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The Unbound Book Festival comes to downtown Columbia each spring. They aim "to bring nationally and internationally recognized authors of world-class renown to Columbia, Missouri, to talk about their books, their work, and their lives."

Hetty Lui McKinnon on Tenderheart: A Cookbook about Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds and her "vegetable origin story."

The author of Tenderheart: A Cookbook about Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds
Courtesy of Hetty Lui McKinnon

The Unbound Book Festival is happening in Columbia this weekend and KBIA has been speaking with some of this year's featured authors.

Hetty Lui McKinnon is best known for her multi-layered cookbooks, the most recent one being Tenderheart: A Cookbook about Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds.

In this book, she explores the significance of vegetables in her upbringing and different ways to make the most out of vegetables in your kitchen.

She recently sat down with KBIA's Dominique Hodge.

Dominique Hodge: How would you describe the book for those who have not read it yet?

Hetty Lui McKinnon: It's a kind of a multi-layered cookbook. All my cookbooks tend to be very narrative driven, and this latest book is about vegetables.

But, there is a kind of second story in there, which is about my "vegetable origin story," I guess – How I came to love and almost revere vegetables in the way that I do.

"What I try and do with my recipes is really – you can use all of those ingredients that you have, but you use them in different ways."
Hetty Lui McKinnon

And that is a story about my dad, and he worked at the fruit and produce markets in Sydney, Australia, which is where I grew up.

Dominique Hodge: Can you go more into the significance of that pairing of the vegetables and the unbreakable family bonds?

Hetty Lui McKinnon: "Tenderheart" is my dad. That's who that is referencing - the title. But also, I love that feeling that the word evokes like feeling tender towards vegetables. Vegetables also can be tender.

When I started writing or working on this book, it was purely meant to be a really light vegetable cookbook. But, it was my father that kept coming to my mind.

Thinking about eating vegetables when I was young and fruit, also, and thinking about my house at times looked like a vegetable market. My parents never had to go shopping for vegetables, they were just always there.

Dominique Hodge: What was the process like curating and putting together these recipes?

Hetty Lui McKinnon: Each chapter is dedicated to one vegetable and to be able to show the different characters of one vegetable is really thrilling. This book was so fun to write.

For example, if you take broccoli - one of my favorite vegetables, you can cook that vegetable in so many different ways. You can char grill it on the stove or in a pan. You can blanch it. You can make a confit out of it.

The book was developed very much in the way it's being used by the home cook.

I developed recipes when I would say ‘Okay, today I want to cook something and what do I have in my pantry?’

So, if I had a cauliflower in the fridge, I would make a cauliflower recipe. And if I liked it, I would include it in the book. It’s really, really functional in that way.

Dominique Hodge: What do you hope people really take away from this book?

Hetty Lui McKinnon: I think as home cooks, we all get stuck in our ways. And we cook what we know. We have habits.

So, what I try and do with my recipes is really – you can use all of those ingredients that you have, but you use them in different ways.

There are all like these little "aha" moments about how to use a vegetable in a way that you might not have thought of – giving home cooks real confidence in creating vegetable-based dishes that satisfy them, but feel comforting to them that feel hearty to them.

People just really think that vegetables are this one thing, but they're not one thing, and you can absolutely power all your meals with a vegetable at the center or using that vegetable as inspiration for something.

See more Unbound Conversationshere and see more including the complete schedule of events on the Unbound Book Festival website. 

Dominique Hodge is a junior at the University of Missouri studying cross-platform editing and producing. She is a reporter/producer for KBIA's Missouri Health Talks.
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