Meet the Jazzy Vegetarian

Laura Theodore calls herself the Jazzy Vegetarian because she is an expert vegan and vegetarian cook and a jazz singer. In fact, she composes the music for her series on Public TV’s Create channel, now in its fourth season.

Laura Theodore, the Jazzy Vegetarian
Laura Theodore, the Jazzy Vegetarian, with a cashew loaf.
Photo: Joe Orecchio

The program, The Jazzy Vegetarian, features Theodore, who lives in Bloomingdale, cooking with guests—actors, musicians and nutritionists. They create vegan versions of mainstream dishes she grew up eating in Ohio.

Twenty-five years ago, Theodore says, “I started taking my mother’s recipes and my grandmother’s recipes and redoing them so I could have those tastes I remembered from childhood and enjoy them without the animal products."

As a young woman, she flirted with going vegetarian, but her journey to veganism, less well-known then, began with an epiphany when she came to Manhattan in the 1980s to pursue her musical dreams.

“I was walking down Broadway, past a fast-food restaurant, and realized I never wanted to eat meat again," she relates. "Not only for my health, but at that point I started to feel a responsibility to the animals that I had always loved."

Over the next several years, she stopped eating chicken, fish, eggs and animal byproducts, eventually arriving at a plant-based diet and a desire to create a “cruelty-free” cuisine.

She urges people who are interested in adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet to take it slow. Start with one meatless meal a week, then two, then three; then one meatless day a week, then two, and so on.

“It could take you two weeks or two years," she says, "but don’t put pressure on yourself, or it’s not going to happen."

Next month, Theodore will begin taping the 13 episodes of Jazzy Vegetarian Season Five that will air beginning in July. The episodes will be taped at the new Sub-Zero and Wolf kitchen showroom in Pine Brook.

“It’s really beautiful, and we are so excited to be there,” she says. “If you like kitchen appliances, you can just go there and dream.”

The series can be seen locally on NJTV, Saturdays at 2:30 pm, and on WLIW, Sundays at 2:30. Theodore has published two companion cookbooks, Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine That’s Easy and Delicious and Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on Family Favorites.

Finding the right substitutes for animal ingredients has been the biggest hurdle in creating satisfying vegan dishes, she says. But these days, she adds, most grocery stores carry those replacement ingredients.

The big challenge, she admits, is “getting people to taste them in the first place. Most people think, ‘If I become a vegan, I will limit my possibilities.’ But really, your possibilities are endless when you linger in that produce section and see this beautiful rainbow as the center of your meal."

jazzyvegetarian.com

Recipes:

Spaghetti and Wheatballs
Makes 3 to 4 servings (12 to 14 wheatballs)

1 1/3 cups lightly packed, fresh, soft whole-grain bread crumbs (about 3 to 4 large slices – must be fresh!) (see note)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 cups chopped mushrooms
½ cup diced onion
¾ pound organic spaghetti (see note)
3 cups prepared vegan marinara sauce or your own homemade sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a medium baking pan with unbleached parchment paper.

Put the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt in a large bowl. Put the walnuts in a blender, and pulse to process into coarse crumbs. Add the walnuts to the bread crumbs and stir gently to incorporate.

Put the mushrooms and onion in a blender, and process to a chunky purée. Add the mushroom mixture to the walnut–bread crumb mixture and stir to incorporate. Spoon out about 1½ tablespoons of the mushroom mixture and roll it into a ball. Gently squeeze it together, to make sure it is compact and will hold together while baking. Continue in this way with the remaining mushroom mixture. Arrange the wheatballs on the lined baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Gently rotate each wheatball and bake for 12 to 20 minutes more, or until they are firm, crisp and golden.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm. Drain the spaghetti well.

Meanwhile, pour the marinara sauce in a medium sauce pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Gently add the wheatballs to the sauce, one at a time, cover, and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes.

To serve, put one-quarter of the spaghetti into each of four pasta bowls, and top with three or four wheatballs. Ladle marinara sauce over the top and serve immediately.

Chef’s Note:
To make fresh bread crumbs, put 3 to 4 slices of wholegrain bread in a blender and process into coarse crumbs. Gluten-free option: You may use your favorite gluten-free pasta in this recipe. The wheatballs make a sensational base for a terrific hero-style sandwich too!

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
16 to 18 giant cookies

2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, sucanat or maple sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup pecans, rough chopped
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
1 ½ cups fresh apple puree (see note)
1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons soymilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper.

Put the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and stir with a dry whisk to combine. Add the pecans and vegan chocolate chips, and stir with the whisk to combine. Stir in the apple purée, vanilla extract, and nondairy milk, and mix just until incorporated. If the dough seems overly wet, stir in a bit more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Alternately, if the dough seems overly dry, stir in a bit more nondairy milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.

For each cookie, drop about 2 ½ tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly using the back of a flat spatula. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until slightly golden
around the edges. Remove the sheet from the oven and let cool for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies
to a wire rack. Cool for about 10 minutes. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the
cookies will keep for about 2 days.

Chef’s Note:
To make the apple purée, peel and core 3 very large or 4 medium apples. Rough chop the apples. Put the apples in a blender and process until the consistency of smooth applesauce is achieved. Be careful not to liquefy!

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