Lisa Lillien: Mad Scientist Cleans Up Food Junk
Book Festival

Lisa Lillien: Mad Scientist Cleans Up Food Junk

Hungry Girl provides dozens of recipes composed of lean and clean food.

Lisa Lillien tries to keep Hungry Girl aligned with food trends.
Lisa Lillien tries to keep Hungry Girl aligned with food trends.

Lisa Lillien, better known as Hungry Girl, has a passion for food and is known for taking the junk foods we crave and making healthier swaps.

She created the Hungry Girl brand in 2004, sends out daily email blasts filled with recipes and food news, has written 12 cookbooks, has starred in cooking TV shows, and has done much more. Lillien is not a nutritionist but considers herself a foodologist or a mad scientist for food.

Lately, her books have been about all-natural recipes. As a big Hungry Girl fan, I was excited to interview Lillien about her 12th book, “Hungry Girl Clean & Hungry Obsessed!” Lillien, who will appear at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Nov. 8, explained what her second all-natural book is all about.

“This one in particular focuses on foods that we are obsessed with and things that we think we can’t eat if we’re trying to be healthy and make smarter food choices,” Lillien said.

She writes about lean and clean foods because all-natural foods are becoming the American norm, and Lillien is paying attention.

“I started Hungry Girl in 2004, so I’ve been around for a while, and I like to follow food trends. Back then, a lot of people were using packaged foods and a lot of things that were more processed,” she said. “But over the years, we as Americans have evolved and have started to really look at what’s in the foods. People are turning over boxes and packages and checking out the ingredients. So I thought it would be great to start focusing on more all-natural foods for the books, and that’s really where I landed.”

I’ve read both all-natural books, and “Clean & Hungry Obsessed!” is very different.

“It is all about the food obsessions, and I really wanted to focus on the things that we think we shouldn’t be eating. I always do that in the Hungry Girl world, but the last book was a little more about clean entrees, beautiful foods,” Lillien said. “This book has a lot more of what people consider more as junky foods or obsession foods, comfort foods — lots and lots of comfort foods.”

With so many delicious recipes in her cookbook, I asked Lillien which one is her favorite. “That is a really tough question. I have too many,” she said. “I really love the Z’paghetti Bolognese. I love the Mexican street corn obsession. I love the peanut butter pie. I love all the french fries. The pizzas are all outstanding. The squash-crust pizza is phenomenal. The little eggplant Greek pizzas are amazing, so there are probably too many to name. It’s like saying who’s your favorite child.”

In previous books, Lillien made desserts with nontraditional ingredients, such as brownies with pumpkin. In “Clean & Hungry Obsessed!,” she uses zucchini and black beans as well as pumpkin in desserts.

It’s not all about desserts, though; she also swaps out potatoes in fries for turnips and other vegetables. She swaps out pasta for zucchini noodles and creates many other healthy swaps.

“I want to think of those things so that people at home don’t have to,” Lillien said. “A lot of people are too busy to realize that you can make brownies with zucchini or black beans, or that if you put cauliflower in a blender, it can act as mashed potatoes or rice, and you can make biscuits out of it or pizza crust. I want to do the hard work so that people don’t have to.”

Many of the chapter titles and recipe names use puns.

“I always wanted to keep everything lighthearted when it came to Hungry Girl, especially back in 2004 when I started. This was a topic that people were too serious about. People were afraid to have fun with it. My goal was to keep it a little lighthearted and fun, so that’s why I write the cute recipe names,” Lillien said.

She said recipe ideas and inspiration come from many sources, such as dishes she eats in restaurants, suggestions from her subscribers and brainstorming sessions with her staff.

Lillien said the Hungry Girl headquarters, also known as Hungryland, is a fun, brightly colored place with two test kitchens and a staff of 10. “It’s like a cross between a kitchen and a newsroom because we are always creating content.”

She said she’s sure another Hungry Girl book is in her future, although she doesn’t know what it will be. In the meantime, she’s excited to visit Atlanta.

“I think this book is really fantastic, and I’m really proud of it,” Lillien said. “If people want more Hungry Girl on a regular basis, then people can sign up (at for the daily emails that I’ve been sending since 2004, and they go out Monday through Friday.”

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