Until 2014, aquafaba was known simply as "bean juice" or "the liquid from cooking chickpeas"— when anyone thought to call it anything at all as they dumped it down the drain. Then some vegans in France figured out that you could whip that liquid into a foamy, meringue-like substance. The internet quickly found out, and in a Facebook group called “Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses!” went to work exploring the possibilities of this apparent egg substitute. The verdict: nearly endless.
In October, Vegan Heritage Press published Zsu Dever's Aquafaba, the first official cookbook and comprehensive guide to using the stuff. We caught up with Dever for a Q&A about what it was like to be the first person to write about a revolutionary new ingredient.
Paste: What's your aquafaba meet-cute? As in, how did you first come together?
Zsu Dever: Aquafaba and I had about the same romance that many other vegans have had: We met the day Goose Wohlt made his dramatic reveal of his meringue cookie on the Facebook group What F.A.T. Vegans Eat. It was like a bomb went off in the vegan community. You’ve heard of things going viral; well this was lighting fast. A very little time later a new Facebook group formed, Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses! (now just known as Aquafaba), and today, a little over a year later, it has more than 55,000 members and aquafaba is going down in culinary history.
Paste: What's the first thing you ever made with aquafaba?
ZD: First I made those meringue cookies, because to think that something so odd — bean cooking water — could turn into airy, white, billowy clouds of fluff seemed the stuff of make-believe. It was pure magic. I was in awe, as I am sure many of us were as we began whipping the liquid gold into fluffy clouds.
Paste: What made you decide that you were the person to write the first book about aquafaba?
ZD: I was actually a little hesitant. When I first decided that someone was going to write a book about this, I figured, why not me? [This would be Dever’s third cookbook.] And so I started experimenting with it. But for me, my first experimentation was trying the hard stuff: angel food cake, pate a choux, omelets, etc. I wanted to see just how far aquafaba could be pushed. It turned out that its limit was easy to find. Aquafaba, because it is made mostly of starch, some protein, and no fat, acts very differently than egg whites. After thinking about it, I knew that I could make it work for a lot of recipes, but I would need some extra ingredients to complement the abilities of aquafaba. Since I am a scientist at heart, this was the perfect subject for me. I analyze things in detail and make things over and over again until I am sure they work. Because aquafaba is a very technical ingredient, I felt it needed someone with a special eye toward its scientific aspects.
Paste: How would you have described your relationship with chickpeas before you started
working on this book?
ZD: “Love affair” would be accurate. Chickpeas are extremely versatile, both in terms of nutrition (they’re high in protein, carbohydrates and fiber), and in terms of culinary ability. They can go from making omelets to hummus to chana masala. Legumes themselves are one of the healthiest foods on earth.
Paste: How would you describe it now?
ZD: During research, development and testing that relationship was becoming strained. I went through over 200 pounds of dry chickpeas in a matter of just 6 months. My family was tired of smelling it cook, eating it and hearing about it. Even my cats started playing with dried
chickpeas; it has become their favorite toy! I am very happy to report that my freezer is becoming empty of chickpeas now, my car no longer has to haul bags of it home and chickpea and I have reconnected. Since chickpeas have gone back to being a normal part of our lives, that is to say a few batches a week, chickpeas and I are best buds again. As a matter of fact, I have come to regard it with even more love; it really is an awesome legume!
Paste: What was the worst part about making a cookbook all about one ingredient?
ZD: The family. They were not quite as understanding about having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every night for six months. I am probably exaggerating the frequency, but it sure felt that way. But for me, besides the family’s impatience, the worst part wasn’t that it was one ingredient. It was all the waste I had to go through to create workable and successful recipes. Tougher for me was aquafaba itself; it really is a difficult ingredient to figure out, especially when trying to create more complex recipes. By far, this has been the most challenging ingredient I’ve worked with.
Paste: The best?
ZD: From a scientific point of view, the best part was that it was a single ingredient because I was able to keep track of why something went wrong and how best to go about fixing it. Because of this continuity, I had a better grasp on the nuances of aquafaba and its persnickety nature. Had I not been at it for six months straight, working about 12-hour days, I don’t think I would have had a good enough grasp on it to write a comprehensive book such as I did.
Paste: What do people misunderstand about aquafaba?
ZD: That while it does an amazing job making meringue and by extension, meringue cookies, macarons and mousse, it is not a complete replacement for eggs or egg whites. That is not to sound discouraging! Aquafaba is amazing – just look at the variety of recipes in my book or on the Facebook group – it just needs a little help. And when we replace eggs with aquafaba we are helping a hen from a cruel life of factory farming.
Paste: What's your favorite recipe in the book?
ZD: That has to be the Chile Relleno Quiche. In fact, Chile Rellenos was the second thing I made when I discovered aquafaba. Traditionally, Chile Rellenos are cheese stuffed poblano or Anaheim peppers that are coated in whipped egg whites and deep fried. My husband is from Texas and it was his most favorite meal. This quiche has the tang, the light heat and all the flavor of the traditional dish — all without cheese or eggs. In addition, I love this dish because it can be soy-free or nut-free, too.
Paste: What would you say is aquafaba's spirit animal?
ZD: Hens! It has to be hens. Hens are one of the most abused animals in factory farms and every time I make something using aquafaba and every time someone in the world makes something using aquafaba instead of eggs, it helps the hens because that is one less egg that they have to produce in atrocious factory farming conditions.
Chile Relleno Quiche
This creamy, delicious quiche offers all the flavors of an excellent chiles relleno. Most poblanos are relatively mild, but if you don’t want any heat, substitute 2 large green bell peppers instead. Or, if you like more heat, add a few roasted jalapeños to the mix. (from Aquafaba, copyright © 2016 by Zsu Dever. Used by permission.)
3/4 cup raw cashew pieces
3/4 cup plain unsweetened nondairy yogurt
4 medium poblano chiles
3/4 cup aquafaba (see Note)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons refined coconut oil, just melted and at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon oat flour (45 grams)
5 teaspoons nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 (9-inch) vegan pie crust, par-baked for 12 minutes
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the cashews and yogurt in a blender and blend until
smooth, scraping the sides as needed. If using a standard blender, allow the nuts to hydrate for 10 minutes and blend again until smooth. Set aside.
2. Roast the poblanos directly over the flame of your burner or roast them in a cast iron pan.
Cook until blackened and charred all over. Transfer the poblanos to a bowl, cover the bowl with a plate and set aside to steam for 15 minutes. Peel the chiles (do not wash them) and remove the stems and seeds. Chop them into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside. You should have about 1 1/2 cups.
3. Add the aquafaba and cream of tartar to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using a whisk, vigorously whip the aquafaba for 10 seconds. Using the balloon whip attachment, whip the aquafaba on medium power for 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip for 11 to 13 minutes, or until it forms stiff peaks. Add the oil to the meringue in a very slow, steady stream, pouring it down the side of the bowl. This should take about 1 minute.
4. Combine the oat flour, nutritional yeast, salt, turmeric, garlic powder and black pepper. Mix
well. Add the nut mixture and mix well with a whisk. Transfer about one-half of the meringue to the oat mixture and fold with a spatula to incorporate. Transfer the rest of the meringue to the tempered batter and fold until the batter is well mixed and the meringue is deflated, adding the chopped poblanos toward the end of the folding process. Pour the batter into the par-baked pie crust and bake for 40 minutes. Increase the heat to 425°F and continue to bake until the top is golden, about 5 minutes. Chill the quiche overnight in the refrigerator to firm up.
Makes 1 (9-inch) quiche
Note: Although aquafaba is best if homemade using the recipe provided in the book, you can use aquafaba from canned chickpeas. Use the organic, low-sodium, canned chickpeas and strain off the liquid into a measuring cup using a fine mesh strainer. Note the amount of liquid you acquired, then add it to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the liquid reduces by 1/3.
Cool the aquafaba completely before using.