Meet Rich Roll . . . On the cusp of his 40th birthday, Rich was your average “couch potato” — middle-aged, fifty pounds overweight, semi-depressed, and unenthusiastic about life. But then he had an epiphany. He changed his relationship with food, adopted a vegan/plant-based lifestyle, and went on to become one of the leading ultra-distance endurance athletes. In fact, he was named one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World” by Men’s Fitness magazine.
Meet Julie Piatt, aka “SriMati” . . . SriMati is an author, podcast host, self-taught plant-based chef, motivational speaker, meditation guide, yoga teacher, singer-songwriter, painter, sculptor, and all-around spiritual wellness warrior. After being diagnosed with an incurable cyst in her neck, she healed herself through embracing a plant-based diet and simultaneously embarking upon a deep meditation practice.
Sign up to receive inspiring, expert advice on living your best life from Books for Better Living and Penguin Random House.
Rich and Julie are the husband-and-wife power couple behind The Plantpower Way: Italia. Living a “plant-powered life” is a journey of discovering your authentic self and learning to connect with one another, your community, and the planet. They’ve inspired countless people to embrace a plant-based lifestyle and lead healthier, more vibrant lives. Rich and Julie lead intimate yoga, meditation, plant-centric cooking retreats to the Italian countryside and beyond. Iesolana, a villa situated in the hills of Tuscany between Siena and Florence, has been the stunning and magical location of their wellness retreats for over a decade and their inspiration for this book.
No doubt, eating in Italy is a celebration in itself. Italy is a place that is often romanticized for its great food and climate, a place where people enjoy the sweetness of life (la dolce vita). As one of the world’s most beloved cuisines, the secret of Italian food lies in its locale, and, most importantly, seasonal ingredients. As well, a sense of connectedness and communal eating is at the heart of Italian culture.
Plantpower takes cues from and adopts many of these values. It’s a celebration of vegan Italian cooking, bringing people together to be mindful of and enjoy the best of Italy’s bounty — fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and grains. According to the authors, “In the highest essence, family meals can be a form of ceremony, steeped in gratitude, connection, reverence for our loved ones, communities, and greater life.” The Plantpower Way is more than a diet; it’s a celebration of a delicious, simple, and sustainable lifestyle.
125 Italian-inspired, vegan recipes are organized into blends and breakfast; sauces, spreads, and cheeses; pizzas; antipasti and contorni; pasta and primo; salads and soups; and desserts. Classic Italian recipes are presented, albeit with a vegan twist. You’ll find familiar recipes, for example, lasagna, but with a vegetable-focused approach. Thin slices of potatoes are used instead of sheets of pasta; cashew-almond ricotta, instead of cow’s milk ricotta; black pesto (with black garlic); and sun-dried tomato sauce. There are several vegan cheeses incorporated into recipes scattered about the book, from cashew cheese sauce to macadamia cashew burrata to smoked walnut Parmesan. You’ll also find many approachable, easy-to-prepare Italian dishes, such as tomato-basil bruschetta and spinach and garlic.
And then there’s the dessert section. The orange, chocolate raw pie is a work of art. Other mouthwatering desserts include a gluten-free and dairy-free tiramisu, a blackberry trifle with coconut cashew cream, and a lavender cheesecake. That orange, chocolate raw pie is definitely calling my name.
While I’m not amongst the lucky few to attend one of Rich and Julie’s retreats in the rolling hills of the tranquil Italian countryside, I prepared my own mindful feast of sorts right here at home. I was excited to try their “Italian-ish” multigreen Caesar with avocado-balsamic dressing and almond ricotta. The hearty mixture of Italian greens — spinach, romaine, and kale — paired with grapes and passion fruit, not traditionally included in a Caesar salad, gives the salad a unique touch. It all comes together with a creamy, tangy avocado-balsamic dressing topped with a cashew and almond ricotta, the latter which adds a nice texture to the finished salad. Prepare the dressing and nut cheese a day or two in advance, and then the salad comes together in a matter of minutes.
As someone who is not vegan, but loves just about every type of vegetable, there are plenty of recipes to embrace in this book. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stepping outside your comfort zone and exploring, discovering, and embracing all that is new.
“Italian-ish” Multi-green Caesar with Avocado, Balsamic Dressing, and Almond Ricotta
I read recently that Caesar salad may have been invented by an Italian who made his way to Mexico. That made me question whether this Caesar recipe fit in this book at all. But in the end, the lively, creamy taste of this salad won me over. I’m sure it will win you over too. Let’s just call it “Italian-ish.”
2 cups fresh spinach
2 cups romaine
2 cups baby kale
2 cups grapes, halved
6 local passion fruit, halved (optional)
1 cup fresh Cashew Almond Ricotta (page 68)
Avocado Balsamic Caesar Dressing:
1 avocado, halved and pitted
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1. To make the salad: In a large wooden salad bowl, layer the spinach, romaine, and kale.
2. To make the dressing: In the bowl of a food processor or highspeed blender, place the avocado, vinegar, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of water. Blend on medium speed for about 30 seconds, until well combined.
3. Massage the dressing into the greens using your hands and loving thoughts.
4. To complete the salad: Sprinkle the grape halves on top of the greens and add the passion fruit, if using.
5. Top with tablespoons of Cashew Almond Ricotta.
6. Garnish with pepper.
Cashew Almond Ricotta
Makes About 2 Cups
This recipe achieves a ricotta nut cheese without any complicated aging. I like to use a combination of cashews and almonds for this recipe, but if you don’t have one or the other, you can use all cashews or all almonds. You can use a food processor for this recipe, but the cheese will be grainier.
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup raw almonds
Juice of 1 lemon
Place the cashews in filtered water in a small bowl.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
1. Drain the cashews.
2. Blanch the almonds: Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat and add the almonds. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and drain in a colander. The skins should easily rub off with your fingers.
3. In the pitcher of a Vitamix or a high-speed blender, place the cashews, blanched almonds, and lemon juice. Blend on medium speed, using the plunger to evenly redistribute the mixture until you achieve a curd-like consistency. Don’t be shy—really get in there and work the plunger on all sides of the bowl. If the mixture is a bit dry, you can add 2 tablespoons of filtered water.
4. Transfer the mixture to the center of an 8-inch piece of cheesecloth. Gather the edges and tie them into a bundle with string.
5. Refrigerate the cheese bundle for 24 hours or overnight.