When I was growing up, my father would pick me up most Sundays and take me to church. We’d get lunch afterwards, usually at one of those iconic NYC delicatessens that are rarer and rarer these days: Wolf’s, the Carnegie Deli, the Westway diner. We’d order stacked sandwiches or platters, but my eyes were usually fixed on the dessert counter, with its rotating displays of cheesecake and pie. And cookies—especially the big, round, pillowy frosted treats known as black-and-white cookies.
So much changed over time, including my diet, and after a while diners and delis weren’t the easiest place for me to eat as a vegan. I forgot about a lot of the New York City specialties I’d grown up with, including black-and-white cookies. My fondness for them hasn’t gone away, though—a fact I’ve been happily reminded of thanks to my friends Ethan and Michael and their new cookbook, NYC Vegan.
NYC Vegan is a celebration of the rich tapestry of dishes and cuisines that converge in New York City’s five boroughs, brought two life by two passionate vegans who have made it their mission to create the city’s most iconic recipes without animal products. Ethan and Michael are also known as the bloggers behind Vegan Mos, where they routinely share tasty, accessible, and globally inspired vegan food.
The book contains vegan versions of such Jewish specialties as blintzes, brisket, mandelbrodt, latkes, matzoh brei, and even a new-fashioned recipe for Jewish “chick’n” soup; old-school New York favorites like “glam” chowder, homemade bagels, Waldorf salad, New York-style pizza, and cheesecake; and a wide sampling of street foods, like soft pretzels, churros, a “meat” platter, Italian ice, falafel, zeppoles, and street fair corn.
The book is also a culinary tour of some of New York’s most diverse and culturally rich neighborhoods. Ethan and Michael have recipes for pierogi, knishes, arroz con maiz, mofongo, crispy ginger seitan, and even a vegan avgolemono, which of course I’m dying to try.
More than anything, this book is a tribute to the idea of a melting pot. It’s a heartfelt celebration of what it means to live in a place where cultures and traditions converge—an “homage to diversity,” as Ethan and Michael describe it in their introduction.
A vegan rendering of this idea is so necessary, because—at least in my experience—one of the main barriers people come up against when they’re contemplating the switch to a vegan diet is the fear that the lifestyle won’t be compatible with their culture of origin and the recipes that spring from it. My own thought process around this has always been that beloved dishes can be authentically created with plant-based ingredients. But it’s one thing to hear this perspective stated and another to see it brought to life with vibrant and diverse recipes.
The book features evocative photos from the super-talented Jackie Sobon, a preface by actor Alan Cumming, and a heartfelt introduction from Ethan and Michael that describes how they came to write about New York and its food. The book also has an afterword in which Ethan and Michael share why veganism matters to them and how compassion for animals fits into the spirit of diversity and connection that they’re celebrating with the cookbook.
One thing I love about Ethan and Michael’s food is that it’s incredibly flavorful while also being simple to make. The recipes in NYC Vegan are intuitive and easy to follow, and they feature easy-to-find vegan ingredients and household staples.
It was hard to choose which recipe to make first from the book, because so many of them took me back to being a kid and experiencing my city through diner and deli countertops and booths. The Manhattan “glam” chowder, tempeh reuben, falafel, and seitan piccata are all high on my list. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Ethan and Michael’s sun-dried tomato spread and kale salad, both of which are featured in the book, and I know how good they are.
But in the end, I kept coming back to these cookies and all of the powerful nostalgia that they carry for me. As you’ll see, the cookie recipe itself is so simple; it’s the icing bit that’s tricky. “Perfectly imperfect” would be a very generous way of describing how my own icing job turned out, but it doesn’t matter: the cookies taste great, every bit as good as I remember.
Some black-and-white cookies are sort of like shortbread; these are more pillowy and tender. They remind me of a slightly firmer and fluffier version of snickerdoodles–sweet, with big hints of vanilla. They’re perfect for pairing with an afternoon cup of coffee, or for an after-dinner treat.
As Ethan and Michael note, these cookies were once only found in New York City bakeries and restaurants. Nowadays they’re everywhere, including grocery stores and bodegas. There’s something so special about a local specialty that becomes ubiquitous like this; when I lived in DC, I missed being able to walk into the corner store and see a plastic-wrapped black-and-white cookie next to the cash register.
Ethan and Michael are two of the most generous, passionate activists I know, and this book captures all of their love and heart. It’s a pleasure to read and a pleasure to cook through–especially since flipping through its pages means touching upon so many cherished recipes from different cultures. I’m happy to be sharing a giveaway copy of NYC Vegan with one US or Canadian reader today. Simply enter below to win, and I’ll announce the winner on the widget in a week!
Thanks to Ethan and Michael for the giveaway, and for sharing a little slice of the Big Apple with us. I’ll be circling back around this weekend with the usual roundup of reads. For now, happy Friday.
Latkes, pretzels, street fair corn, cheesecake, and chowder images by Jackie Sobon, reprinted with permission from NYC Vegan.
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My grandma pineapple pie, tacos
Peanut butter balls were a fav of mine. These are also called buckeyes if only dipped half way in the chocolate
I loved my grandma’s eye salad sandwiches when I was a child. There was nothing like it.
My favorite recipe from when I was a kid was my mother’s homemade challah. It’s about time I try to make it by myself!
Wow! This has left me drooling!!!
I’d probably have to say my favorite dish as a child was my Grandmother’s chili mac. This book looks scrumptious!
2 recipes come to mind right away: porcupines and sugar cookie cut-outs. Porcupines are ground beef and rice balls simmered in tomato juice and I always ate mine with buttered white bread. Comfort food, for sure. I have always wanted to recreate them to be vegan.
I had my mom make me lasagna every year for my birthday. But I also have weird food memories from family parties like chopped liver and V8 for breaking fasts (weird, i know). At least I can still enjoy a delicious vegan lasagna.
Probably pancakes. My mom would always add cinnamon to them no matter what other flavors were there. And we would have them every single week with brunch after church on Sundays. My dad and siblings and I would sit down and put out all the cereal boxes and eat cereal until my mom finished the pancakes and then we’d pig out on pancakes 😀
Growing up I lived in a very heavily influenced Sicilian household. My grandmothers pasta with sauce was my absolute favorite. Anything she made tasted amazing!
Yum! Yum! Yum! These cookies look incredible! My favourite foods growing up were mushroom soup and ice cream.
I love the idea of reimagining traditional recipes! I’m especially excited to check out the Jewish-inspired recipes!
Childhood favorites = my mother’s chicken ‘n dumplings, and her 3-ingredient Bisquick/sharp cheddar cheese/spicy sausage balls. Weird because I rarely ate meat anyway, but I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for over ten years to vegetarianize them!
I have never had a favorite food. I ate what was made.
One of my favorite childhood recipes is also my mama’s avgolemono soup! To this day, nothing makes me feel better when I am sick.
My diet now is soo different than the one I had growing up (much healthier now!) but apple crisp specifically comes to mind 🙂
Chocolate cake and ice cream were my childhood favorite, both were a pretty rare occasion. Cake only happened on birthdays, lucky for me I had 6 siblings at the time. And ice cream cones were a summer treat, two, maybe three cones a year at most. I grew up in Ukraine, we didn’t have everything in abundance. The other day I actually tried to think of the “treat” concept, because treats aren’t an everyday thing and should be a special thing. The only time I could remember having a treat was when I was a child. Now I live in this country of abundance, and I treat myself everyday whenever I want. Interesting how having less sometimes is better for us.
As a child, I loved when my mom would make chocolate pudding in wine glasses:)
This book sounds just perfect, especially now when we need to celebrate the melting pot that is America. The bagel recipe sounds like a fun one to tackle.
First off, thank you SO much sharing and for giving us the chance to win a copy of this amazing book -I’m keeping my fingers crossed super hard!
Now, as for one of my favorite childhood foods/meals, I would definitely have to say my dad’s nutella pancakes (3 pancakes with a gigantic glass of milk, to be exact ;))
That said, I obviously wouldn’t eat them today; for one because they definitely are not vegan, and for another because my taste buds and preferences have changed quite dramatically over the years, so I don’t even crave them anymore (however, if I were to crave them, I would simply do my best to veganize them, because let’s face it, doing so successfully is usually WAY easier than people think :))
One of my favorite tri-state area treats! These look incredible, and not too hard to make!
These look delish! I can’t wait to try them. My mom figured out a way to make all my food vegan/vegetarian when I converted at 10 years old. She still makes my favorites for me whenever I go home. 🙂 Thanks for the giveaway!
HI Gena–first of all, I always seem to mess up on these rafflecopter things. I tried to actually comment that way but it might be “empty” !! Anyway, I loved this post! What a fun cookbook this sounds like and I look forward to peeking in on Ethan and Michael’s blog, too. I’ve only been to NYC two brief times in my life, at 17 and 20, so I can relate to the deli/booth/counter foods featured here that were part of my experience. In this way I am also connected to your childhood memories, which I loved hearing about, though I don’t remember seeing the black and white cookies (I was more focused on the cheesecake 🙂 ) It’s so important these days to celebrate the richness of our diversity in any way we can. Thanks for doing that here. xoxo
One of my favorite foods from childhood was the chocolate pound cake that my Mom used to make for Christmas. It calls for several eggs, so I never tried to make a vegan version.
Spaghetti was my absolute favorite when I was a kiddo!
I too grew up in NYC and am SO excited for this cookbook. Bagels are what I missed most when I didn’t live here, but it’s the old school Jewish recipes that I’ll make first. Matzah brei for Passover, latkes for Hanukkah–all the stuff I remember making with my mom.
Pasta in any form!
The double tree cookies with walnuts and chocolate! Thankfully those weren’t too hard to veganize.
My mom’s meatballs & sauce (balls are cooked in it). In fact, for my first year of vegetarianism, this was my ONE cheat. I haven’t had them since going vegan but no one else’s meatballs or veg balls are the same!
I was not a picky eater as a kid – I liked everything! Anything Italian was a favorite, especially baked ziti. Still haven’t tried a vegan version yet, but it’s on my to do list. 🙂
It’s a seafood casserole that I still haven’t been able to replicate into a vegan version.
This is such a great idea for a book! As a recent (temporary) new yorker, I feel like it would be the perfect way to gt the full experience of the city 🙂
I have so many food memories from when I was a kid – mostly sweets related since we were only allowed on holidays or special occasions: huge cookie trays at Christmas (a tradition I still carry on today), ricotta pie at Easter, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.
Just in time to bake before the Tonys this year!
I once hosted a party for the Tonys, and was at a loss for what to serve. Back then, I didn’t have an eye for design, so making a cake or making a fruit arrangement based on nominated shows was out of the question. Instead, I focused on New York inspired treats, and black and white cookies were easy, eye catching, and delicious.
Thank you for sharing, as always!