A Southern vegan shares genius recipes, evocative photos

Read this cookbook: “Mississippi Vegan: Recipes & Stories from a Southern Boy’s Heart” by Timothy Pakron

If I said you could make cheese straws, Frito Pie, dirty rice, Salisbury Steak and Hummingbird Cake -- entirely with plant-based ingredients -- would you think I was out of my gourd? 

In his fresh, deeply personal and visually stunning cookbook, Timothy Pakron reinvents these iconic Southern dishes and creates a good many more of his own design -- all of them vegan, thank you. 

“The concept of veganism to me is a celebration of abundance: colorful vegetables, juicy sweet fruits, local and heirloom grains, a variety of nuts and seeds, and the glorious plethora of edible mushrooms,” the Mississippi native and current New Orleans resident writes in this collection of 125 recipes. 

Inspired by the Deep South’s bounty of produce and the Cajun and Creole traditions of his home on the Gulf Coast, Pakron comes across as patron saint of Southern veganism. 

Sweetly innocent, yes, but with a potent and powerful message: He’s here to knock down ignorant, deep-seated stereotypes that perpetuate the myth that his region’s victuals would be nothing without pork fat, butter and eggs. 

A wildly talented photographer and something of a gay bon vivant, Pakron follows in the tradition of Truman Capote, Eugene Walter, Ryan Gainey and Scott Peacock to evince a lush tribute to a mythic time and place. 

He essays on the meatiness of mushrooms, sharing, for example, his discovery that the puffer-ball-like lion’s mane is the perfect textural stand-in for his mama’s Crab Mornay. 

And as for gumbo, he wisely points out that okra is the prime ingredient, “one that should shine throughout the dish and be celebrated.” Ergo, he offers no less than four recipes, sans seafood and chicken, sausage and ham. How does he do it? “I’ve created a powerful combination of spices and herbs to elevate the taste without the meat.” 

Along with grandma-worthy Sausage Biscuits, Blueberry Pecan Muffins, Mini Peach Cobblers, Green Bean Casserole, Hoppin’ John Stew and so on, he provides instructions for potato and shiitake bacon, jams, cocktails and home-brewed herbal teas. 

One look at his Kumquat Broccolini and Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Bars With Coconut Whipped Cream & Pecan Shortcake Crust, and I knew this book was for me. And I’m not even vegan. 

This volume is a revelation and celebration of the natural beauty of a landscape that is home to pecans, peanuts, sweet potatoes, collards, figs, loquats, satsumas and sweet-smelling honeysuckle. Not to mention magnolias, azaleas, camellias and great literature. 

From the state that gave us Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Donna Tartt and Julia Reed, “Mississippi Vegan” is a soulful and affecting self-portrait by a Southern original. Time to break out the Floral Beard Oil and Calming Face Mist. 

“Mississippi Vegan: Recipes & Stories from a Southern Boy’s Heart” by Timothy Pakron (Avery, $35.00)

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).

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