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What makes a good vegan cookbook?

April 11, 2015

The fresh vegan kitchenVeggie 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.

vegan cookbook review on

Sweet potato, quinoa and lime corn tortilla with refried beans. I will make the beans from scratch next time

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

ButICouldNeverGoVegan - mycustardpie.comThis 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!

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Making Mac n Cheese (without the tempeh bacon etc.) – couldn’t find vegan butter and used Marmite instead of white miso

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)?

  1. April 11, 2015 9:53 pm

    Your email popped up just as I was reviewing Sarah Britton’s ‘My New Roots” – strange co-incidence, I was just contemplating the same question! Whilst not entirely vegan {there are a combination of recipes}, it is full of really interesting ideas, combining raw, gluten-free, dairy-free dishes… I’ve never been on Sarah’s blog, but based on what I’ve seen, the veggie teen might want to check it out :0)

    Jax x

    • April 11, 2015 9:59 pm

      Cheers Jax – I think that part of the problem is finding something that all three of us will eat. If one vegan meal fits all then great …. but a lot of the time it doesn’t and the recipes are quite time consuming when you cook two thins. I’ll certainly look at My New Roots – like the title.

      • April 11, 2015 10:05 pm

        I completely understand your point – I have four kids, they’re certainly not vegetarian, neither is my husband… {Actually, I’m a pescetarian a lot of the time :0&}

        Things have to taste delicious if they’re going to make the table, and that’s what resonated between this book, and the Veggie Teen’s comments – it should be yummy first and foremost – the fact that it’s a vegan recipe should just be an aside… And I think you’d be able to adapt most of her recipes to make them vegan {or not} if you wanted too… :0)

  2. jamesonfink permalink
    April 11, 2015 10:02 pm

    Do you have “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg? Although it does include dairy, it’s a great resource. (Incidentally, they also wrote one of my all-time favorite wine books, “The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine”.) I became a nutritional yeast convert while staying at Finnriver Farm and Cidery; they put it on their popcorn. I also recently had pizza in Portland, OR, at a place called “Sizzle Pie” with tomato sauce and caramelized onion spread in concentric circles, sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Finally, one of my favorite vegan dishes of recent memory was a parnsip pie from “Pies and Tarts with Heart” that was also fantastic for breakfast.

    • April 11, 2015 10:07 pm

      I second that, I have all their books – they’re very well written and researched!

  3. April 11, 2015 11:22 pm

    I don’t think I could become vegan. Maybe half-hearted vegetarian. Like you, I would struggle give up cheese and milk. And also eggs. I’m trying to eat less meat but often find it hard to come up with meals that won’t have the meatavours screaming at dinner time!

    • April 12, 2015 10:53 am

      True that…its hard to give up on cheese and eggs…I can be half this and sometimes that. But the bigger problem is when you are mainly surrounded by teen boys with gym work out schedules….vegan could be a dangerous word!!

  4. April 12, 2015 8:01 am

    I was vegan for about six months when I was a teen. I gave it up because everything started to taste sweet to me, and I got sick to death of mushrooms and beans. My teen daughter was a vegetarian for two years and I always worried about her getting enough protein and iron. She started eating meat again a few months ago, and it has made my cooking life much easier.

  5. The Real Geordie Armani permalink
    April 12, 2015 8:15 am

    Live without bacon would not be worth living 🙂

  6. April 12, 2015 3:18 pm

    I think that Vegan is definitely a bridge too far…..faddish eating is anathema to me.

  7. April 12, 2015 4:11 pm

    These books look great. I never would have thought to make seitan!

  8. Kay Gaudreau permalink
    April 12, 2015 5:49 pm

    My vegetarian friends swear by the “Oh She Glows” cookbook and website. I can vouch that the few things they’ve made for me to try have been delicious!

  9. April 12, 2015 6:04 pm

    I don’t think I am brave enough to go fully vegan (I need bacon and chorizo) but I do cook a lot of vegan food in my house. The books sound really good.

  10. April 12, 2015 7:55 pm

    This is a great resource. I was just traveling with a girl who has been vegan since her teenage years but she doesn’t eat very well or cook. I made her a few things to show her that good food can be prepared at home. Not sure if she’s ready for a cookbook but I’m hoping it will inspire her. Cooks vegan sausages with cegam mayo is not a meal.

  11. April 12, 2015 7:56 pm

    *cold vehan sausages

  12. April 12, 2015 8:56 pm

    Both books look beautiful. I don’t really care if a meal is vegan (or vegetarian, or paleo, or gluten free etc); if it tastes nice, then I am in! I don’t think I could go “full time” vegan though. I am so, so deeply in love with steak…

  13. April 13, 2015 1:25 am

    I could never go vegan, but I prefer to eat organic and cruelty-free.

  14. April 13, 2015 3:30 am

    I’m with Roger. It’s a bridge too far. I eat vegetarian often, and of course many dishes that are vegan. But, I don’t really get the point. I mean, chickens do not mind giving their eggs to you and, what, are we supposed to hatch every one of them? Plus, vegan cooking relies too often, I think, on doing fake meat things. (Another thing I simply do not get … Tofurkey? Fake bacon? Really? I thought vegans hated animal products, so why make faux versions of them when tofu is wonderful on its own?) I don’t have any vegan cookbooks, but Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone remains one of my most-used books after all these years.

  15. April 13, 2015 11:28 am

    great review Sally. I could never go vegan. I love my cheese like you, and honey is an essential part of my diet. I do however source free range meat and chicken 🙂

  16. April 13, 2015 12:18 pm

    Two wonderful looking and sounding books. Thanks for the great review.



  17. April 13, 2015 1:06 pm

    Wonderful review. Hmm, doubt I could become vegan – vegetarian maybe but just maybe. 🙂
    Have a beautiful week ahead Sally.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    • April 14, 2015 10:23 am

      I like eating meat and dairy too. Would find it hard to give up but would do so it the motivations (i.e. no ethical choices) compelled me to.

  18. ramblingtart permalink
    April 13, 2015 1:09 pm

    Thankfully we raise our own meat and eggs and make our own cheese much of the time, so sourcing ethically raised ingredients is easy for us. Well, not easy, a lot of work, but easy in terms of access. 🙂 I do enjoy vegetarian and vegan food, but not as my complete diet. I love the energy and stamina I get from good meat and eggs, and cheese is just pure happiness. 🙂

    • April 14, 2015 10:22 am

      Good for you. Envy your cheese making 🙂

  19. April 13, 2015 2:24 pm

    I do love vegan cooking, but I couldn’t go vegan. I prefer shopping local too much and wouldn’t like to rely on having my protein needs met by shipping nuts and pulses halfway across the globe. The well reared lamb outside my house will do! Both these cookbooks look fantastic though!

    • April 14, 2015 10:21 am

      You are really lucky to have those options for sourcing good meat and dairy – the sad thing is it is becoming increasingly hard for most people to find it. I don’t want to become vegan but would do it rather than eat eggs from battery hens or beef from cows who have never seen the light of day in their lives.

  20. April 14, 2015 1:17 pm

    These both seem interesting cookbooks, and I’m glad to know your (and Veggie Teen’s) take on them. Very honest. We ‘accidentally’ have a number of vegan meals during the week as I am very fond of having raw foods, as well as cooked. Quite often I am vegan before dinner (unless I am having an eggy brekkie) – and sometimes at dinner too, as the OH is fine with this for the most part. We prefer eating foods that are naturally vegan rather pretending to be meat/cheese. Looking at labels on commercial vegan cheese and chorizo is pretty eye-opening! As for things like nutritional yeast, it is a staple of ours for sprinkling on popcorn, and I make a reasonable vegan parmesan with it and ground almonds (among other ingredients). I guess it depends on where you live as to how accessible a varied vegan diet will be, but living in Edinburgh it is pretty easy so I am happy to have some of the ‘weird stuff’ in my cupboards to make things a little more interesting. Great, informative post, as always. 🙂

  21. April 16, 2015 4:54 pm

    Interesting post and great looking books, although I could never become vegan – the idea of no dairy or eggs is impossible for me.

  22. April 18, 2015 8:25 pm

    I like cookbooks that don’t use too many ‘weird’ ingredients that are hard to find, and that’s an issue that I have with a lot of vegan cookbooks! This one looks like it has some yummy recipes though 🙂

    • April 19, 2015 4:27 pm

      I’ve finally got my hands on some tempeh which is going to become a staple, but it feels more like real food than some vegan products. I don’t eat non-vegan margarine so don’t feel it’s acceptable to have more processed foods than normal in the house.

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