Q+A with Gena Hamshaw and the Choosing Raw Cookbook

Choosing Raw Cookbook by Gena HamshawI am so delighted to have Gena Hamshaw on the blog today, talking about her new cookbook, Choosing Raw, veganism, cooking and more. I have been following Gena’s blog (by the same name) for years now. Her voice is reasoned, intelligent, warm, and candid.  She’s unafraid to tackle difficult topics and shares her own vulnerabilities with strength and bravery.  When I met Gena last year in person at Vida Vegan Con, I was delighted to discover that the same warmth and spirit that she exudes on her blog comes through in full force in real life.  She’s one of those people you just have to hug.

I’ve made many of Gena’s recipes over the years. (Her vanilla cashew milk is my favorite homemade non-dairy milk; plus, it’s so easy!) So I couldn’t wait to work my way through her first cookbook. Far from dogmatic or black and white, Gena’s recipes are popping with color and cover the best of both raw and cooked foods.  There’s something for every palate – whether you’re raw-curious, looking for hearty warm foods, or wanting to find more ways to use fresh produce.  Choosing Raw is loaded with large, colorful, saliva-inducing photos taken by the very talented Hannah Kaminsky.

My copy of the book is dog-eared with recipes on my to-make list. I started with the chickpea tofu scramble, which brings together my love of tofu and chickpeas. (Why choose?) I liked that this scramble was so different than the standard Southwestern-style scramble. It is seasoned with tamari, tahini, Dijon mustard, and nutritional yeast for a savory welcome to the morning. (I swapped out broccoli in the recipe for asparagus instead, because that’s what I had on hand.) I will definitely be adding this scramble to my early morning repertoire. 

Chickpea Tofu Scramble from Choosing RawWithout further delay, here’s the incomparable Gena:

Gena Hamshaw from Choosing RawWhen and why did you go vegan?

I went vegan about seven years ago. It was initially a health choice; I had terrible GI problems, and a gastroenterologist suggested that I try eliminating dairy in order to manage it. I had for the most part stopped eating red meat as a kid, when I saw Bambi, and I ate pretty little chicken, fish, or eggs. I hadn’t yet started to identify with animal rights, but I’d read Diet for a New America and knew there was something to the environmental and ethical arguments. Realizing that my diet was close to vegan already, I decided to take it all the way there and see how I felt. I felt incredible, as it turns out, and went vegan almost right away. I’ve never looked back.
A year or two into my vegan journey, I volunteered at a farm animal sanctuary event for the weekend. This was the first time that I made the connection between my food choices and compassion for animals. It was a profound, transformative revelation. I got into animal rights after that, and a sense of compassion became the overriding force behind my veganism. Today, I say that I went vegan for my health, but I remain vegan for animals.

What advice would you give to a new or transitioning vegan?

I’d encourage anyone who’s transitioning to take it slowly, first of all. I love stories of overnight transformation–they’re certainly inspiring–but I think that gradual transitions work more sustainably for most people. I’d also encourage folks not to get paralyzed by the idea of “perfection.” There are no “perfect” vegans, and anyway, veganism has nothing to do with personal purity or perfection. It’s not about you; it’s about animals. It’s about making a consistent effort to spare animals as much harm as you can. If you slip up, if you find the transition hard, if you find yourself struggling now and then, it’s all good. In general, I think veganism is much less difficult than folks typically assume, but of course it can be a challenge, like any other lifestyle change. Don’t feel deflated if you encounter bumps in the road. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start a new day.

Finally: there’s an unsettling pattern I see these days among new vegans. A person adopts a plant-based diet, but immediately becomes convinced that her vegan diet isn’t “pure” or “clean” or healthful enough. She (or he) begins to winnow down food groups: grains, wheat, soy, oil, all sugar. Eventually, what’s left is a very narrow regime of vegetables and little else: no indulgences, no variety. It’s a dangerous place to be, because at that point veganism–which could in theory be a robust, well rounded diet–has become the restrictive diet that so many critics believe it to be. If you’re new to veganism, I really encourage you not to confuse it with a cleanse, or an elimination diet, or a weight loss effort. All vegans are to some extent ambassadors of the lifestyle. It’s crucial that we take care of our bodies by not becoming excessively rigid or health-obsessed. (And I say this, by the way, as someone who has a long and colorful history with dietary restriction, but who has learned over time that moderation is the best assurance of longterm vitality.)
How would you describe your cooking style?

Simple, wholesome, fast. A lot of my recipes amount to something like “smoosh a giant avocado over something (grains, greens, zucchini) and top it all off with some lemon and salt.” I mean, not really, but you get the idea. My food tends to be pretty easy, with the exception of my raw desserts, which I often treat as a kind of art project, and therefore don’t mind giving a bit of time and effort. I think that a lot of my recipes are characteristic in that they feature a certain number of ingredients that I’m particularly fond of: avocado, tahini, lemon, paprika, kale, sweet potatoes, cashews. I often wish I were more creative, or that my recipes were prettier and fancier, but at the same time I think that the simple approach tends to resonate with my readers.

How do you fit making healthy meals into your busy schedule? What is your best time saving advice in the kitchen?

The best tip I can give is to plan, plan, plan. I don’t love making weekly meal plans, but the more organized I am, the better and faster my meal prep becomes. I devote time each weekend to washing, drying, and sometimes chopping vegetables for salads through the week; to making a couple staple dishes, like salad dressings, grains, and hummus; and to thinking about 3 or 4 dinners I intend to prepare. I find that these simply steps are incredibly helpful.

I also tend to create easy, fast recipes, and I don’t shy away from the odd convenience food in a pinch (commercial nut milks, frozen burgers, prepared soups, etc.).

What’s your favorite ingredient?

Oy — that’s a toughie! Can it be a tie between avocado and kale? ;-)

Is there a kitchen tool you can’t live without?

Food processor, hands down. I use the Vitamix a lot, but at the end of the day, the food processor is more essential in my kitchen.  

What surprised you about the experience of writing your first cookbook?

It was surprisingly difficult! I expected it to be just like food blogging, but it was quite a bit more meticulous and difficult. Preparing recipes for a book means getting picky about measurements and procedure in a way I’m usually not as a food blogger. I was also on an insane deadline, which complicated things. I sold the book while I was smack dab in the middle of a pretty rough pre-med, post-bacc program (at the time, I was trying to get into med school, having not taken a science class in about a decade). I wrote the book in between taking the MCAT last March, and September of this past year. Most of the recipe development and writing happened in a single summer, which happened to be the same three months in which I applied to 34 medical schools. To be honest, it was a slog, and I probably didn’t get as much pleasure from recipe testing as I would have if I’d been on a more reasonable deadline. But I also chose to take the project on at a crazy time, so it was really no one’s fault but my own! All things to keep in mind for book number two, if I’m lucky enough to write one.

There are so many beautiful options in your cookbook.  Which recipe(s) would you recommend people try first?

Oh, gosh. I love the heat free lentil and walnut tacos and the zucchini pasta with quinoa meatless balls for savory dishes. They sort of embody the point I was trying to make with the book, which is that it doesn’t have to be either raw or cooked food. You can merge raw techniques (like vegetable pasta, or using leafy greens as “tacos”) with nourishing, cooked components (for me, often legumes or grains).

I’m not a natural with desserts, so I must confess that I was pretty proud of those. I especially love the fig bars, the burnt sugar coconut ice cream, and the blueberry cheesecake!

Anything else you’d like to add?

When I wrote this book, it was in part for the sake of creating the kind of resource I wish I’d had when I was first getting into raw food. At the time, I found a lot of the recipes in raw books to be pretty difficult and complex; I also found that a lot of the rhetoric in the raw movement was a bit too black-or-white for my liking. I wish I’d had a book or a blog that told me I could make more raw food without too many fancy appliances; one that assured me that I didn’t have to go 100% raw to be healthy; one that made the lifestyle feel easy and fun. I also wish that I’d found a raw resource that was focused on evidence-based, critical nutrition information.

This is the resource I’ve tried to create with Choosing Raw. I hope it’s informative, useful, and inspiring. I hope it makes things feel easy and fun. Most of all, I hope that folks will love the food.

Thank you, Gena, for stopping by and sharing your thoughtful answers with us today!

Book image and headshot courtesy of photographer Jeff Skeirik

Disclaimer:  Post contains affiliate links

Pesto Cauliflower & Potato Salad and Salad Samurai Giveaway

Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad - Salad SamuraiIf I was exiled to a desert island and was only allowed to bring cookbooks from two or three authors, the books of Terry Hope Romero would definitely be on my list. You may be asking yourself – why are you being exiled and what sort of strange punishment would involve cookbook requirements? Let’s not quibble about the who-did-whats and why-on-earths… The point here is that when it comes to cookbook authors, Terry Hope Romero is well loved in my household.

To name a few, I’ve raved about Veganomicon, Vegan Eats World, and Viva Vegan (which is probably still my all-time favorite). So when I heard Terry was releasing a book devoted to salads, I could hardly wait to get my greedy fingers on it.

Salad Samurai - Terry Hope RomeroSalad Samurai includes 100 meal-worthy salads. These aren’t the kind of salads that leave you hungry an hour later. These are stick-to-your-ribs dinnertime salads that include dishes like Tempeh Reubenesque Salad, Coconut Samosa Potato Salad, and Asparagus Pad Thai Salad. Plus, there are all kinds of dressings and add-ons like Roasted Hemp Seed Parmesan and Coconut Bacony Bits.

This book came at just the right time. With a farmers market exploding with summer’s riches, I’m going to be very busy. I’ve only just begun with Salad Samurai, but here are a few of the things I’ve made so far:

Grilled Kale Salad - Salad SamuraiI made this Grilled Kale Salad with Spicy Lentils, which uses kale that has been marinated in coconut milk and lime juice. It’s topped with lentils, onions, and tomatoes for a warm take on kale salad. (This recipe is available on Chic Vegan.)

Lentil Pate Banh Mi Salad Rolls  - Salad SamuraiI never would have considered using a lentil pâté for rice paper rolls, but these Lentil Pâté Banh Mi Salad Rolls showed me the error of my ways. The black lentil and walnut pâté gives savory depth while cucumber, carrots, lettuce, cilantro, radish, and scallions balance it. I especially liked the added vinegary crunch of pickle. I made these for lunches for a couple of days, and they are surprisingly filling! David is not a fan of rice paper, and so I packed his lunch with the black lentil pâté and crackers for a snack, which he really enjoyed.

Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad - Salad SamuraiMy very favorite thing I’ve made is this Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad. It involves several steps – making Back at the Ranch Dressing, Red-Hot Saucy Tofu, and Classic Croutons – along with chopping lettuce, celery, carrots, and cabbage. However, the results are totally worth it. Every bite gives you something new to mmm over. The hot-out-of-the-oven croutons are tinged with the flavors of lemon and garlic while the tofu is tossed in Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.

I made the full recipe – enough for two meals for two – and found myself on Day 3 sad that it was gone. So after eating it for two meals in a row, I made it again! It is one craveable salad. (You can find the recipe over at The Sweet Life, where Sarah is also offering a copy of the book for a giveaway!)

Pesto Cauliflower & Potato SaladI had a chance to pull out the grill pan for this Pesto Cauliflower & Potato Salad. Grilled cauliflower along with fresh green peas and boiled potatoes are tossed in a basil pesto. This fresh salad would be wonderful for a summer potluck or even served warm for a main course-style salad. I like that the pine nuts are toasted and added on top, as opposed to blending in the pesto itself. Since pine nuts are on the pricey side, I like really being able to see them and taste them, as opposed to them just falling into the background of the dish.

The publisher of Salad Samurai, Da Capo Press, is letting me share the recipe for the Pesto Cauliflower & Potato Salad with you today, along with one of the photos from the book (shown below). The photos in Salad Samurai were taken by V.K. Rees, the same person who shot the photographs for Isa Does It. I love her style and the way her photos have an action-shot quality as you can see for yourself.

Pesto Cauliflower & Potato Salad - Salad Samurai

Pesto Cauliflower & Potato Salad

45 minutes

Serving Size: 3 to 4

This classic combination of pesto and potatoes is lightened up with irresistible grilled cauliflower. For a more substantial pesto entree, replace half or all of the cauliflower with pasta, preferably those tight little twists called gemelli.


  • 1/2 pound cauliflower
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 pound waxy yellow or white potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts or toasted pine nuts
  • Basil Pesto Dressing
  • 1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Remove the thick inner stem from the cauliflower, slice into thick 1-inch slabs. Preheat a cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Rub the cauliflower with olive oil and arrange the pieces in a single layer in the preheated pan. Grill the cauliflower until charred on the outside and crisp-tender inside, about 4 to 5 minutes, flipping halfway through. Transfer the cauliflower to a cutting board, chop into bite-size pieces, and place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Peel and dice the potato into 1/2 inch pieces, transfer to a large saucepan, cover with 4 inches of cold water, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce th heat to medium and cook the potatoes for 6 to 8 minutes, or until almost tender. Stir in the peas and cook another minute. Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water, then drain the potatoes and peas and rinse with cold water. Add these vegetables to the cauliflower.
  3. For the Basil Pesto Dressing
  4. In a food processor, pulse together the pesto ingredients plus 2 Tablespoons of the potato cooking water until smooth. Spoon onto the vegetables, add the nuts, and combine thoroughly. Cover and chill for ten minutes to blend flavors. Serve the salad slightly chilled or at room temperature. Garnish each serving with a few nuts.


From Salad Samurai by Terry Hope Romero. Reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong, © 2014


The folks at Da Capo Press are also offering one copy of Salad Samurai for a giveaway. The giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada. The winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

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I received a complimentary copy of Salad Samurai from the publisher, but the thoughts and opinions are totally my own.  This post contains Amazon affiliate links.