“My problem with eating vegetables has always been figuring out what to put in the center of the plate,” said Lukas Volger from the kitchen. The Brooklyn cookbook author had kindly invited Brooklyn Based to his Fort Greene apartment to sample a few recipes from his new cookbook, Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry, and to chat about all things veggie. His recipes elevate vegetarian food to the sort of satisfying meals that even a carnivore could love, ranging from pad thai and saag paneer to paella and pizza.
Volger first became a vegetarian in college. “I can’t remember exactly what prompted it—it just seemed like a sensible thing to do, since I suddenly had more control over what I was eating,” he explained.
As a vegetarian, Volger occasionally finds meals out challenging. “I hate when there’s only one veggie option on a menu, and it’s an unappealing one,” he said. But often he’s just as frustrated by the range of options at home. “I find it easy to fall into a fritatta rut, or a pasta rut, or a veggie burger rut–alternating between the same couple items for weeks on end,” he said. “That’s some of the impetus behind Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry: I wanted to create as much variety for myself as possible.”
Volger’s first book, Veggie Burgers Every Which Way (July 2010), took veggie burgers out of the flat frozen landscape and into a world bursting with flavors. Recipes include curried eggplant and Thai carrot burgers. The book was featured everywhere from the New York Times Diner’s Journal, where he demonstrated three of the burgers; to the Awl, where Volger cooked with Emily Gould as part of her “Cooking the Books” series; as well as in the Washington Post.
With the Best Veggie Burger Project, Volger has taken it upon himself to discover the best veggie burgers in America. He adds to the list as he travels and readers also submit their own suggestions. As for his Brooklyn veggie burger recommendations?
“I just had a very good one at a place called Dubuque,” on Court Street, he said. “It had good texture, really good flavor, and it was a nice place. It was very meat-centric but they had obviously put a lot of time and thought into their veggie option–which was clearly deep-fried.” A quirkier option can be found at Building on Bond. “It’s served on a pretzel roll, which is kind of cool.”
Though veggie burgers weren’t on the menu that Volger prepared for us, several of the savory dishes from the new cookbook were. As we nibbled on an appetizer of mixed olives with lemon, chili, and olive oil, Volger fried onions for a bulgur salad with kale and feta (recipe here), and chatted about his entry to the cookbook world.
“I always enjoyed cooking,” Volger said. “I got a job at a bakery in high school. When I moved to New York, I was looking for a job and happened to get one as a prep cook in the Upper East Side. Then I pursued book publishing.” During his eight years in the field, he met his current editor and publisher, Matthew Lore. “He became a good friend and has eaten some of my veggie burgers over the years. He had the idea for a veggie burger cookbook, and when he mentioned it I thought it seemed like a thrilling project. So I quickly made my interest known, threw together a proposal, sent it over…and the rest is history.”
Many of the recipes in the new book rely on high quality fruits and vegetables, including the galette we sampled, which was filled with roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash. For sourcing great ingredients Volger favors Brooklyn’s many Greenmarkets because they offer the “best prices, best quality, and they’re the best for everybody involved.”
He’s also a member of the Local Roots CSA, a borough-wide CSA with pick-up points at d.b.a. Brooklyn, 61 Local, and Brooklyn Farmacy. With their wide range of CSA options, going beyond fruit and vegetables to bread, eggs, beans, and grains, “you pretty much don’t have to go to the grocery store,” he said.
Over a dessert of nectarine crisp–after all, “a dinner party is not complete without dessert”–we grilled Volger for his other Brooklyn recommendations. He’s been going to Park Slope’s Bar Toto “since forever,” and highly recommends the polenta with mushrooms and cream sauce. For a night out, he admited that he “really likes Hope and Anchor karaoke–it’s really earnest.” The fact that their tofu-scallion veggie burger is “actually quite good” is just a bonus.
The meal lived up to his cookbook’s title–we were well and truly stuffed. On our way out we admired Volger’s apartment and he explained his number-one apartment hunting priority: “Ultimately, I wanted a place where people can come eat dinner.”
Want to try Lukas Volger’s food for yourself? Head to 61 Local tonight at 7:30, where he’ll be giving away samples of recipes from his book, signing copies of the cookbook, and contributing a sandwich to the 61 Local menu.