I know that you know my bud Jess. She has the One Part Podcast (and also The Cookbook Deal series now), and she’s also trying to get us all eating one plant-based meal a day. We communicated a lot while working on our books because the timelines were somewhat similar. In between the “Let me get your opinion on this” feeler emails and the “FML why did I make a book” texts, we both managed to figure out our own versions of this giant project that nobody really gives you a blueprint for.
There’s at least a hundred things to love about One Part Plant. I tend to over-complicate just about anything I can get my hands on, and the recipes in here are a refreshing step back from my typical million-ingredient/step endeavours. People can use the term “accessible” a lot when describing cookbooks, but in this case it’s all-the-way applicable. The instruction style is immediately familiar. Jess is like the cool friend that makes healthy living look a little too easy, and that you really want to send a pic of your bomb-ass salad to because you know she’d be proud.
In an ongoing attempt to shake things up around here, I sent her some interview questions to give you all a better feel for what she’s aiming at with her book. This is the first ever interview on my site! But I also made her milk tea recipe because I was intrigued by the idea of a salted tea when she suggested checking it out (plus I like to stick to a certain formula here). I really like it! I had a batch of the toasted coconut milk from 101 Cookbooks in my refrigerator and I knew that the nutty, fatty richness would be so great with a touch of sea salt and black tea. There’s a few more notes about this at the bottom of the post. But here’s Jess first:
1. This is an admittedly loaded question, but why did you make this book? Were you aiming for a physical extension of your site and online work, or something higher/more far-reaching?
Definitely something more far-reaching. You know me, I’d live on an island with a flip phone if I could. It wasn’t about my site, it was about the concept of One Part Plant. My mission with OPP is to get everyone on this planet to eat at least one plant-based meal a day.
Changing my diet, changed my entire life. Physically, mentally, and I’ll just go there, even spiritually. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was and is still. But making those changes also suuuccccccked. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. With this book, I want to help others make a shift without feeling the anger and confusion I did.
2. What pantry items did you rip through while you were developing the recipes for your book?
I swear we didn’t plan this question…but I ripped through my Top Ten Pantry ingredients. These are a huge part of the book and talk about them at length and even highlight them in each recipe. When I changed my diet, I stocked the same ten items in my pantry at all times. I knew that if I had these and some fruit and veggies, I could make something happen. For me and for so many other people, being prepared and knowing you can cook something on the fly gives you so much more confidence in the kitchen.
3. What’s your biggest triumph recipe-wise in One Part Plant, like the one thing that was just super hard to crack but you finally broke through?
I grew up in the Midwest and we always had this dish called Johnny Marzetti at every single holiday and family reunion. The dish is a casserole of meat, cheese, peppers, and tomato sauce. It’s very Midwest! I really wanted create a plant-based version of it for the book. I cooked my version for my mom and it was one of my proudest kitchen moments to hear her say, “this tastes just like Johnny Marzetti!”.
4. Were there any recipe concepts that you just had to bail on entirely with this book? I had about 20 of those :/
Um, yeah. There are two dishes that still haunt me:
1. Baingan Bharta (an Indian stewed eggplant dish)
2. Rose Almond Cake
I tested both so many times. It got to the point of some weird Single White Female obsession level. I finally realized I wasn’t the best use of my time (and budget) and moved on. But just talking about them makes me want to try to figure them out again!
5. I like that you weren’t afraid to relate some of your more personal struggles/life moments throughout One Part Plant. Changing your lifestyle is hard because it’s an adjustment that goes so deep! Had you planned to share on this level from the outset, or did it just “flow forth” in a way?
I guess that’s the only way I know how to write. And really, the only reason I’m here now is because of those struggles.
You’re so good at writing about food in a poetic way. I’ll read something on The First Mess and think “Damn, she’s such a great writer!”. When you read writing like yours, it makes you question your own. And I did halfway through writing my book. I wondered if it was too personal and conversational for a cookbook. It’s certainly not the way people usually write about food. But then I thought, eff it. This might be the only time I get to make a book and I’m just going all in and hope other people can relate. So far, so good.
6. You devote sections of your book to dips/sides and snacks/drinks. This is slightly unusual in the landscape of cookbooks (and I love it!). What was your motivation there?
I think similar to my answer above, I just decided to do what I thought would be cool. I tried not to look at a lot of other cookbooks to see the “right way” to things. I knew if I did, I would have gotten too much in my head. I personally really love dips and sides. These were the first things that really made me feel like I could pull off this whole plant-based eating thing. So, I thought they should for sure be in the book…and I guess get their own chapter!
7. When food is a hobby/passion, but also your job in a way, it can be really hard to tell when you have a recipe that would be of benefit to others. How do you decide which recipes to share and which ones may be unnecessary for public consumption?
If they seem annoying to make or have a rare ingredient, I keep them to myself. I rarely make anything that requires trips to specialty grocery stores or take hours to make. But when I do, it’s not something I’d share. I want One Part Plant to always feel really approachable and easy.
8. Considering the entire cookbook process (from getting your literary agent to deciding on promotional strategies), what was the best decision you made? The worst?
Best decision ever was getting my agent, Sarah. She is such a force and is the bad cop to my good one. She fights for me like we’re family and encourages me when I need it most.
Worst decision was how I did recipe testing in the beginning of the book. I’d go to the store and see “what inspired me”. That seems to work in the movies, but it didn’t work for me in real life! I wasted so much time and money that way. For me, I realized I needed a very detailed plan of action.
9. What was your “Holy eff, I’m so tired of eating cookbook food” dinner of choice after a long day of recipe testing? Mine was definitely pizza.
It was a big bowl of Tinkyada (brown rice noodles) smothered in Rao’s Marinara with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. If I had a little extra energy, I’d sauté some spinach or greens to go on top. But most nights, it was just me and Rao.
10. The photos of your son in the book are so, so great. What are Sid’s favourite recipes in One Part Plant?
Man, he is the best. He loves the Pistachio Coconut Squares a lot. And the Tahini Ball Balls are completely inspired by him. They are like energy balls made with tahini instead of nut butter. For some reason, Sid calls any sort of ball, whether it’s a soccer ball or energy ball “ball balls”. Not sure why he adds that extra “balls”. But it’s so damn sweet, that I named the recipe that. My editor let me keep it. Also, one of the greatest decisions about the process: my editor. She ruled.
TOASTED COCONUT MILK TEA RECIPE
From One Part Plant: A Simple Guide to Eating Real, One Meal at a Time by Jessica Murnane
Serves: Makes 6 cups
Notes: Jess calls for almond or rice milk here, but I had a batch of toasted coconut milk in the fridge that I knew would taste eye-poppingly good within this salted tea concept. For the toasted coconut milk, I follow Heidi Swanson’s recipe (HERE), but I replace a 1/2 cup of the coconut with 1/4 cup raw, soaked cashews. This just mellows the milk out a bit, and I find that the milk is less likely to form a solid layer at the top when I cut it this way. Also there’s a note in the recipe that this milk tea is great as the liquid component of overnight-style oatmeal, which I think sounds great.
3 cups water
3 cups unsweetened, plant-based milk of choice (see headnote)
2 green or black tea bags, strings and tags removed
1/2 – 1 teaspoon sea salt
In a medium pot, bring the water, milk, tea, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags with a spoon. Add more salt if needed. Serve.