If you’re not already familiar with Lauren Toyota of hot for food, the wildly popular vegan blog, prepare to fall hard for her plant-based, comfort food concoctions. Our favourite VJ-turned-blogger-turned-author recently spoke with us about the journey that led her to the release of her new cookbook, and shared with our readers a mouth-watering recipe from its pages.
Was there a certain ‘aha’ moment in your life that inspired you to go vegan?
I decided after watching the documentary Food Inc. that I needed to go vegan. It was the thing I needed to do to feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. So that’s where the transition started.
When you first launched the hot for food blog in 2014, it received immediate attention. Did that come as a surprise and did it help strengthen the direction you had for the blog?
It definitely came as a surprise and it’s certainly nice for it to be received that way. It’s only built momentum form there. However, it didn’t really strengthen the direction specifically, as I always had a vision from the beginning and just went with it. I just always do what I feel I want to and whatever my instincts tell me. Which is probably the exact reason it garnered some initial attention, as it was sort of what was meant to happen, if that makes sense!
How did you learn to create vegan food that tastes like the “real thing”? Are there certain ingredients that you gravitate towards to simulate different flavours?
I just took all the flavours and foods that I loved when I was an omnivore and always tried to recall those memories, textures, and tastes. I think cooking takes a lot of practice to get good and to understand how to combine flavours and ingredients. I had always enjoyed cooking, even before going vegan, so I think that helped me a lot and informed my choices for what to use. Cashews, nutritional yeast, miso, garlic, onion, and tofu are ingredients I rely on a lot as they’re so versatile to create creamy, cheesy, and tangy flavours. I think also that cooking techniques are important, so searing in a hot cast iron is something that will always bring out flavour in vegetables. Roasting with the right herbs, spices, and oils is also something I do a lot. And making sauces out of just about anything is one of my go-to things as well.
You started hot for food with your former partner, John Diemer, with whom you’ve since parted ways professionally and personally. What has been the process of taking on the business yourself and shaping the brand in a new, solo light? How have your followers responded to that?
The only major difference is that John isn’t shooting the videos and appearing in ‘the challenge” series we created on the YouTube channel, and I don’t have a close sounding board for ideas, but honestly I was the one running the business day to day, creating the content, and keeping it on track with my big vision from the beginning. John stopped being involved long before we actually separated, and he was busy running his own business from the beginning as well. I wanted John to be part of the look and brand of hot for food when I started it since he was such an important part of my life, but he never committed to it in the way I did. I appreciate his time and care, and what he did bring to it. It wouldn’t exist in this way without John, but I don’t think his absence makes hot for food any less creative or inspiring. People have responded for the most part positively, as I think they’ve always seen hot for food as my baby, really. I think that was always pretty clear. Maybe not, but that’s the truth.
Aside from sharing recipes via hot for food, you also vlog about your travels (and the vegan meals you eat along the way) on your YouTube channel, Lauren In Real Life. Any exciting travel plans for 2018 or vegan restaurants on your bucket list?
I’m hoping to go to Vegas and actually vlog the eats which I didn’t do when I went the first time (I didn’t have YouTube back then)! I’m also going to Tulum Veg Fest, which should be fun, as I’ve never been to Tulum, Mexico and I hear it’s very foodie friendly. I’d like to do a lot more travelling to other US cities as well, since I just got a taste for things when I went on my four-city book tour. So that’s in the works, but nothing planned yet. These of course are all work-related trips…I have no idea when my next real vacation is!
How has the process of sharing so much of your day-to-day personal life with the world shaped the way you live and practice self-care? How do you seek out time for yourself that is off-camera, private, and yours?
I have to have that time to myself a lot, actually. I’m not sure if it’s because I put my life out on display or if it’s just the sheer fact that I output a lot of creativity and content. That output takes a lot of energy out of me, so it’s important to recharge and get inspired. I meditate daily, which is a very vital practice to maintaining balance and channeling creativity. I also practice hot yoga, which I really enjoy and it helps clear my head. Other than that, I just really like sitting around doing nothing, if I don’t have deadlines. I love watching Netflix, reading self-help books, and listening to podcasts!
Cold Cucumber–Chile Noodles
PREP TIME: 20 minutes
COOK TIME: 6-8 minutes
I tend to add mega flavour to everything I cook, but in this dish I embrace the minimalist trend and really like the simplicity of green onions with spice, sesame, salt, and refreshing crunchy cucumber. It was inspired by something I ate a couple of years ago at Xi’an Famous Foods in Brooklyn. A friend claimed this menu item, known as A-1, was her favorite thing ever, which I mistook for hyperbole. But I was curious. Well, after ordering it and taking one bite, I was in love and certainly wasn’t prepared for a long-distance relationship with this noodle dish so I made my own version!
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. If your rice noodles already contain salt, do not add salt to the water. Cook the noodles until al dente, approximately 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the cucumber into ribbons using a vegetable peeler or slice very thin using a mandolin.
Drain the noodles, rinse under cool water, and place in a large bowl. Toss with the cucumber ribbons, green onions, sesame oil, sesame seeds (reserving 1 teaspoon for garnish) and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt (more to taste, if necessary). Divide among serving plates.
Drizzle each portion with 1 tablespoon of the chile oil (or use more sesame oil if you don’t want spice) and garnish with the remaining sesame seeds. You can also toss the noodles in only the sesame oil, salt, and sesame seeds, leaving the cucumber ribbons and green onions to place on top of the noodles in each serving. I think this looks prettier!
If you have leftovers, soften the noodles by heating them with a bit of water in a covered pan or heat in a microwave. Drain any excess water before serving.
Excerpted from Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics by Lauren Toyota. Copyright © 2018 Lauren Toyota. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.