Mark Bittman’s ‘VB6’ Decoded, Plus a Recipe

VB6, the title of Mark Bittman’s new book and heathy eating plan, sounds like a futuristic diet involving highly engineered supplements and powders. In reality, it’s inspiration more by our ancestors than laboratories. VB6 stands for “vegan before 6 o’clock,” and it’s more of a set of guidelines than a strict diet. Simply stated, Bittman calls for eating no animal products before 6 o’clock and also limiting—or eliminating, if you can—highly processed foods around the clock.

This is the way Bittman, a food writer for over 25 years, started eating six years ago after getting a warning from his doctor that he was on a path toward diabetes and heart disease. Faced with abandoning a career and lifestyle that revolved around food, he came up with a “part-time vegan” solution that helped him eat more vegetables and fruits and less meat while still very much enjoying his food. After a few months, his test results returned to healthy levels and he was at his lowest weight in 30 years.

So, why 6 o’clock? Here’s how Bittman explains it in the book:

Am I suggesting that 6 p.m. is some kind of magical metabolic witching hour? Not at all. Truthfully, the hour itself doesn’t matter much, and if you habitually eat dinner very early, your plan may be VB5—or VB9, if you live in Spain. The point I was making to myself, and that I’m saying to you, is that dinnertime sets you free. Dinnertime, because that’s when you’re likely to want to eat the most, because that’s when you’re most likely to drink (and lose discipline!), because that’s when you’re most likely to combine eating with socializing, an important and even beneficial thing.

The book lays out six simple steps to putting together your own VB6 plan, a 28-day plan for getting started, plus 60-plus recipes and variations. And, you’ll find more recipe inspiration in Bittman’s new New York Times column, The Flexitarian. You can also read an excerpt from VB6.

Here’s a recipe from VB6 that vegan-izes a classic Italian dish. Enjoy!

Eggplant Un-Parmesan

Makes: 4 servings
Time: about 1 hour

This take on eggplant Parmesan proves that (a) you don’t need a lot of oil to cook eggplant, and (b) you don’t need gobs of cheese to make it delicious. Try using zucchini or portobello mushrooms as variations, or serve the vegetables and tomato sauce over polenta for a more substantial meal. If you can’t find whole-wheat breadcrumbs (panko-style are best), make your own by pulsing lightly toasted whole-grain bread in the food processor or blender.

2½ pounds eggplant
5 tablespoons olive oil
1¼ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, with their juice
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs, preferably coarse-ground

1. Heat the oven to 450°F and position two racks so that they’ve got at least 4 inches between them. Cut the eggplant crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices and arrange them on two rimmed baking sheets.

2. Use 2 tablespoons of the oil to brush the top of each eggplant slice and sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon salt and some pepper. Roast the eggplant until the slices brown on the bottom and sides, 10 to 15 minutes; turn and cook the other side until they’re crisp in places and golden, another 5 to 10 minutes. When they finish cooking, remove them from the oven and lower the heat to 400ºF.

3. Meanwhile, put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, sprinkle with another ½ teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture comes together and thickens, 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

4. Cover the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with about ½ inch of the tomato sauce. Nestle a layer of eggplant into the sauce and top with some of the basil. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce and repeat until all the eggplant is used up; reserve some of the basil for serving. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and lots of pepper, and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Simmer the remaining sauce (you should have about 2 cups) over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, while the eggplant bakes.

5. Bake until the breadcrumbs are golden and the sauce has thickened, 15 to 20 minutes; let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, garnished with the remaining basil; pass the remaining sauce at the table (or refrigerate or freeze it for another use).

Zucchini Un-Parmesan: Substitute 2 pounds zucchini (sliced lengthwise, preferably) for the eggplant and proceed with the recipe. Use mint instead of basil, if you like.

Portabella Un-Parmesan: Use 1½ to 2 pounds portabella mushrooms instead of eggplant; remove their stems but leave them whole. Proceed with the recipe, only make one, not two layers. Use parsley instead of basil if you like.

Eggplant Un-Parmesan with Polenta: Make a small batch of polenta and layer the tomato sauce, then the eggplant, the basil, and the polenta in a baking dish. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Top with breadcrumbs, if you like (it’s not necessary). Bake as directed.

Nutritional Info (using all the sauce)
Calories: 411  •  Cholesterol: 0mg  •  Fat: 22g  •  Saturated Fat: 3g  •  Protein: 9g  •  Carbohydrates: 53g  •  Sodium: 1221mg  •  Fiber: 16g  •  Trans Fat: 0g  •  Sugars: 17g


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Cookbooks by Mark Bittman
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