If you’ve been to the grocery store in the past week, chances are you’ve picked up at least one of the following items: eggs, tortillas, a can of beans, or sweet potatoes. These ingredients, along with mushrooms, tofu, greens, winter and summer squash, broccoli or cauliflower, and cabbage form the backbone of Lukas Volger’s new cookbook, Start Simple.
A writer and recipe developer, Volger has lived in Brooklyn for nearly twenty years, having moved here to attend Hunter College, and built a career in food and publishing along the way. In his mom’s kitchen, Volger enjoyed baking and got his first food job in high school at a bakery. Start Simple is his third cookbook, published by Harper Collins imprint Harper Wave.
A native of Boise, Idaho, he wrote this book for his family — specifically his brother, sister and law and nieces who live in Nevada.
“Their life is just crazy…they have opinions on food and they really want to eat healthier and they want to eat more vegetables and it just seems so impossible,” he explains. “I was hoping there might be something in here to service someone like them who only has the chance to shop at Trader Joe’s one time a week.”
Start Simple is a vegetarian cookbook for weeknights, and all the recipes had to pass Volger’s own test of “I’ve been out working all day and now I have to go home and figure out something for dinner, do I have the bandwidth to pull this off right now, in this state.”
With his family in mind, recipes were written to be adaptable and you’re encouraged not to follow them directly. Some are sized to feed two people and others make enough for leftovers that can be easily frozen. His young nieces are also the most honest taste testers and they’re fans of the broccoli mac (well, one of them is, the other prefers Kraft), the chard enchiladas, the fruit galette, and the beans.
Volger, like many, has gone through phases, sometimes being strict vegetarian and sometimes making exceptions. What doesn’t change, in his personal life and in his work, is that vegetarian food is the default.
“When I think about making dinner, I never think about roasting a chicken,” he explains. It’s not a special diet or restriction, it’s the food he comes home and cooks for himself and his boyfriend.
Visually, the book stands out for its mixture of illustrations and photography. Volger is the cofounder and editorial director of Jarry Magazine, a queer food journal founded in 2015. Working with contributors there introduced him to photographer Cara Howe and illustrator Allira Tee, who is based in Australia. Tee’s illustrations of the eleven core ingredients set a playful tone for the book, which honors the ritual of cooking without being too precious.
Volger thinks about food, even dessert, as a moment to be mindful.
“When I’ve been living by myself or when I used to have roommates, the ritual dinner, sitting down and eating intentionally was kind of hard, whether you’re watching tv, or on your phone, or just using the opportunity to multitask. I’ve always felt that dessert can be like a way to reclaim that time, eat with intention, like, I’m going to have a sweet right now and I’m going to sit and enjoy it. Just like almost as an everyday practice, it brings focus to the whole event.”
His weeknight desserts include ice cream toppings like cinnamon toast crumbles, and a gingery maple pudding cake.
Start Simple comes out on February 18, 2020 and Volger will be hosting events around the country, including two in Brooklyn.