Ellen Kanner is an award-winning food writer and author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner. She is also Huffington Post‘s Meatless Monday blogger and the syndicated columnist Edgy Veggie, is published in Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, Every Day with Rachael Ray and Culinate as well as in other online and print publications. She’s an ardent advocate sustainable, accessible food, serving on the Miami boards of Slow Food and Common Threads.
When she’s not teaching underserved students to cook and speaking about what we’re hungry for, Ellen takes time to tend her tiny organic vegetable garden, hike in the Everglades, make friends with cows and make dinner with friends. She believes in close community, strong coffee, organic food and red lipstick. A fourth-generation Floridian, she lives la vida vegan in Miami with her husband. Learn more about Ellen at www.ellen-ink.com.
Your book’s title, Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner, is quite a mouthful (pun intended). What is it about?
It’s about great food – but it’s also about all the things we’re hungry for, including meaning, healing, connection and unconditional love.
To discuss food without discussing our relationship to it – how it’s grown, our ties to a recipe, the culture or time it comes from, or even the pleasure of food itself – is to miss the bigger picture. Saffron, tarragon, cardamom and cumin make food taste better. Culture, connection and faith do the same thing for our lives. They make it delicious. They feed us.
What did you grow up eating? Why did you give up meat?
I grew up eating a lot of processed and fast food. There wasn’t a lot of fresh produce at home. My father never cared for vegetables, still doesn’t. He eats them grudgingly.
I gave up meat at 13 because I love cows and I wanted to piss of my parents. That was my long-range goal. I didn’t swear I’d stick by it forever, I wanted to try to go meatless for 2 weeks to see how I felt. Two weeks seemed reasonable, it had a limit in sight. Within a day or two, I immediately felt better, more energetic, more focused. At the end of two weeks, I didn’t miss meat. At all. I didn’t see a reason to go back. I never have. My love affair with fresh produce has lasted decades and it’s still a thrill. Even after all this time, I’m still discovering new and different things to love about it.
How did you get interested in cooking?
I was a bookish little kid who read everything. Books, but also street signs, cereal boxes and ultimately my mother’s cookbooks. I read them like storybooks. The ingredients were the characters, and the preparation was the plot. It was a total, page-turning thrill. I got so involved in the reading, I had to see for myself, how could this work? I took to the kitchen to find out.
What would you say to people who say they don’t have the time to cook?
You don’t have to do it all in your own lonely kitchen. I encourage people to eat together, cook together. Get your whole family in the kitchen, fathers, kids, we all can take a greater part in our food choices. Have a weekly potluck with your friends. A homecooked meal doesn’t need to be a 9-course Food Network banquet. Have everyone bring one dish. Divide and conquer. It makes cooking and eating a pleasure and preparing our own food puts us in charge.
Ellen’s new book, Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner, is filled with amazing recipes. Here is one of them:
Pink Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
Serves 4 to 6.
1 pink grapefruit
1 fennel bulb
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup walnut oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
4 cups arugula
Freshly ground pepper
Peel the grapefruit and cut the sections into bite-size pieces. Remove and discard the seeds and trim away bitter membranes and pith. Place the grapefruit pieces in a large bowl.
Halve the fennel bulb and slice it very thinly. Add it to the grape-fruit.
Preheat the oven to 350. Coarsely chop the walnuts and pour into a shallow baking pan. Bake until they’re golden brown and have a wonderful buttery smell, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, mustard, mirin, agave nectar and fennel seeds. Pour the mixture over the grapefruit and fennel, toss gently and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.
Gently toss the arugula with the grapefruit and fennel. Top with the chopped walnuts and a grind or two of pepper.