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Festival of Books: Faux meat, faux cream, real vegan cooking

May 2, 2011 | 12:01 pm

Tal Ronnen, author of “The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat,” and Kathy Freston, who penned the bestseller “The Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World,” led a Q&A about “leaning toward” a vegetable-based diet on the Cooking Stage on Sunday at the Festival of Books.

“It’s not all black and white,” said Freston, a lithe blonde wearing a bright orange sweater and high-heeled green satin sandals. Whether for their own health, the environment, or animal rights, many want to “go lighter on meat …. You don’t have to cut out all meat in one day. It’s progress, not perfection.”

While fielding questions from the audience on topics such as meat replacement products and how to make vegan cupcake frosting, Ronnen, in chef whites and white apron, whipped up a spring “cream” of asparagus soup, without the cream. (Ronnen’s vegetarian-chef bona fides include preparing a 21-day vegan diet for Oprah Winfrey and cooking the first vegan dinner at the U.S. Senate.)

From an aspiring vegetarian in the audience: “How do you compensate for meat as the protein center of a meal with variety?” Ronnen pointed to the culinary traditions of other cultures: soy in Asia, lentils in India, beans in Mexico, whole grains in South America. “I also really love veggie sausage,” Freston interjected. “Field Roast [Grain Meat] is my favorite brand. And you can do anything with Gardein ‘chicken scallopini’ that you can with a chicken breast.”

How to replace dairy products such as cream? Ronnen demonstrated how to make cashew “cream” with raw cashews that had been soaked in water overnight in the refrigerator, then rinsed and blended with fresh water –- which he added to his asparagus soup.

How to take the first step in cutting meat out of your diet? “I started by cutting out one animal at a time,” Freston said. “Cows, pigs, chickens, eggs, then finally cheese. But a more ethical approach would be to start with birds. One bird feeds only two people, one cow, 150 people.”

A teenage vegan baker who uses a butter alternative and powdered sugar for her cupcake frosting asked how she might make it creamier. Ronnen’s suggestion: add a little arrowroot starch.

-- Betty Hallock

Photo: Kathy Freston and Tal Ronnen at the Festival of Books Cooking Stage on Sunday. Credit: Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times