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3 questions with Denise Hairston, chef/author 

It's hard to imagine a good bowl of collard greens without a ham hock somewhere in the mix, but that's how Denise Hairston, author of Meatless Soul Food, likes it. Eight years ago, she self-published the first edition of her cookbook -- taking the traditional soul food recipes of her family and making them healthier and meatless -- after four women in her immediate family passed away of chronic illness within six years. Originally from St. Louis, Mo., Hairston also founded the Black Women's Health Network, a nonprofit organization that works to help minority women make lifestyle changes to better their health.

Creative Loafing: I'm really having a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of meatless soul food. Can you explain that?

Denise Hairston: When we put meat in soul food (unless you're just eating meat like BBQ), if you're putting meat in your vegetables, in any of your dishes, you're really trying to get flavor. Instead of using meat for the flavoring, though, you can use seasonings, herbs, spices and other vegetables and then stir-fry it, cooking your food with a smaller amount of water to get a good taste. And then throw some olive oil in for the fattiness. And of course, I use soy products to replace meat in some things where you want a meat look.

What's your favorite recipe in your cookbook?

It's actually a new one. It's called stirfry collard greens with sunfried tomatoes. I could eat that almost every day. And then I love the chickenless dumplings, too. And of course the desserts -- I have vegan desserts, like tofu banana pudding. That's my favorite dessert. No dairy, no eggs, no butter.

What are some of your favorite restaurants that you frequent where you know you'll be eating healthy?

It's limiting, but you can find ways to eat healthy out. I have a couple of restaurants that I go to that have vegetarian and vegan food, so I'm really excited about that. One of my favorites is Zada Jane's, because you have a good breakfast, lunch and it's really, really good. Also, Mediterranean food is always good, and one of my favorite places in fine dining in Mediterannean is M5 over in SouthPark. Those are two of my very favorite places.

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