The Galloping Garbanzo
UC Santa Barbara Student Elaine Skiadas Pens
Vegan Cookbook Targeting Teens
By George Yatchisin | April 1, 2023
First-year UC Santa Barbara student Elaine Skiadas isn’t so much precocious as she is creative and hungry. When the pandemic hit, the Glencoe, Illinois, native took to Instagram to post recipes. “I could just make stuff up and put it on the Internet,” she recalls. Her Wandering Chickpea persona grew in popularity, gave birth to a blog, and even gave her motivation to buy a better camera.
Two years into the project, she got an email out of the blue from Page Street Publishing asking if she might be interested in writing a cookbook. “I thought, ‘This has to be a joke — I’m 17,’” she says. In a Zoom call, the publisher made an offer and gave her a week to decide. She got back in touch in two hours. She admits, “In my head, a book was a goal that was 10 years out.” On April 11, she will become the 18-year-old author of Fantastic Vegan Recipes for the Teen Cook.
Now, more than 60 healthy recipes await her readers, from savory golden porridge with spiced chickpeas to salted caramel crunch bars, with a host of “weeknight wonders,” “weekend feasts,” and “globally inspired meals” along the tasty way. “Creating content for the Internet, you always have to consider something could go viral,” she says. “For the book, I didn’t need to focus on things being so flashy.” That isn’t to say Skiadas isn’t an artful food stylist; she admits enjoying the challenge of good food photography, and the mouth-watering results in the book (and on her blog) speak for themselves.
And while the book provides only vegan recipes, Skiadas is still an omnivore herself. She says, “I don’t understand the weird stigma of being vegan — hopefully I’m helping with that.” It didn’t hurt that she grew up in a household where healthy eating was the norm. She remembers plates with lots of vegetables, and a hunk of meat was rarely the center of dinner.
Skiadas also has severe food allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and most tree nuts, and that shaped her diet from an early age. “My mom is amazing — there was one cookbook about food allergies when I was growing up and she had it,” she fondly recalls. “She made sure I ate healthy and never let me feel left out, baking allergy-free cupcakes for birthday parties.”
It all adds up to meals like chipotle BBQ mushroom tacos with charred corn salsa, layered with smoke, sweet (a hit of maple syrup), salt (a splash of soy sauce), and sour (a dash of apple cider vinegar). As she’s writing for fellow teens, she tries to keep things simple, rarely doing the embedding a recipe in a recipe trick you find in “fancier” cookbooks. She also strove to keep the ingredients list accessible. UCSB dorm life has limited her cooking opportunities for the time being — she fesses up to liking the food hall meals — and is surprised to discover the light in her dorm room excels for photo shoots, even if she must stand on her desk to get the proper angles.
As a track and cross-country runner, it was easy for Skiadas to be drawn westward when her older sister attended USC and stayed in Los Angeles. “I always hated winter and running through sludge in five-degree weather,” she says of the Midwest. As for Santa Barbara, she adds, “How could you not want to be here once you’ve seen it?”
She’s leaving her own future open. The passive income stream from her blog is a good cushion, so she will work on a communications degree and see what happens. “At this point, I don’t even know what I like,” she says, “so I want to try as much as I can.” She’s hoping that will include getting to eat out more in Santa Barbara — so far she’s a big fan of Oliver’s tofu bánh mì and Lilly’s definitely not vegan tacos. And now Santa Barbara — and the world — will be able to be fans of her cookbook.
Chipotle BBQ Mushroom Tacos
with Charred Corn Salsa
Anytime I go on a trip with my family, I always locate the best Mexican restaurants in the area. I’ve tried quite a few tacos, vegan and otherwise, yet these simple mushroom tacos still remain one of my favorites. For the best tacos, use high-quality tortillas. My go-to brand is always the white corn and wheat tortillas from La Tortilla Factory. And of course, if you have the time, homemade corn tortillas are the ultimate treat!
Makes 3 to 4 servings
Charred Corn Salsa
- 2 ears fresh corn, husked
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
- Juice of 1 large lime
- Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) avocado oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp (30 g) tomato paste
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 8 oz (225 g) cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 (15-oz [425-g]) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) soy sauce
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) pure maple syrup
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced + 1 tbsp (15 ml) adobo sauce
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 4 to 6 corn or flour tortillas
For Topping (optional)
- Shredded romaine lettuce
- Chopped fresh cilantro
For the salsa, heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat until very hot. Add the corn ears and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally, or until charred on all sides before transferring to a plate. Once cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to shave the kernels off the cob. Mix with the remaining salsa ingredients and season with salt to taste.
For the taco filling, allow the skillet to cool off slightly, then heat the oil over medium heat. When shimmering, add the garlic, tomato paste, and smoked paprika. Toast for 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
Add the mushrooms, pinto beans, soy sauce, maple syrup, chipotle pepper, and adobo sauce. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened and the sauce has thickened.
Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Briefly heat your tortillas, one at a time, in a nonstick pan or directly on a burner (if you have a gas stove) until soft and pliable. Load up each one with the mushroom filling, a spoonful of corn salsa, and any desired toppings.
Reprinted with permission from Fantastic Vegan Recipes for the Teen Cook by Elaine Skiadas. Page Street Publishing Co. 2023. Photo credit: Elaine Skiadas.
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