Ten years ago, Guam-born siblings Aubry and Kale Walch had no idea they’d soon launch a novel business venture. Especially not one that would gain a zealous fan following, garner national attention, and be patronized by celebrities like Sir Paul McCartney. Yet that’s just what occurred when they founded the world’s first vegan butcher shop, The Herbivorous Butcher. The Minneapolis-based business has since expanded to include a vegan fried chicken restaurant, an animal sanctuary, and a popular online store. The Walch duo’s latest endeavor is The Herbivorous Butcher Cookbook. The book teaches readers the secrets to making surprisingly convincing plant-based meats and meals.
The notion of mock meats isn’t new. Making homemade tofu burgers and tempeh bacon has been almost a rite of passage for committed vegans and vegetarians for decades. “Making plant-based meats has been around since the 1970s,” admits Kale. “But they just didn’t have the depth of flavor, that savory umami that I was missing, so we need to re-create that wheel.” The secret to the Walches’ success is their attention to the gastronomic nuances of the original meats. Their recipe for pork chops, for example, includes 21 ingredients—among them, unexpected flavorings such as orange juice and tahini—resulting in tender, succulent morsels good enough to win over even the most skeptical taste buds.
The book collects over 75 recipes, 15 of which mimic deli staples like chicken cutlets, salami, and porterhouse steak. There’s even a recipe for Sham, a vegan Spam substitute (the canned meat is reportedly extremely popular in Guam and remains a childhood favorite of Aubry’s). The flavors and textures of these plant-based meats are excellent but can require a fair amount of time in the kitchen. Many call for kneading, steaming, and overnight refrigeration before they can be served up and enjoyed. Diners wishing for a little more convenience will appreciate that the remaining recipes can also be made with store-bought meat alternatives. These pages cover main courses, snacks, sandwiches, soups, and more. I was pleasantly surprised at the international scope of the collection: Japanese katsudon, Indian dal, and Guamanian coconut chicken soup share space with American favorites like fried chicken and Philly cheesesteak. The recipes are written in a light-hearted, conversational style and accompanied by mouth-watering full-page photos. Dishes are introduced by brief stories that frequently recall anecdotes from Kale and Aubry’s colorful family life. After all, as Aubry notes, “On Guam, three things are important—family, food, and food with family.”
Before opening their plant-based butcher shop, the siblings “talked about what a ridiculous idea that was,” but the fusion of vegan ideals with a love of the meat-centric cuisine of Guam and the Midwest proved an immediate success. The Herbivorous Butcher Cookbook allows cooks at home to experience the Walches’ popular dishes for themselves. Long-time adherents to plant-based diets will be amazed to rediscover dishes they thought they’d never taste again. Meat eaters will be equally impressed; tempted by the benefits of healthier, environmentally sustainable dining without sacrificing the flavors they know and enjoy. “The biggest reason that we started our business,” Aubry writes, “was to make positive changes in the world—for the health of people, animals, and the planet—and since we can’t make enough food to feed everyone, we can at least share what we know with everyone and they can pass it on.” There’s nothing ridiculous about that idea.