Zsu Dever hails from a long line of culinary professionals and restaurateurs. The author of Vegan Bowls and Everyday Vegan Eats, she’s the publisher of Zsu’s Vegan Pantry blog. She’s a food writer and photographer who has taught cooking workshops. We had a chance to talk with Zsu about her latest book, Aquafaba.
WOV: Aquafaba has rocked the world of vegan cooking. In your book, you described your first foray into using aquafaba. Can you briefly share that experience with our readers?
ZD: The experience of draining a can of beans and adding this same liquid to the bowl of a stand mixer represents what I had been taught all my life regarding the discarding of the cooking water of beans. Until then I had, along with most other people, drained my beans, dumping the water down the sink, and rinsed my beans thoroughly before using. Now I found myself adding this amber liquid to my stand mixer and wondered what to expect next. I began to whip it and after about 2 minutes the liquid was beginning to expand, becoming aerated and changing color. After about 8 minutes, the liquid was becoming pure white and had filled half my bowl. I was stunned. And I must say that I am continually amazed each and every time I make meringue. It is such an awe-inspiring experience, watching this happen – and it does! Unless I make the mistake of adding oil to the bowl at some point before the meringue is at stiff peaks, the golden colored liquid metamorphoses into fluffy, pure white, clouds of meringue.
WOV: There are surprisingly many applications for using aquafaba. What’s one of your favorites?
ZD: That is very tough to answer! There are indeed so many applications – from making meringue cookies and Madeleine cakes to quiches and vegan meatloaf, aquafaba has a whole slew of wonderful uses that create amazing dishes. My favorite, however, is making vegan butter. Vegan butter was originally reverse-engineered by Mattie Hagedorn, of veganbaking.net, back in 2011, and it is such an easy recipe to make using aquafaba that I find myself making it weekly. It tastes awesome and I can personally control the density of the butter. Mattie did us a huge favor back in 2011 and aquafaba is making it even easier to make vegan butter since 2015.
WOV: What would you consider the best gateway recipe for novices in the kitchen?
ZD: Most people would like to see the meringue forming – after all, that is what was the first thing to draw us to aquafaba! The first recipe to make is a simple meringue cookie. Depending on the brand of beans you use, you might find that the cookies taste a bit like beans, but that aftertaste goes away once you experiment with the brand of beans you buy, the type of beans you use, whether it is homemade or canned and what kind of flavoring you add to the meringue. All in all, though, the fact that you can whip aquafaba into meringue, add sugar and vanilla and bake it until crisp, and, most importantly, taste and enjoy an egg-free meringue cookie, is an experience we should all have as aquafaba newbies.
WOV: In Aquafaba, you share some tips and tricks. Can you issue a tip or two here for those new to using aquafaba?
When making meringue, it is important to reduce your canned aquafaba by 1/3. Canning companies tend to have about the same ratio of water to beans across the board and by simmering the liquid until it is reduced by 1/3, you are ensuring that the chilled aquafaba (chill before use) will be strong enough to whip into a stable meringue. Once chilled, aquafaba should gel somewhat. At this point it is ready to whip into meringue or use in any recipe that calls for straight aquafaba. In addition, it is best to use a stand mixer for the whipping, but an electric hand mixer can suffice. It does take a long time (around 10 to 25 minutes) to whip aquafaba into meringue, so a stand mixer is the best option. Make sure your bowl is impeccably clean (don’t use plastic bowls because they trap grease and fat will prevent the aquafaba from whipping).
Follow a recipe when using aquafaba to make cookies (check out my book or the Facebook group Aquafaba—formerly Vegan Meringue- Hits and Misses for a recipe). Pipe your meringue only onto parchment paper or silicone mats. Wax paper or straight onto a baking pan will cause the meringue to deflate. Once whipped, meringue will last a few hours before completely deflating. Bake only on very low temperature, around 200-degrees F. Anything hotter and the meringue will deflate. My book has more tips and tricks for a successful aquafaba experience.
WOV: You’re so generously sharing your aquafaba latke recipe with our readers, which look amazing by the way. From where do you draw inspiration when you’re creating recipes?
For this book, my inspiration was the hens. I wrote this book with them in mind. Hens are the most cruelly treated farm animals and anything I can do to reduce egg consumption can only be a benefit to them. The egg industry, like all industries, relies on supply and demand – if eggs are not in demand, supply will diminish. That is my goal. And for that goal to become real, eggs need to become less and less in demand. Aquafaba is a wonderful beginning to that end. I create recipes based on a few things, one being the animals and a second being classic recipes that have become so traditionally ingrained in our society that they have become fabric of ourselves. Replacing animal ingredients such as eggs, but keeping the integrity of the recipe itself, helps us leave eggs behind in favor of a more compassionate and ethical mealtime.
- 2 pounds russet potatoes
- 1/2 medium onion
- 1/4 cup aquafaba (see Note)
- 1/4 cup potato starch, optional
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, optional
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- High-heat oil, for frying, such as canola or peanut
- Peel the potatoes and shred them using either a food processor with the shredding blade or a box grater. Place them on a kitchen towel, fold up the edges, twist the towel around the potatoes, and squeeze out all the water that you can. Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Shred the onion and add it to the potatoes. Add the aquafaba, starch, parsley (if using), salt, baking powder, and black pepper. Mix very well.
- Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add two or three kernels of popping corn and heat the oil until the corn pops; this is an indicator that your oil is hot enough. Remove and discard the popped corn.
- Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, place 3 to 4 portions of the potato mixture in the hot oil and cook them until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Do not press down on the latkes. Flip the latkes and continue to cook another 2 minutes. Drain them on paper towels and serve as soon as possible. Make sure to give the potatoes a stir before measuring, and do not crowd the skillet or your latkes will not be crispy.
- Although aquafaba is best if homemade using the recipe provided in the book, you can use aquafaba from canned chickpeas. Use the organic, low-sodium, canned chickpeas and strain off the liquid into a measuring cup using a fine mesh strainer. Note the amount of liquid you acquired, then add it to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the liquid reduces by 1/3. Cool the aquafaba completely before using.