At CRONART on Water Street, community comes first. On Friday, Nov. 15, the gallery hosted a free vegan cooking demonstration with Nava Atlas, a renowned author of vegetarian cookbooks and ‘07 SUNY New Paltz MA graduate. At the event, titled “Are You Veg-Curious?” Atlas made simple, delicious dishes from her new book, “5-Ingredient Vegan.”
On a makeshift kitchen setup inside the colorful walls of CRONART, Atlas created meals including her “Happy Trails Kale and Apple Salad,” a delicious “cheesy” quinoa dish, vegan coleslaw, and chickpeas and spinach with jalfrezi curry sauce.
With wine flowing steadily and comfy seats galore, patrons of the event settled in for a night of tasting and discussion about the obstacles and joys of vegan cooking, and what stands in their way when it comes to eating plant-based meals.
At the moment, Atlas’ bottom line is to make vegan cooking easy and accessible for average, working people without too much time for food preparation. “This is what I say about simple recipes: it’s really hard to ruin them,” Atlas said.
As she cooked, Atlas was more than open to questions, and gave advice as she went through her process. There was an open dialogue about organic foods, buying in bulk and where to find certain ingredients. A few members of the audience were not vegan or vegetarian, and shared what their limitations were when it came to converting to a vegan lifestyle. Mostly, they cited their children’s and partner’s food preferences as their greatest obstacles.
In an era where there is such pressure for food to be fancy, well-plated and complex, Atlas’ approach to cooking is refreshing. While preparing her dishes, she used a pre-made trail mix in her salad, jarred vegan curry sauce and a bagged cole slaw mix. With this, she demonstrated that eating healthy and delicious food doesn’t have to take up an inordinate amount of time; it’s something that any normal person can pull off. Atlas herself remarked that she shops at Tops and Health and Nutrition to find what she needs.
In the spirit of simplicity, Atlas also substituted in scallions, which she dubbed “onion shortcuts” to avoid making the gallery smell like onions, and substituted wine for water when cooking broccoli. The food was delicious, the conversation was good and the spirit of the event was lighthearted and warm.
“You’ve gotta massage the kale. Otherwise, you’re gonna feel like you’re chewing on your front lawn,” Atlas joked while cooking. The event had that special sense of hearth and home that one can only get in New Paltz.
If you want to check out Nava Atlas’ body of work, there is a lot to see. She has had an illustrious career — in addition to authoring 13 vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, she has also published three other books (two about women’s literature and one parody cookbook). Additionally, Atlas runs the cooking website for plant-based recipes, Vegkitchen.com, and highlights lesser-known voices in women’s literary on her other site, LiteraryLadiesGuide.com.