Isa Chandra Moskowitz's 5 Essentials for Wildly Delicious (Not Necessarily Vegan) Weeknight Meals

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Isa Chandra Moskowitz is famous for her fresh, bold approach to vegan cooking, with her inspiring vegan cookbooks and cooking videos, as well as her website Post-Punk Kitchen.

But when we spoke with her about her five essentials for home cooks, she wanted to be sure we kept the emphasis on weeknight cooking — vegan or otherwise. "These tips and essentials apply to all cooks," she said.

Isa has written and co-authored several vegan cookbooks, her most famous being Veganomicon, which was published in 2007 and continues to be a bestseller and vegan cooking bible for many. Her latest book Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week is sure to follow suit. (Check out Emily's review here.)

"It's all about being accessible, with recipes anyone can do. You can give it to someone in your family who might not be used to vegan cooking because it will have a lot of familiar ingredients," said Isa. "It's the culmination of everything I've learned in my 10 years of cookbook writing."

Isa lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and she is a full time food writer. She started writing cookbooks when she was 16, when she first became a vegetarian. "My mom brought home cookbooks and we started cooking together. This was before the internet, so I would make cooking zines as a way to share my favorites." Besides her selection of wonderful cookbooks, Isa has a website Post Punk Kitchen, as well as a wonderful series of cooking videos.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz's 5 Essentials for Wildly Delicious (Not Necessarily Vegan) Weeknight Meals

1. Always be soaking.
"This is for any cook (but vegans in particular): always have some beans and the heartier grains like wheat berries soaking in water. If they're presoaked, it takes no time at all to cook them — even lentils will cook a lot faster with a little soaking. You can save yourself hours in the kitchen if you just take a minute to pour some water on wheat berries, for example. I use room temperature, filtered water and just throw a tea towel over the bowl to keep the cat hair out.

"Cashews are another great thing. If you have soaked cashews it only takes a couple of minutes in a blender to make a nice, smooth cashew cream. As a vegan, I'm always soaking cashews because I want to make creamy things."

What happens when you get something soaking but you just don't have the time to deal with it? "Well, with some of the legumes you'll get sprouted versions of them, which is delicious and nutritious. Sprouted garbanzo beans, for instance, are great raw! Otherwise, with things like soaking cashews, I just cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it the refrigerator. If you change the water every day or so, you can keep them there for a week."

2. Manage your expectations and accept your feelings.
"I feel like there's a lot of pressure from places like Pinterest for us to have a special kind of kitchen experience. There's this culture now which is promoting these kind of whimsical, warm-wood-and-beautiful-napkins moments. (I'm guilty of this too!) Just calm down: not everything you make needs to end up on Instagram.

"If you've had a shitty day, cooking doesn't have to relax you or make you feel better. It might, of course, but it doesn't have to. People can start feeling inadequate because they're not having an Instagrammable experience. Just go into the kitchen with whatever feelings or circumstances are going on for you and cook anyway. Cook angry!"

3. Keep at least one counter clean and free of clutter.
"Kitchens can collect all kinds of clutter: keys, gym bags, computers. Keep at least one area clear so that every time you come home, you're ready to cook and you don't have to start by clearing a space. Make it a dedicated work space.

"Useful kitchen utensils and things like olive oil are fine to keep out, as long as they are out of your way and you can fit a big cutting board and a compost bowl there. You have to have enough space to work. Bonus tip: Having a big cutting board is important, especially with vegan cooking. You're often cutting up a lot of vegetables and you'll just get cranky if everything is all squished together on a small board."

4. Find your spirit recipes!
"In other words, have about five recipes that you've mastered. Dishes where you don't need to pay close attention to measurements, or that you need to read each step of the recipe. (Almost like how a guitarist learns a few chords and then they can create a song.) Once you have those five dishes that you love making, it's going to make everything a lot easier. You'll be able to riff on them, come up with variations, and not be stressed because you'll know what to make when you come home tired from a long day at work. You won't need to pull out a cookbook, you'll just get into the kitchen and start cooking."

5. Pay attention to down time.
"When you read a recipe, be sure you understand how long the entire recipe takes and if there are any periods of down time. This will help you to not start cooking a recipe that ends up taking longer than you want and it also helps to know that there might be some hands-off time while something is soaking or cooking, so you can get other things done. There's such a desire for these 30-minute meals which are great but there might be a great recipe that you reject, not realizing that a lot of the cooking time is hands-off."

Bonus tip: Have sauces around. Take a few minutes on a Sunday or whenever you have the time and whip up some sauces in a blender and pop them in the refrigerator. I always have at least 2 or 3 in the refrigerator at any time. Pick sauces that don't need to cook: a tahini sauce, a peanut sauce, or a dressing like Caesar dressing. They last a week, sometimes a little more. That way you can come home and steam some veggies or sauté some tofu, or take some leftover rice, or get anything together that takes 10 minutes to do. Then pour the sauce over it and there you have it. Tons of flavor with hardly any work!"

Thank you, Isa!

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(Image credits: Vanessa Rees; Emily Ho)

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