The dripping red cleaver on this cookbook cover aims to get meat lovers to eat more vegetables

4 May 2018

At first glance, the cover of "The Wicked Healthy Cookbook," which features a meat cleaver dripping red, is shocking.

But all is not as it seems.

That red stuff? It's beet juice. And the cookbook written by professional chefs/brothers Chad and Derek Sarno, along with prolific author and collaborator David Joachim, is a collection of more than 125 plant-based recipes big on taste, texture, and color.

If the cover is any indicator, this is killer vegan food for meat lovers.

"We want to engage conversation about 'Why plant-based?' and the easiest way to do that is through delicious food," said Chad, who, along with Derek, signs copies of "The Wicked Healthy Cookbook: Free. From. Animals." at Now Serving LA on Thursday, May 10. "And one thing that we like to highlight is bold flavors – a lot of fresh herbs, chilis, reducing sauces down to glazes – because I think that's one of the biggest misconceptions of plant-based food."

There's nothing bland here.

"The Wicked Healthy Cookbook" puts vegetables in the center of the plate and doesn't rely on a lot of products found on store shelves to do it. Sure, there's the mouth-watering Samurai Burger with Wasabi, Sesame, Cucumber and Kimchi Mayo. But the pages of this cookbook are mostly filled with recipes that have stuck with the authors for years – and in some cases, since childhood.

"Our nana's red sauce is in there," Chad said, adding with a chuckle that "half our family is pretty pissed off that we published it. It's a family recipe for sure, but it's amazing on everything.

"These recipes mean a lot to us," he continued. "We're not just cranking out a cookbook to fill it with whatever we're doing at the time."

Some of the recipes showcase innovative techniques.

What looks like grilled steak slathered in barbecue sauce is a pressed and seared maitake mushroom, which takes on a meat-like texture. And did you know leftover no-salt liquid from a can of chickpeas has enough protein to whip up like egg whites for a meringue, without a hint of beany-ness?

As the actor Woody Harrelson put it in the foreword, "This whole book is basically a blueprint for treating yourself right, enjoying everything you eat, and having a positive impact on the world around you."

The dishes photograph beautifully, too.

One of Chad's favorites is the recipe for Corn Dumplings in Coconut Corn Broth.

"They're so good, especially as we start to get into the summer months and corn is in season," he said. "It's just this absolute explosion of corn flavor."

Also covered in the book are cocktails (courtesy of the middle Sarno brother, Darren), sauces, and basics, as well as informative sidebars.

In addition to recipes, the first third of the book serves as a point of reference, from building flavor and texture to getting organized.

Chad calls this setting oneself up for success and he lives by it.

"I batch-cook a ton because I travel a lot so I'm always making dinners for my family for when I'm gone," said the father of two, a daughter, 12, and a son, 1 1/2. "If I make soup, I'll make three-times more soup than I know we'll eat and then I'll freeze some of it for the rest of the week.

"If I go to the market and I'm bringing home a ton of kale, I'm going to stem it and chop it and put it in the fridge so I can grab a handful of it and add it to a stirfry or whatever I happen to be making," he said. "It makes it easy."

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