I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that Charity Morgan's "Unbelievably Vegan" is one of the most gorgeous and creative cookbooks I've seen in recent years. It's full of smart, flavorful recipes like her "Chick’n Broth," which uses nutritional yeast for extra umami. And there's so many great tips, like using vinegar to make fluffier vegan pancakes. Anyone can learn something from picking up this cookbook—whether you're new to eating a plant-based diet, or you've been on that train for years. "There have been people who have messaged me and said, 'I've been vegan for 20 years, but I feel like your cookbook gave me a whole new outlook on cooking,'" says Charity.
You might be surprised to learn, given the depth of her knowledge, that Charity Morgan only started eating a plant-based diet five years ago. As a trained chef, she initially started cooking plant-based meals for her husband Derrick Morgan, an ex-linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. When his energy skyrocketed, Charity and her children transitioned to a plant-based diet, too. Eventually other players for the Tennessee Titans started asking Chef Morgan to make them plant-based meals, and her role as a personal vegan chef was officially underway. It was only a matter of time before people were begging her for a cookbook.
You started eating vegan and plant-based five years ago. What were the early days like when you were experimenting in the kitchen?
My earlier days were pure anxiety and panic attacks. No disrespect to anyone in this field—everyone creates differently—but I looked at recipes very early on, and I was like I wouldn't do that. I remember one day when I was having a panic attack, I put my head down on my kitchen counter, and I literally prayed. I thought: If this is a journey I'm supposed to go down, give me something that I'm supposed to know. And I tell everyone this story—because it's the weirdest story that's ever happened to me—after I prayed I heard a kind of condescending voice that said make everything you used to make, just change the ingredients. I was like, oh my god yes.
The very first thing I made—the day I had that epiphany—was jambalaya. I used to make it with blackened chicken on top, but to veganize it I used vegetable stock and blackened vegetables.
Can you describe what a plegan is, and why use the term for how you eat?
I came up with that term out of pure frustration, because when I went plant-based and vegan I got a lot of messages from naysayers. People would tell me what I was doing wrong versus what I was doing right. And I was like, hello guys, I have athletes that are eating my plant-based meals—whether it's once a day or three times a day, or for three months straight—that's how many animals I'm keeping alive, so why are you attacking me?
I kind of felt defensive instead of feeling empowered. I didn't feel inspired. And my athletes started to feel discouraged, too. So I came up with a word that made us stay on course. It's more inclusive instead of focusing on what you're not doing right.
What's inspiring you in the kitchen right now?
I'm always playing with a lot of spices in my kitchen. You can take a plain block of tofu to a whole new level just by using the right spices. I'm also always trying to find things that take me out of comfort zone, and I often shop at the Asian and international stores. It's what keeps me evolving as a chef. I've also been using a lot of onions and pickles in my cooking lately, and trying out a lot of different Southern dishes.
What’s your low-effort comfort food meal?
Extra hot salsa. I get plant-based cream cheese, I put that on a bowl or a plate, and I pour my hot salsa over it, and I eat them together like a dip. I do store-bought salsa, or I make my own. If it's summer and my garden is blooming with a bunch of tomatoes, then I'm definitely making my own. The salsa is so low-maintenance—super easy, but flavorful.
Emotionally, what’s the plant-based equivalent of roast chicken?
Anything fried. No one is going to complain when you make my oyster mushroom fried "chicken" recipe and pair it with a side of my plant-based mac and cheese.
Most requested dish from your clients?
Apple Crisp and the Pecan Cinnamon Rolls. I'm around a bunch of people who love amazing desserts, and those two recipes are the most popular.
What made you want to write a cookbook? And what are you hoping readers will get from your recipes?
It started with just a lot of people asking me for a cookbook. I already had recipes that I had been compiling, and I was like, okay, you know what, let's just bump this up and give the people what they want. I want readers to be inspired. I don't want them to stop with my cookbook. I'm a true believer in creating, and playing with your food. Now that you have my mac and cheese, I encourage you to create your own. That's why I have those boxes throughout the cookbook called "get creative," because ultimately I want people to feel inspired. It's not about cooking like Chef Charity Morgan, I want you to find your happy place in the kitchen.
Have there been any stand-out recipes from the cookbook according to readers?
People have latched onto my Lobster Bisque—and I love that, because it's actually one of my favorite recipes in the cookbook. I didn't think I would have a Lobster Bisque ever again until I made this. I went to my culinary arts syllabus, and I looked up the recipe for a Lobster Bisque, and I created it like I did when I was in culinary school—but I used lobster mushrooms. It tastes like a true, traditional Lobster Bisque.
Do you have any tips for people who are going plant-based or vegan for the first time?
I recommend trying more plants and vegetables, as opposed to looking for all the processed stuff. And reading labels—it's a big one, because they sneak things in. I tried to grab a bag of gluten-free flour recently and it had powdered milk in it. And I'm like wait why.
Finally, you talk about your love of hot sauce throughout the book. What’s your current go-to?
The Louisiana brand. I'll marinate a block of tofu in the hot sauce with some of my Cajun seasoning for 24 hours. And then I dice it, strain and reserve the liquid, and roast the tofu. I take the reserved hot sauce, add some plant-based butter to it, and top the tofu with the sauce. It's almost like a Buffalo wing tofu.