Esther Povitsky Is an Experimental Vegan

“I didn't come from a household where we have Nana's five recipes.”

Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Esther Povitsky is a comedian and actress (you might recognize her from Dollface, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Alone Together), and her first stand-up special is coming to Comedy Central in 2020. A self-proclaimed “oat-milk princess,” Esther frequently references food in her stand-up and writing. At her home in Los Angeles, Esther, accompanied by her beloved dog, Donut, cooked vegan chili in The Dutchess and discussed the importance of eating what you want. 

Food has always been my thing. I don't drink, and I never tried drugs or anything, so food became the thing for me. It’s so delicious and satisfying. It’s how I enjoy life. 

I'm always that person at work asking, “What are you going to have for dinner?” I just think it's such a fun, easy way to talk to somebody and get to know a little bit about them. At the end of the day, a lot of people will pour themselves a glass of wine, but food plays that role for me. 

I learned to cook on my own with the help of my mom. I didn't come from a household where we have Nana's five recipes and they're really special. We're more experimental. I eat a mostly vegan diet, plus occasional fish and eggs, and my mom is vegan, too. 

I didn't come from a household where we have Nana's five recipes and they're really special. 

I eat on the go a lot, so, for me, cooking is a big deal. It’s one of the few activities in my life where I am totally zoned out. A recipe is telling you exactly what to do, and I know I can do it. It feels like an easy puzzle. The perfect amount of your brain is working.
I ended up talking about food in my comedy organically. It’s a big part of my life and my personality. Food and comedy are both universal; we all eat, we all enjoy food. In my stand-up, I always like to tell people, like, it's really important to eat what you have a taste for because if you don't you'll never feel satisfied. If you have a taste for a quesadilla, you need to eat a quesadilla, because if you try to eat a turkey sandwich when you want a quesadilla — even if you had five turkey sandwiches — you're never going to feel full. Because you never had the taste you wanted.

Food and comedy are both universal.

When I discovered oat milk, it changed my life. I feel like it finally made coffee what it was supposed to be this whole time. It's crazy. I tried an almond milk latte just to be like, Let me just see what this is like again. It's so bad! It's just not good. There's no substitute for oat milk. Thick, creamy oat milk is exactly what the doctor ordered.When we got our dog, we knew we wanted to name her after a dessert. We were sitting with a bunch of my friends just kind of shouting out different desserts, and someone said Donut. I was like, “That’s it!” She just looks like a donut. I can't explain it. She’s just the vibe of a little donut that you'd pick up and eat. It just fit her aesthetic. Also, Donut is short for Donutella. Donutella Ponzu.Today, I made a vegan lentil chili from the Thug Kitchen party cookbook. I really love them. I have all three of their cookbooks. I don't get to cook that often, and I'm pretty basic about it. This chili is so easy. It involves minimal labor and some chopping, but it tastes so good and flavorful. I eat out a lot, so when I cook things have to be super flavorful. I have to feel like I'm eating in a restaurant. My mom actually found this recipe and shared it with me. And then, when she came to visit, we cooked it together, so I learned how to make it from her.

There's not a lot left up to guesswork. It's all very straightforward and simple. You're just throwing ingredients in a pot. You're not having to perfectly crisp something — like, it's so basic. And, for me, I don't want cooking to be stressful where I'm like, Oh my god, is it burned? Is it right? Is it raw? I need my cooking to be meditative. It's like, Chop this up, throw it in, measure this, throw it in.

I need my cooking to be meditative.

Basically, you chop half an onion, bell pepper, and carrot, and then you sauté those in a big pot with olive oil. Then, once those are going and the onions are translucent, you add in about a cup or so of chopped-up mushrooms. Then you add in some cumin, some mustard powder, some paprika, and soy sauce. Plus, some chopped garlic and jalapeño. You add apple cider vinegar and then some cooked lentils, kidney beans, and tomato sauce. Mix it up, and it's all there.
Photos by Luke Austin

I love recipes with simple directions. There's really no room for error because you're not checking if the chicken is raw, and you're not like, Oh my god, I burned the garlic! And that's what I love so much about this recipe: I really feel like you don't even need your whole brain for it, right? It's really the only recipe that I go back to time after time because it's healthy, it's filling, it's got fresh vegetables. It's just lentils, beans, tomato sauce, and vegetables and tons of flavor. You feel like a good person when you eat it. You're like, I just did something nice for myself, and now I'm going to eat it for three days so I can keep being nice to myself.