Celebrity chef Renee Johnson is no stranger to serving up vegetarian meals on offer to political forces. She has been preparing meals for some of the world’s most respected personalities for more than two decades, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and others. She’s known for preparing crowds of healthy, Southern-inspired A-list comfort foods, including collard greens, sweet potato pancakes, old-fashioned grits, vegan butter beans, cobblers, and decadent pancakes.
“I want everyone to know that being vegan isn’t as difficult as you think. Take small steps on your vegan journey. Becoming vegan doesn’t mean having no flavour,” says Johnson. “Vegan food and soul are a dynamic combination.”
She loves to cook healthier, vegan-inspired dishes in her grandmother Catherine’s kitchen. Johnson’s grandmother prioritized fresh ingredients, often from her backyard, to make peach cobbler with fresh peaches from her trees and blackberry jam made from scratch from her blackberry bush. Johnson carries on her grandmother’s legacy of preparing dishes with love. She removed harmful fats from her old-fashioned grandmother’s favorite foods to make healthier meals for family recipes. Johnson says there’s no reason to use pork or turkey in red beans, rice, or cabbage.
we talked with Blackberry Soul Authored about how to incorporate a little love into every bite, her top tips for vegan cooking, and her recipe for vegan gumbo.
1. Meat trade for legumes
I often replace meat with rice, beans, potatoes, or quinoa. I use quinoa to make a great vegan meatloaf. Cooked quinoa can be used just like ground beef, add onions, paprika, garlic, spices, add flax eggs, breadcrumbs, and another secret is adding oil to the meatloaf mixture just like a real meatloaf. This will help hold the meatloaf together and give a flavorful loaf.
2. Use the oil to imitate animal protein fats
When cooking a vegetarian, be sure to re-add the oil to your recipes. When I make my grandmother’s greens out of cabbage, I make them vegan. I whip out smoked turkey wings, but add olive oil to raise the spice I added to the pot. When making red beans for my grandmother, I put the oil back into the recipe because I took out the pork leg. To give me the smoky flavor in both recipes, I add fresh shallots and fresh fennel, both game-changers. Shallots are a wonderfully flavorful onion and fennel gives you the dandelion flavor that links have.
3. Don’t underestimate the tofu
Tofu can be used in many ways. It can be used as eggs in many recipes. Tofu can be flipped and flavored just like scrambled eggs. It can be blended to make the best vegan French toast you’ve ever tasted. Tofu can also be sliced and fried just like fried chicken. Makes some of the best vegan fried chicken ever.
4. Don’t be afraid to make recipes non-vegetarian
Most recipes can be changed to vegetarian. Whole milk can be changed to plant milk. My favorites are full cream oat milk and coconut milk. When making vegan cornbread, the secret is to add a little milk and make sure you add a little vegan butter. Remember, you won’t have any eggs in the recipe, so the cornbread will take a little longer to cook, but I promise you’ll love the cornbread. This recipe is in my cookbook, From my heart to your tableAnd I talk about these two secrets to making great vegan cornbread.
5. Look for vegan butter
There are some great vegan butters out there. Buy a few to see which one you like the most. I prefer cashew butter, but I prefer making it. It is very easy to make and contains no preservatives. Lasts a long time! I use vegan cashew butter when making this no-fail peach cobbler. Cashews still give you a buttery taste without the dairy.