Ayinde Howell: The Lusty Vegan
Award-winning chef Ayinde Howell knows a thing or two about being green.
The fourth-generation entrepreneur, actor, musician, writer and founder of ieatgrass.com was born in Tacoma, Washington to a pair of vegans and has managed to turn his passion of healthy eating into a lucrative and beneficial lifestyle.
While co-owner of Hillside Quickies Vegan Sandwich Shop in Seattle, Howell dished out soulful dishes to notable industry giants like The Roots, Saul Williams, Common, Blackalicious and Erykah Badu and made it possible to look cool while eating healthy.
Now back with a new venture, a book titled The Lusty Vegan, Howell and co-author Zoe Eisenberg dish out all the dirt of co-existing in a meat-filled world; think part cookbook, part advice and part sex education for vegans dating non-vegans. These personal experiences are captured in flavorful recipes, laugh-out-loud anecdotes and inviting photography that will make you think twice about eating green!
Here’s what we learned about the outspoken chef:
JET: Describe your style of cuisine.
Ayinde Howell: Black. I grew up in a house with a father from Alabama, mother from Baltimore, and both grandparents who were known for their prowess in the kitchen. Most present in my memory was fried chicken prepared by my paternal grandfather. So once my parents decided to go vegan when I was born, they just converted those soul food recipes and influences to fit a new lifestyle; I grew up eating a very Southern-influenced style of food. Later in my career, I discovered the most flavor in international cuisine came came from an ethnicity of a darker complexion: Thai vs Japanese, Brazilian vs Colombian Mediterranean vs the rest of European, etc. So I like and cook food that is flavorful from cultures rich in melanin. Black.
JET: What inspired you to become a vegan and create vegan dishes?
AH: Well, as I said, I was born into it and then choose it as an adult. I saw the merit and benefit of the lifestyle coupled with seeing my older relatives die of diet-related diseases. We are what we eat and in this book I really try to create recipes that are tasty and familiar so that my extended family can enjoy.
JET: What are some myths surrounding African-Americans and veganism?
AH: Mostly it’s because black and brown people think they will lack in community. I had a friend ask “what about BBQs and cookouts? What about Sunday dinner and fish frys?” You can foster community around healthy food; it won’t taste just like Grandma’s, but you can make it taste good and create new traditions and memories from that life-affirming place.
JET: What are five ingredients every person needs to have in the pantry?
AH: 1. Sage; 2. All-purpose seasoning. My favorite is homemade, but Old Bay and a good Cajun is nice.; 3. Truffle oil; 4. Good Balsamic vinegar; and 5. White pepper.
JET: Tell us more about your new book, The Lusty Vegan.
AH: As a grown man who was looking for a partner, I began to find it difficult to merge my lifestyle with the woman I was dating at the time. This was not new, I began to see it as a problem when at one point the model I was dating in Harlem said I didn’t eat anything. A model said the chef doesn’t eat. Anyway, I thought some people could learn from my experiences and eat better tasting vegan food that both the vegan and meat-eaters can enjoy.
JET: Why are Black chefs so important to the culinary world?
AH: Not only are Black chefs important, but healthy Black chefs are super important because they are the people in the community who can make a difference. It will take that innovation and new ideas in taste to entice people of color, especially in low-income areas, to change their very harmful processed food heavy diet.
JET: What is your advice to aspiring young chefs?
AH: Don’t do it because it’s popular or because you want to be on TV. If you have a natural talent, develop that and hone in on a speciality or niche undeserved market.
JET: What does food mean to you?
AH: Life. Food is such a huge part of life and I can appreciate it from loving to eating to fasting. My hope is that with this foodie culture we live in we will learn what real food is and that red is not a flavor.
JET: What is your outlook on the future of cooking while Black?
AH: It’s a profession where we have not seen a lot of wealthy and successful chef of color. My hope is that we will continue to permeate the landscape not only as authors and executive chefs but as brands. I’m kicking open as many doors as possible so c’mon!
Hearts of Baltimore Crab Cakes
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes | Serves 2
Maryland Crab Cakes are traditionally oversized, and I wanted to recreate them using Hearts of Palm and traditional seasonings. I make them gluten-free and pair with a Garlicky Dill Aïoli. I don’t know if it’s spot on, but from what I hear, it’s pretty darn close. Use a soy-free mayo to make this soy-free.
GARLICKY DILL AÏOLI
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons grapeseed or safflower oil, divided, plus more for frying
1 (14-ounce) can hearts of palm (not packed in sugar), roughly chopped to the consistency of crab meat
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
1/2 cup gluten-free bread crumbs, or more
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
Lemon wedges, to serve
To prepare the Garlicky Dill Aïoli: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well and add salt and pepper to taste. Set in the fridge to keep cool.
To prepare the Breading: In a shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning, stirring to mix. Coat the patties with the breadcrumb mixture and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
To prepare the Crab Cakes:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the hearts of palm and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until golden brown on all sides. Set aside to cool. Add the celery and peppers and mix well.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium-heat heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat, add to the hearts of palm, and mix well. Add the Old Bay seasoning, cornstarch, and mayo.
Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and mix well. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then shape the mixture into four round patties.
Heat about 3 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over medium- high heat until hot and shimmering. Carefully place the patties in the skillet and cook until golden brown on each side, approximately 2 minutes per side. Watch closely to prevent burning. Transfer the cooked patties to a plate lined with paper towels to drain any excess oil. Serve hot, topped with the aïoli, with lemon wedges on the side.
(From The Lusty Vegan © 2014 by Ayinde Howell and Zoe Eisenberg. Used with permission from Vegan Heritage Press.)
About Tyrus Townsend
Cultural expositor Tyrus Rochell Townsend has written for Essence, Uptown, Vibe, BET.com, The Atlanta Post, Bleu Magazine, Details Style Network and numerous other publications. Read about his style musings at The Gentleman’s Daily and follow him on Twitter @gentlemansdaily and on Instagram at @tyrusrochelltownsend and @thegentlemansdaily.