Visiting the Vegetarian Heartland

Think of the
—America’s Heartland—and all sorts of images come to
mind. Maybe you envision automobile manufacturing plants or
vast acres of farm land. Maybe you think of big cities or
small towns, everything from Chicago, Illinois
to Smallville, Kansas. Or, maybe, the Midwest conjures
images of its abundant natural wonders, from the Great
Lakes and the vast Northwoods to sleepy Wisconsin Dells.
What doesn’t jump to mind is vegetarian food.

This fact is what drove food blogger Shelly Westerbrook’s quest
to change the Midwestern vegetarian food landscape. What is
most noteworthy is that she was able to bring fun, food and a
sense of her journey all together in one beautiful new
cookbook, Vegetarian Heartland: Recipes for
Life’s Adventures.

shelly westerhausen

It is clear that Westerbrook, an author, food stylist, and
photographer, wrote Vegetarian
with the goal of reversing the wrongs
of her Midwestern meat-loving upbringing. “Becoming a
vegetarian was almost unheard of in my small northern Indiana
town,” she tells us in her introduction.

As a result, she set out to create a body of modern
vegetarian recipes. Lucky for us because along the way she
discovered a lively world of what she calls “meat-free
version(s) of the comfort food most of us grew up with.”

So, like the Midwest itself, Vegetarian
is charmingly down-to-earth.
Westerbrook feels present in every word and her enthusiasm,
even in light of a heavy hand with exclamation points, is a
joyous read. A vegetarian from the age of twelve (“purely
because of animal rights”), Westerbrook also became enamored
with cooking and cookbooks. Fast forward to college in
Bloomington, Indiana where she started a wildly successful blog
 through which she chronicled
her “discoveries and adventures in the kitchen.”
And, therefore a sense of adventure drives the heart and soul
of Vegetarian Heartland.

vegetarian heartland book cover

Recipes for adventurous living

Organized by season and activity, Vegetarian
 was written with fun and
exploration in mind. Therefore, whether you are heading out for
a spring day at the Farmers Market, a road trip, a camping
expedition or playing in the snow, Westerbrook has a plethora
of tasty recipes to feed you along the way.

Therefore, whether you are heading out for a spring day at the
Farmers Market, a road trip, a camping expedition or playing in
the snow, Westerbrook has a plethora of tasty recipes to feed
you along the way.

I, for one, was excited to find recipes designed to be made
over an open fire (yes, please to caramel, roasted strawberry
and chocolate cookie sm’ores) as well as what to feed my
sleepy-eyed friends when they come knocking at
10AM (Coconut Curry Shakshuka was the smash of my last
brunch; recipe below). In the end, my biggest
challenge was deciding where to start.

If you’re wondering whether you need to live in the Midwest or
even the be a Midwesterner to enjoy Vegetarian
, I can assure you that you do not. As
an unabashed city girl who has never lived anywhere other
than on one coast or another, I love this cookbook as much as
any written by a big city chef. Maybe it’s Westerbrook’s
down-to-earth style or her lack of elitist foodie cynicism or
her yummy recipes that make Vegetarian
 so appealing. But, whatever it is
that makes so good, I hope it catches on.

Check out
Vegetarian Heartland on Amazon

Coconut Curry Shakshuka Recipe

coconut curry shakshuka

This is one of those dishes that arose from my inability
to make a decision about what to cook. One evening, I had
leftover pita bread and couldn’t decide whether to make curry
or shakshuka to go with it. I finally just made a hybrid of
the two. The end result is a creamy, aromatic tomato sauce
that has just a kick of heat. Top it all with poached eggs,
fresh basil, and lime juice, and use the pita bread for


  • Tbsp
    olive oil
  • medium green bell pepper, seeded, deribbed, and
  • medium yellow onion, diced
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • tsp
    curry powder
  • tsp
    sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp
    ground ginger
  • tsp
  • 1/2 tsp
    red pepper flakes
  • One 28-oz [794-g] can diced tomatoes
  • One 13.5-oz
    [398-ml] can full-fat coconut milk
  • eggs
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground
  • black pepper
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish
  • pieces pita or naan, warmed
  • Lime wedges for serving

Cooking Directions

  1. In a 12-in [30.5-cm] skillet over
    medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the bell pepper and
    onion and sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté for 30
  3. Add the curry powder, paprika, and
    ginger and sauté for 30 seconds more.
  4. Add the honey, red pepper flakes,
    tomatoes, and coconut milk; stir to combine; and simmer until
    the sauce thickens, 20 to 25 minutes.
  5. Crack the eggs and slide them into
    the sauce, distributing them around the pan. Gently push some
    of the tomato sauce over the eggs to keep them from drying
    out. Cover the pan and cook until the eggs are completely
    set, 5 to 7 minutes.
  6. Season with salt and pepper and
    sprinkle with basil. Serve immediately with pita and lime

Keep up with the latest sustainable food news by
signing up for our free newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign