I have known about Dreena Burton for years. This summer, I had the joy of meeting her at Summerfest and felt an instant kinship with her. Dreena has been a vegan for almost 20 years, and has written four bestselling cookbooks charting her journey as a plant-powered cook and at-home mother of three. Always passionate about creating nutritious recipes, she is an advocate of using the “vegan basics” (beans, nuts, seeds, whole-grains, fruits and vegetables) to create healthy, delicious food for the whole family. Dreena’s book “Let Them Eat Vegan” showcases her newest whole-foods vegan recipes and she’s allowing me to give away a copy to one of our readers! For more on the giveaway, read to the bottom. For more Dreena, visit her Plant Powered Kitchen.
Allison Rivers Samson: You went vegetarian in your teens and gradually moved towards veganism in your twenties. Tell me a little about your experience. Do you remember the moment you realized “I’m vegan now?” What was that like?
Dreena Burton: I was a bit of a slow-growth vegan, went to vegetarian first and then moved into eating vegan. And, I had a few stumbles along the way until I was truly vegan. In my teens I cut out the red meats somewhat flippantly after one of my sisters showed me an article about red meat and how it does not digest well and remains largely undigested in your intestines, up to several pounds. The idea was repulsive to me. And, at the time as a teen, I was all about looking good, but there was also a little part of me interested in health. While I had stopped eating the ‘red meated’ animals, I still ate chickens, fish, and eggs and dairy. Until I read “Fit For Life” and “Diet For a New America” a few years later. Those books had a huge impact on me. I stopped eating chickens, and then fish soon followed. I felt some health improvements, but even bigger changes came when combined with eliminating dairy.
During my twenties I had a lot of joint stiffness and pain, which I now think were early signs of arthritis. I also had swollen areas in different joints, and an episode with gout. I remember being 22, giving a presentation in university. When it was my time to stand, all I could think was how much it hurt my knees. I wasn’t heavy either. Maybe had an extra 15 or 20 pounds on, but that’s all. But my knees felt like I was 75 pounds overweight. I knew something had to change, but didn’t make the full dietary connection until after university. When I later cut out dairy (along with meat), so much improved. My digestion felt better, not heavy and sluggish. My energy lifted and I didn’t have long-lasting mucous-y colds. And, the pain and stiffness in my joints subsided. I knew in my soul that meat and dairy weren’t good for my body. And, the more I read and researched, the more facts I had to support my decision. By that time I was engaged, and as my husband and I moved into marriage we also moved into eating vegan.
ARS: What was your favorite vegan food then? And now?
DB: Oooh, toughie! When I discovered sweet potatoes – and how to make sweet potato fries, I was hooked on them for quite a while. And I used to buy this frozen tofu ravioli (and am too embarrassed to admit how often I ate it every week)! My diet was not nearly as diverse then as it is now. I think that’s true for many vegans, it’s definitely a food journey, and the best part comes when you incorporate a range of whole plant foods and combine them in creative ways. And, I wasn’t always a cook. I gained a love of food – and cooking and baking – once I became vegan. I never enjoyed food preparation with animal products, especially meats.Prepping animal flesh was repulsive to me (and yet I ate it), and I was never comfortable with cross-contamination and food safety issues. My favorite food pre-vegan was ice cream.When I first became vegan there were no vegan ice creams available – boy I’m glad that has changed! So ice creams (vegan) are still a favorite, as are sweet potatoes… and also beans and greens. I realize beans and greens sounds very healthy and not that exciting, but beans can be transformed into spectacular dishes, and I don’t go a day without my green smoothies!
ARS: You and your husband have three girls. What has been the greatest joy of raising vegan children? Biggest challenge?
DB: Yes, three girls, ages 3, 7, and 11. The best part is seeing their appreciation of real food, and their connection to eating vegan. It’s very natural for them, and they truly love their foods.And, the older girls are at an age where they see the junk that other kids are eating, and while they want treats – they don’t want that junk. It’s very rewarding.The biggest challenge is, at least for us, not having quick go-to options when being out and about with the kids. There aren’t many restaurants or cafés in our local area where we can grab a quick lunch or snack for the girls. It’s a good thing I like to cook and bake… we are all a little food-spoiled now!
ARS: Surely you keep busy with three daughters! What’s your favorite quick-and-easy recipe for families on the go?
DB: I rely on soups and stews a lot, because they are so fast, give extras for lunch or another meal, and easily paired with a salad and whole grain or whole grain bread for a satisfying meal. And, I always encourage people to double (or triple) batch things like hummus and bean dips, because they can be reworked into burritos/wraps, a pizza spread, mixed into grains, and other quick meals for children (and adults alike).Another recipe I make often (and double or triple) is my “Tamari Roasted Chickpeas“. Our girls love snacking on them, and I can add them to pastas for school lunches, mash for sandwich fillings, add to a wrap or pair with potatoes, veggies, rice, and more. Often it’s about taking a few staples and repurposing those foods into different meals. Batch cooking of beans, grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cereals is SO useful! And, I typically bake a double batch of healthy muffins or other baked goods twice a week, for packing in lunches. Here are a couple of those recipes (see others throughout the post):
Maple Banana Bread Muffins
ARS: What is your favorite vegan protein? Veggie?
DB: Definitely beans. I’ve been dubbed the ‘Queen Bean’, works for me – we eat beans every day, and I love combining them with other plant foods for hearty burgers, soups, salads, dips, and more. They are so versatile, and for a long time very under-utilized in vegan cuisine. My favorite veggies? See, I had to pluralize that question because I love so many: zucchinis, collard greens, kale, parsley, basil, fennel, sweet potatoes, avocados (even though technically a fruit). Those top my list, but I love many more!
ARS: When it comes to dessert, what’s your go-to flavor? Chocolate, vanilla, fruit or…?
DB: My readers know I am a devout dark chocolate lover. Truly love it, but usually as a late morning or mid-afternoon hit. In terms of dessert, ice cream is my favorite, and I adore vanilla combinations – like a caramel swirl with pralines or cookies – that kind of thing. I rarely go for fruity ice creams.
ARS: I recently saw one of your videos where your girls are adorably chattering away in the background. I was inspired by your patience and composure of you shared your integrated life as “Mama” and “Famous Vegan Cookbook Author.” What are some of the things you do that are just for yourself, to de-stress, regenerate and replenish yourself?
DB: Oh, thanks! For a while I wanted to do cooking videos on my own, without interruptions and distractions, and then one day just realized “why not show more of real life?”! Not entirely real-life, as my kitchen is rarely as clean as it is in those video segments! But, I enjoy sharing the cooking moments with our daughters giggling or giving their food commentary. It’s so much fun doing those clips! As for “me time,” admittedly that’s one area I haven’t figured out the best. That ‘balance’ is a bit elusive when mothering three young active girls, writing recipes, blogging, and being an active voice in the vegan community. My husband and I are pretty full-on with the girls as we have no outside support, so we have little social time and little ‘us’ time. A couple of things I do is to exercise most days of the week with yoga, muscle conditioning, or some light cardio (even 15 minutes of rebounding a day makes a difference in my life), and getting good rest. I have had times of insomnia as a mother, and it’s very difficult, so I respect my need for sleep and don’t overdo work in lieu of rest. So, I think that helps to replenish my stores – and also keeps me more grounded as a mother and having this other full-time job as a cookbook author.
ARS: Do you have a favorite Allison’s Gourmet goodie? Or one you’d most like to try?
DB: Good heavens, yes. The Chocolate Almond Toffee is orgasmic. Can I say that??! When I was a kid, we used to get something similar from a well-known Canadian candy and ice cream chain called Laura Secord. When I saw your toffee, I ordered both the classic and the chocolate. I loved them both – a sweet combination of fond food nostalgia and vegan heaven!
Thanks Dreena, your voice for compassion, healthy whole-foods eating and vegan parenting is an inspiration to many other vegan mamas out there, including me.
Now for the giveaway of “Let Them Eat Vegan!” I’d like you to answer one of the same questions I asked Dreena: When it comes to dessert, what’s your go-to flavor? Chocolate, vanilla, fruit or…? I’m excited to hear your answers! We’ll pick a winner Thursday, November 1st. You must be a resident of the US or Canada to win. Happy weekend!