You might say that Randy Clemens wrote the book on Sriracha (see also: Randy Clemens Knows More About Sriracha Than, Well, Anybody). His new book, The Veggie Lover's Sriracha Cookbook (Ten Speed Press), captures the magic of the beloved "Rooster Sauce," with vegan and vegetarian recipes that pack just the right amount of heat.
But wait, you may be asking: A Sriracha cookbook with no meat? Yup. And with no discernible loss of flavor. In an introductory chapter, "Hippie Ingredients Explained," Clemens spills on his secret and not-so-secret ingredients, from Bragg Liquid Aminos to Nutritional Yeast Flakes to Vegan butter. (You'll need to buy the book if you want the detailed definitions, though Clemens provides clues below.) Here, Clemens dishes on how to use his "hippie ingredients" with Sriracha to liven up your vegan and veggie repertoire with dishes like his Dios Mio Tamale.
How did you start to discover these "hippie ingredients"? Did you have any hesitation about using them?
I've always had an incurable curiosity streak, and have sought out all kinds of things I knew nothing about, even from an early age. Well before my own adventures into vegetarianism and veganism, I came across friends who used some of them regularly and happily explained to me what they were. Others, I'd see occasionally on the Food Network or listed in recipes online, and I'd want to try them and find out why they were used. For tofu, it had been given such a bad name by many kids in my school, and I wanted to find out why, so I ordered it at a Chinese restaurant when I was about 12 and found I actually liked it.
What advice would you give to someone trying to track down these ingredients—like where should they look for Kombu, a Japanese seaweed?
Natural food markets tend to carry a lot of these ingredients, but many can now be found in larger grocery stores, at least in metropolitan areas. The less common items can always be sourced online, or you can ask your local store manager to special order it for you. They're usually willing to help, and each time I've special ordered something, it's come in pretty quickly and at no extra cost. They like keeping your business!
Some of the "hippie ingredients" are actually pretty common. What are the most essential ingredients on the list, and have you found any other since the book has been published that you rely on?
Well, of course I like them all. To me, they each add something unique and have become a part of my pantry. Coconut milk is so damn creamy, and it adds such a wonderful flavor to dishes, I can't imagine not having a few cans on hand. Tempeh is essentially instant "ground meat" for anyone looking to keep the "meaty" texture in their chili, lasagna or Sloppy Joe's. ($10 says you can use it interchangeably in such recipes, and even the most astute meat-eater wouldn't be able to tell if you spice it properly!) Bragg Liquid Aminos is awesome and I use it all the time… it's liquid umami and it adds all kinds of depth to your dishes, while being a little less heavy handed on the sodium than with using straight salt. Nutritional yeast flakes are great for adding a cheesy flavor to dishes, and it's a good source of vitamin B-12, which is often lacking in plant-based diets.
Miso is a pretty common "hippie ingredient." Can you tell us a few common uses that would help a miso novice get started employing it as an ingredient?
Miso is great, and a little bit goes a long way! For me, it's become an invaluable addition to soup recipes, adding lots of complexity. It's a fermented soy product, and it's rich in umami, so it adds a lot of je ne sais quoi to whatever you're making. Besides the background help it lends, there's a bright, briny quality that I can't describe in any other way besides "zingy." I use it in miso soup, of course, but also like to add it in the last five minutes of cooking any other soup. Pull off a small amount of the cooking liquid and stir the miso into that, dissolving it before adding it back to the pot. (This also works great for braises.) It's killer in marinades and salad dressings, and it's an excellent ingredient to use if creating a non-dairy cheese or a non-dairy cheese sauce.
Lastly, you've talked about using Sriracha as an ingredient rather than as a condiment. Can you give a statement about that and how it fits into this idea of "hippie ingredients"?
Sriracha is and always has been a condiment for me and many others, but when I started cooking with it randomly, I really really enjoyed it as an ingredient as well. It plays so well with other flavors, and while you know there's Sriracha in the finished dish, it isn't overwhelming and I feel that it blends well. Before I went vegetarian, and well before my strong preference for cooking vegan, I thought herbivores loved Sriracha because they needed something bold to "make up" for the fact that they weren't using any rich animal products. Now that I've been vegetarian for a little over three years, I can look back and see why I thought that, but I've really come to find that plant-based cooking can be incredibly delicious all on its own. I don't miss meat at all, and that's not something I'd ever thought I'd say. And now, I can simply attest that Sriracha is dynamite, and it works well with all kinds of recipes. Meat-based or plant-based, it adds an awesome punch that takes everything up an extra level (hippie ingredients or not), and who doesn't like that?!