LA isn’t just home to a community of bright entrepreneurs; it’s also home to a legion of great writers and bloggers. Throughout the year, Lalawag will be chatting with some of the city’s most prominent bloggers to find out a bit more about what makes them tick.
Leslie Durso (@veggiedreamgirl) is “The Dainty Vegetarian,” but don’t let that trick you into thinking that her blog isn’t for carnivores as well. She’s a self-taught cook, foodie, and event planner with a focus on great tasting dishes and recipes that just happen to not contain meat in them. Her blog is read in over 130 countries and is one of the top-searched vegetarian sites from Google. We had a nice chat with Leslie about her inspiration in blogging and also discover one of her favorite healthy recipes for a working lunch!
Tell us a little about your blog.
My blog mainly consists of my own easy-to-follow vegetarian recipes that satisfy even the biggest carnivore. My goal is to debunk the notion that healthy vegetarian food is “weird”, bland and flavorless. In addition, I post videos, party planning tips, and restaurant reviews.
I like your tagline – “The Dainty Vegetarian,” it’s not too often you see the word “dainty” used anymore. Is that a nod more to your personality or the topics you write about (or a little of both)?
Both : ) My Husband came up with the name. It’s his little nickname for me.
How did you get started blogging?
I started the site out of necessity. Most vegetarian websites have recipes consisting only of ingredients my meat-eating husband wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole! Ingredients in those recipes are comprised mainly of tofu, tempeh, and other meat substitutes that can look pretty freaky for people looking for a more vegetarian-friendly diet. I find that those kinds of foods can scare the average person away from eating vegetarian. The food I cook is just good food that happens to not have meat in it. I am a vegetarian, but I’ll be clear, I’m not a meat hater. We live in a world of people mostly eating meat in their diet. Just because I choose not to, I find no reason to knock people that do. I simply encourage people to become more aware of what they put in their bodies.
I encourage readers to make every ingredient you can from scratch (that even includes cheese and butter). This way you know exactly what is in your food and where it all comes from. I encourage readers to educate themselves in the way that our food gets to our table. How is it grown or raised? How far is it traveling to get here? What chemicals or hormones were used in the growing process? I feel like people have turned a blind eye to what we are putting in our bodies and it’s got to change. So to make a long answer even longer — I wanted to share my food journey with as many others as I could.
What platform do you use for blog publishing? What made you decide to use it over the other choices out there?
I work on Typepad. When I started my blog, I knew nothing about them or how to start them. I had a friend recommend Typepad so I decided to go with that. It was that easy.
Many of us lead fast-paced lifestyles here in LA and oftentimes neglect having a healthy lunch. Do you have a particular favorite quick, healthy lunch recipe that you could share with us?
One of my favorite ingredients to cook with is kale (a form of cabbage). I love the heartiness of it and it’s incredibly versatile as well. I personally love eating it raw. In addition to tasting delish, it’s super high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and has a bunch of calcium too. This super simple salad will leave you completely full and satisfied:
Raw Kale Salad with Balsamic Glaze
What you’ll need:
1 bunch of kale (usually 8 or 9 stalks), washed well and chopped
3 roma tomatoes, diced
2 avocados, diced
1/8 cup purple onion, finely diced
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. agave nectar or honey
3/4 cup olive oil
What you’ll do:
After you wash your kale well, pat it dry and cut the stalk off and discard. Chop the leaves leaving them salad lettuce size pieces and place in a big salad bowl. (the leaves with reduce to about 1/3 of the size when you dress it) Make the dressing. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Taste and vary as needed. Pour the dressing over the kale leaves and massage with your hands. Er! Yup, get your hands in the kale and massage it like you would dough. Do this for about a minute; you’ll start to feel the kale soften. Let the salad sit for anywhere from 7-20 minutes. Toss in the tomatoes and avocado and serve.
Other than your own, what are the first three content sites/blogs you check when you wake up in the morning? Why?
Oddly enough, the ones I check the most have nothing to do with food directly. I’m talking about Facebook and Twitter of course! I love how easy it is to interact with people on those platforms. As for other websites, I love The Sweetest Occasion. They have fabulous party inspiration posts. I’m also getting way more into posting my own restaurant reviews on Yelp and Foodspotting. My restaurant reviews are all about how a vegetarian orders and eats at typical restaurant.
Who are the five most important people you follow on Twitter and why?
1. @wholefoods I love the concept of their stores and would love to work with them in some capacity.
2. @TheEllenShow She is a vegan and one of the funniest people out there. I would love to cook for Ellen and Portia someday.
3. @BFAS is a charity I love working with. Best Friends runs a no-kill animal sanctuary and work across the country aimed at creating a world with no more homeless pets.
4. @slowfoodusa Very cool group of people
5. @prattprattpratt Because Chris Pratt (from NBC comedy Parks and Recreation) is a good friend and funny as hell!
Do you use a smartphone? What smartphone apps do you find indispensable on your home screen? Why did these apps make the cut?
I have a Verizon Droid Galaxy S. This is my first smart phone so I’m pretty new to the “apps world,” but I would probably say OpenTable and Yelp. They make it so easy to find a close restaurant and make a reservation.
With decent quality cameras attached to many modern smartphones now, many aspiring foodies like to take pictures to share. Do you have any tips on how to take good pictures of food dishes/meals?
Always take your photos during the day in good lighting. If you are taking pictures at a restaurant that means go for lunch or go early to dinner and request a table by a window. And turn your flash off! It just makes everything blown out and weird looking.
Where do you do your best writing? (at home, Starbucks, the park, etc.)
Probably outside in the backyard. My morning ritual consists of walking our dogs, making a smoothie and sitting outside to write that day’s post.
What’s your best source of inspiration? Do you have a particular muse?
Inspiration is tough to put a finger on. I am inspired by so many different things. I may get inspired by whatever is fresh at the farmer’s market, something I ate at a restaurant, or sometimes even certain color palettes will inspire a new dish idea. As for a muse — I’d have to say the women in my family. They are all phenomenal cooks and honestly I’m just trying to live up to the lineage.
What’s your favorite restaurant to go to in LA? Why?
Ooooh tough question! For vegan food it’s got to be Sun Cafe on Ventura in Studio City. They have two of my favorite dishes ever. Their vegan nachos and a raw cookie dough cheesecake are out of this world! The squash blossom pizza at Pizzeria Mozza is truly divine! Nancy Silverton can make an incredible crust!
What helps you the most in terms of expanding your readership?
When I get published on fabulous sites like yours : ) No, seriously, it’s really a word of mouth process. Some of my favorite sites that give me love are StumbleUpon, TasteSpotting, FoodGawker and I’m lucky enough to be one of the top-searched vegetarian blogs on Google.
Do you have any other tips for the budding bloggers out there?
Be consistent! It’s very important to have a regular writing schedule. Readers want to know they can always come back to your site for new information. And it’s a slow process — you’ve got to stick with it. My blog is just over a year old and at the beginning, I’m sure it was just my family and friends reading. Now I have readers in over 130 countries. That still blows my mind!