating.” Don Watson, who has been attending for a year, said, “The members of the club were very welcoming, and they helped ease my transition to a healthier diet. Now my visits to the doctor’s office are happy times for me.”
Tracy Gellatly said she felt accepted since her first meeting.
“The group has a warm, gentle way of gathering each month to help each other in our quest toward better health, connections with others and our planet through plant-based eating," she said.
Gellatly said she tends to feel in the minority as a vegan in social settings and that it's peaceful to relax with a group of people who support her dietary and lifestyle choices.
"I don’t feel I need to defend or explain," she said, "but just share freely with like-minded people. Everyone is in a different place in their journey, and it is wonderful to share tips, recipes and stories with each other. This group has by far been the best resource and support in my decision to begin my vegan lifestyle almost one year ago.”
The meeting format is simple. Seated in a circle, every person in attendance has the opportunity to speak for a few minutes. Everyone is heard, everyone gets to teach, everyone gets to learn. Meeting notes are emailed out to the entire list of 100-plus, allowing people who are not able to attend regularly to still be part of the group.
A measure of the success of the club in Duluth is that it has inspired the creation of a similar group in Minneapolis, where a Vegan Recipe Club now meets monthly at the East Lake Library branch of the Hennepin County Library. (For more information, check the Facebook page for Compassionate Action for Animals, under “Events.”)
'Stories, recipes and more'
Inspired by the wealth of information that was being shared at Vegan Cookbook Club meetings, Jody Richards, a founding member of the group, took on the project of creating a book. “The Vegan Cookbook Club: Stories, Recipes & More” is 78 pages of vegan recipes and personal stories, plus tips on all things vegan, such as how to cook dry beans, how to eat vegan on the road, and a general philosophy of life and diet: “Every day is a new day. Do your best without getting hung up on dietary ‘mistakes’ from the day before.”
For the book, 23 club members agreed to write about their health journeys and what inspires them in the vegan life. As the introduction explains, “There are tales of illness and regained health, of challenges with family or while traveling, of years of study and of sudden insights.” No two stories are the same, but all radiate a sense of hopeful exuberance.
The books are $10 each and can be purchased before and after any monthly Vegan Cookbook Club meeting, and at Zenith Bookstore, 318 N. Central Ave. in Duluth.
Because the Vegan Cookbook Club has no ongoing expenses, the group has no need to raise money for itself, so profits from book sales will go to the Duluth Library Foundation. Collaboration between the club and the library has been fundamental to the club’s success; the library has an extensive collection of vegan cookbooks and offers a safe and accessible place to meet. In the hope that this model will be replicated in other locales, the cookbook includes a section titled “How to Start a Vegan Cookbook Club in Your Community.” In fact, former attender Sue Gilmer writes, “Since moving away, I have really been missing our vegan cooking club! I think I will try to get one started in our new town, since there is nothing like that here.”
Here are four recipes from “The Vegan Cookbook Club” cookbook:
Thai Vegetable Soup
This is a brothy, gentle soup. I added spinach when I made it.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
2 potatoes, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
3 cups vegetable broth
One 14-oz. can coconut milk
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon lime juice
In soup pot, heat oil and saute onion, mushrooms, ginger, garlic and bell pepper until soft. Add remaining ingredients except lime juice and cilantro. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until potatoes and carrots are tender. Add lime juice and garnish with cilantro. Serve over rice or rice noodles if desired.
Walnut Waldorf Sandwiches
This delicious sandwich filling can also be eaten as a salad.
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (lightly toasted if desired)
½ cup minced celery
¼ cup dried cranberries or cherries
1 apple, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
½ cup vegan mayonnaise
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients. Spread on bread or stuff into a pita.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
3 extra large carrots (or the equivalent)
½ cup golden or dark raisins
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 pinch cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup toasted slivered almonds
Grate carrots and place in a bowl with raisins. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except almonds. Pour this dressing over carrots and toss. Add almonds and serve.
German Skillet Dinner
1 pound vegan burger crumbles
a little oil or water
½ cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1 small onion, chopped
1 14-oz. can chopped tomatoes, undrained
1 14-oz. can sauerkraut, undrained
¼ cup water
salt and pepper to taste
caraway seeds (optional)
In a large skillet, saute burger crumbles in a little oil or water. Top with all remaining ingredients, cover and cook on low heat until rice is done, about 25 minutes. Note: To make sauerkraut less potent, rinse it and replace the sauerkraut juice with water.
Bonnie Ambrosi lives in Duluth and is an organizer of The Vegan Cookbook Club. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.