What makes a good vegan cookbook?
Veggie teen has decided to do one month on, one month off, being vegan. I’m supporting her decision, in fact veganism is something I have thought about myself as the choices for ethically raised meat and dairy become more scarce (see below*).
I found the first month quite tough in catering terms despite veggie teen pointing out that a lot of the things I cook for her on a regular basis are vegan. I want to make sure that she’s eating a varied, complete diet and make things that she’ll love, not just like, to eat.
So I’ve welcomed two new vegan cookbooks into my kitchen with optimism – one I bought from Kinokunya and one was sent to me to review. How did they deliver?
The Fresh Vegan Kitchen – David and Charlotte Bailey
The by-line for this book is ‘Delicious recipes for the vegan and raw kitchen’. The authors sell vegan street food and the recipes are high on spice and influences from the Far East. Instead of ‘veganising’ recipes, with the odd exception such as beer battered tofu and chips, David and Charlotte have drawn from vegan recipes from other lands, or adapted nearly vegan dishes to suit.
Everything looks light, vivid and healthy. The pictures are attractive, down to earth and quite understated; when you make a dish there is a good chance it will look like their version. It’s an attractive book with clear type and a square format which means it’s easy to hold and flick through.
As stated in the by-line, many recipes in the book are raw. Raw Phad Thai made of ribbons of vegetables and tropical fruit is high up my list of things to try (especially now I have a spiral slicer thing). The raw borsht (called barszcz if you are Polish descent like me) also sounds delicious; a blend of beetroot, celery, onion, lemon, carrot, cabbage and ginger.
On my list of ‘cooked’ recipes to try are korma, a stack of crispy vegetables in a fragrant coconut sauce; herb-laden arancini (Italian rice balls) in an interesting fresh tomato sauce; smoky Mexican cowboy beans (where you smoke the onion with woodchips); and pearl barley risotto with pumpkin and sage.
Other chapters in the book are useful. Pickles, spreads and treats includes instruction on how to make raw nut cheese, raw cashew cream, Mexican pate, walnut pate, kimchi and kale chips. I tried their recipe for sauerkraut but sadly failed as the plastic bag filled with water to weigh down the cabbage (as instructed by the book) leaked. As well as chapters for breakfasts, drinks and smoothies and salads, the ‘basics’ includes a wide variety of their homemade curry pastes, stocks, salad dressings, dipping sauces, how to sprout beans and grains, and how to make seitan (a wheat gluten, meat substitute). The instructions are quite sparse – I don’t think this is a book for a beginner cook.
Another big thing to note is that a lot of the recipes in this book are gluten-free. This isn’t an issue in our household and while this will appeal to many. It’s way different to any other cookbook I have and while I like the balanced tone of the authors in the introduction, quite sensible, practical and non-faddish, to cook solely from this book would be quite a leap for us (especially KP).
Veggie teen’s verdict when looking through to bookmark recipes that appealed was: “I like the breakfast solutions, and they don’t try to imitate meat. Too much Asian stuff for my liking.”
Sadly she’s not keen on Far Eastern flavours – bit of a drawback with this book on this basis! Her top ‘to eat’ recipes were scrambled tofu; sweet potato quinoa and lime corn tortillas and refried beans, choc chilli mole with black beans; borage and blueberry snow cones; churros and silken tofu choc mousse.
I found the book could do with a glossary of ingredients as I had to turn to Google several times including to search for tamari (similar to soy sauce but made without wheat). My ideal would be to cook vegan using the items in my cupboard without the need to buy a lot of new ingredients. The recipes in this book do use a few unusual vegan-centric things such as nutritional yeast, vegan mayonnaise, almond milk, flaxseeds, raw cacao powder, egg-replacer powder and agave syrup. There are also things that I find hard to locate in Dubai such as smoked tofu, tempeh, dried soya and fermented black beans. On the whole, they focus on fresh, wholesome produce and really good spice mixes. I’m staggered therefore that they include puffed rice like rice crispies in one recipe (notoriously bad processed food due to its manufacturing method).
I know a lot of people who will absolutely love this book (The Cinnamon Fiend I’m thinking of you!). It’s probably too far down the raw and gluten-free path to make it my sole source of vegan recipes, but it’s fresh and accessible in many ways and definitely a keeper for ideas. Visit Wholefood Heaven to read more.
But I Could Never Go Vegan! – Kirsty Turner
This book sings the deliciousness of the recipes from its pages. The photography of the dishes is fresh, vibrant and seductive. It seeks to convince you that you won’t miss your everyday meat-based meals. It draws on many American staples from Southern Biscuits with sausage and gravy to Cheeseburger Pie. “You CAN live without cheese” it claims on the cover.
This vegan lark seemed like it was going to be a doddle. Once I started to cook from the book, however, it was as though I needed a whole different way of shopping. Dried onion and garlic powder, kelp granules, vegan cream cheese, liquid smoke, vegan sugar, jackfruit, liquid aminos and spirulina. I made the mac n cheese (without the tempeh bacon and pecan parmesan). It looked and tasted exactly like mac n cheese i.e. the stuff that comes out of a blue box (don’t ask me how I know what this tastes like….taste being the operative word here). Veggie teen thought this was pretty good, elder teen ate it but without enthusiasm, I found it pretty revolting. I don’t think I CAN live without cheese!
Surprisingly for someone who hasn’t eaten meat for more than half of her life, veggie teen listed tempeh bacon mac and cheese and BBQ bacon burgers in her top five ‘to make from the book’ list. Chickpea omelets, falafel tacos and broccoli and quinoa tabouleh with tahini-herb dressing were others.
Her verdict: “They give a good recipe for everything you’ll miss as a vegan and everything is hearty. Too many alternative ingredients though.”
Elder teen was drawn to more in the first book than the second, and as a budget conscious student felt that the lists of obscure ingredients were way out of her reach. “Making vegan cheese looks interesting but I probably couldn’t get agar flakes at Tesco.” She felt that vegan recipes should be about cooking and celebrating vegetables so much you don’t miss meat and dairy (like the hot aubergine salad in The Fresh Vegan Kitchen).
So what makes a good vegan cookbook?
In the words of elder teen your reaction shouldn’t be ‘it’s vegan and it looks nice” rather “it looks delicious and oh it’s vegan.”
I’ll report back when I’ve cooked more extensively from these two books. The new V is for Vegan cookbook by Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms Marmite Lover) is on my wish list too.
*Big agriculture and corporations have taken over our food supply and factory farming provides meat and dairy at a price which I am not willing to pay, the hugely detrimental cost to the animal and our environment. Milk in my tea and cheese would be more difficult to give up than meat for me. Right now I’m dealing with carnivorous eating by making the best choices I can, putting only free-range eggs and meat in my shopping basket, and eating much less red meat and very little chicken.*
Thanks to Pavilion who published and sent me a review copy of The Fresh Vegan Kitchen. All views my own.
What makes a good vegan cookbook in your opinion? Could you go vegan (if you are not already)?