VeganMofo: The Asian Vegan Kitchen

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Asian Vegan Kitchen Cover

Quick one today since my cat wants snuggles and I’m not one to deny her.

Today’s book is The Asian Vegan Kitchen by Hema Parekh. Parekh gives a sampling of recipes from around Asia. She covers better known cuisines like Indian and Chinese, but also devotes chapters to underappreciated areas like Malaysia and Burma. The recipes are all accessible to home cooks, with surprisingly few ingredients that couldn’t be found in an ordinary grocery store. In some cases, this accessibility means toning down the authenticity, but in this case I appreciate it. Books that focus on presenting a truly authentic view of a country like Burma: Rivers of Flavor or Pok Pok are often ‘special occasion’ books, for those weekends where you want to spend all day in the grocery store and all evening tinkering away in the kitchen. The Asian Vegan Kitchen is truly a weeknight, home cooking kind of book, with many of the recipes coming from her own weeknight repertoire.

This book is an especially interesting specimen of vegan cookbook because she does not harp on the fact that she is veganizing often very fishy meals. Some swaparoos are obvious, like the teriyaki tofu steak. In other cases, she just picks naturally vegan or “all but the fish sauce” dishes, like the delicious Japanese Braised Onions and Potatoes. In this sense, the book is very much like The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.

Not every cookbook needs to be full color or elaborate. Some just need to be useful, and this book definitely falls into that category.

Advertisements

VeganMofo: Veganomicon

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Earlier this month, I described how Vegan with a Vengeance is the book I always recommend to new vegans. Veganomicon tends to be the book that everyone else recommends. It seems like a good candidate. It attempts to be a comprehensive work, with guides to all of the basics–steaming vegetables, cooking beans, cooking rice. The chapters cover tempeh and tofu, desserts and breakfast, soups and sandwiches. When Moskowitz and Romero wrote it, they intentionally designed it to be the source you turn to in times of vegan need.

I never recommend it because it just never became that source for me. I never found recipes in it, like the tempeh and white bean patty in Vegan with a Vengeance, that I turned to repeatedly. I tried! I really did! I wanted this book to be the last cookbook that I ever bought. Here’s an abbreviated list of the recipes I’ve tried;

Acorn squash, pear, and adzuki soup — I liked it, even if it was a bit sweet. Two different boyfriends vetoed it, though, so I only made it twice.

Pumpkin ziti with sage breadcrumbs — too sweet and underseasoned

Lemony roasted potatoes — Good, but they are basically just potatoes with lemon juice. I put it on the menu at my co-op and they never disappeared from the buffet as fast as normal roasted potatoes

Chickpea cutlets — The banner recipe of this book. Again, I had this on the co-op menu and it was not wanted back. it just didn’t have the same level of flavor as any decently made vegetable-based dish.

Cauliflower and mushroom potpie — Underseasoned! This is a theme with this book!

Leek and bean cassoulet — I made this one a few times because of an abundance of leeks from my CSA, but it is watery and underseasoned. Extremely comforting though, if you can eliminate most of the water.

For the most part, I just found them to be, as you can see above, underseasoned and occasionally, trying too hard. They attempted to represent a wide swath of traditional American cookery, especially comfort foods. Unfortunately, many of those comfort foods were comforting because of the large amounts of fat and sodium contributed by cheese and animal fat. Swapping out animal ingredients for vegan substitutes one for one is not usually as tasty a tactic as building delicious vegan meals with vegetables in mind from the start.

Thus, my copy of Veganomicon sank into disuse. I still feel guilt about it though. Aren’t I supposed to like it? There’s 250+ recipes–maybe the problems are localized to the 20 or so that I’ve tried? I could try again, but it’s hard when there are so many other cookbooks to try–like the one I will present tomorrow.

VeganMofo: The Veganopolis Cookbook

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

The Veganopolis Cookbook cover

In downtown Portland, before the vegan strip mall was even conceived, was Veganopolis. Veganopolis was a cafeteria-style vegan restaurant. You would walk down a buffet line and fill your plate then weigh it and pay per pound at the end. Despite the casual setting, the food had twinges of haute cuisine, while still being, always, comfort food. The chefs, David Stowell and George Black, came from the finer dining scene, supposedly even catering for the Gores before Al became vice president. To pay $5 for a plate of their enchiladas or bread pudding was a treat.

I often tried to make the delicious meals that I had at Veganopolis at home, with varying success. I attempted them from memory, asking questions now and then as I ordered my food. Eventually, the restaurant closed and David and George moved back to Chicago. Their closing was bittersweet for me because they left with a promise, that a cookbook would be published soon. I waited for two years, occasionally checking Amazon to see if it existed yet. After a while, I stopped checking, then on my birthday I was surprised with a copy of the newly published cookbook for my birthday. The Veganopolis Cookbook, finally!

I was thrilled to see that many of favorite Veganopolis recipes were inside. Finally, I would have the secret of the almond pate and their mac and cheese, the vegan mac and cheese that I use as a standard for others. As I started cooking, however, my enthusiasm was tempered. Some of the recipes, like a Cream of Broccoli Soup, were bland. Others, like my dear almond pate, turned out to be complete disasters, probably because I didn’t have the “masticating juicer” that they suggest using. It seems clear that many of the recipes were the restaurant dishes I had been craving, but just poorly converted for a home cook.

Maybe I am just a poor home cook. Maybe I haven’t tried the right recipes. More likely my attempts just don’t match the meals of my memories which are made brighter by nostalgia.

VeganMofo: Vegan With a Vengeance

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Yesterday I wrote about my first vegan cookbook, and possibly the one that had the most impact on me–The Artful Vegan. Today I want to recommend my second vegan cookbook, another favorite, Vegan with a Vengeance.

Now, of course, Isa and Terry are vegan celebrities. Many vegans consider them heroes. Instagram, in my opinion, doesn’t know how much they owe them because the Post Punk Kitchen forums were one of the original seedbeds of the food porn phenomenon. When I got this boo, though, I didn’t know what was to come. I just wanted ideas for vegan breakfast foods. The Artful Vegan was useful to me because I had to work so hard for it. Vegan with a Vengeance  was the opposite. I could just follow some short instructions and in a 50s housewife jiffy I could have food on the table.

My favorite recipes became once-a-week regulars for me. Garlicky brussels sprouts. Orange cranberry muffins. Mango ginger tofu. My favorite–Tempeh and White Bean Sausage Patties–were eaten daily. I made a double batch once a week and toasted one up with frozen hashbrowns every morning for months. I no longer need to consult the recipe.

I sometimes second guess myself when I recommend this cookbook to new vegans as their starter cookbook. Am I doing this only out of nostalgia? Is it because of its historical value as the key cultural artifact that shifted vegan cooking from its association with lentil eating hippies to its association with knish-eating Brooklyn hipsters? No, it’s because it hits all of the needs of a new vegan–tasty, easy, supportive.

Personally, I’m not ready to relegate my copy of Vegan with a Vengeance to the vegan history museum yet.

Vegetarianism for One

Eat Your Vegetables is Joe Yonan’s follow-up to Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One. Eat Your Vegetables also focuses on solo-cooking, this time from a vegetarian perspective. Well, not exactly vegetarian; hello, anchovies!

Like many of my favorite cookbooks, EYV is more than just a collection of recipes. This work is more textual than many cookbooks, with small essays mixed in between chapters. I enjoyed the chatter, especially the historical bits and kitchen tips such as how to keep half an avocado fresh in the fridge. Most of these hints are targeted at a solo chef who needs to keep partial ingredients fresh. I still found them enormously helpful even if that doesn’t apply to me; who doesn’t need to know how to creatively reuse leftover ingredients?

I’ve seen reviews for Serve Yourself complaining that this isn’t quick, weeknight cooking like the reviewers expected. Yonan’s book aims to appease the foodie who happens to live by herself and doesn’t have an outlet for her cooking desires. To appreciate this book, you have to not feel silly sitting at home by yourself and enjoying a beautiful sweet potato and mushroom galette that looks like it came from a French bistro. That being said, very few of the recipes are not quick and easy. Some recipes are very basic recipes from the U.S. lexicon, like sloppy vegan joe, made with a meat substitute. Other are closer to foodie fare, such as Socca with Eggplant and Broccoli. Even when he branches into international cuisine, the recipes are very accessible. The most difficult to procure ingredients in the book are chickpea flour and Peppadews.

Peppadew
This is a Peppadew.

I tested two recipes, the Thai Basil Fried Rice and Kale and Caramelized Onions Quesadillas. The fried rice was a very straightforward recipe, not at all different from any other similar fried rice recipe you may have encountered. I found myself changing it drastically to meet my tastes and can’t really comment on the quality of the original recipe except to state that it was obviously very flexible! The quesadillas, on the other hand, I made exactly as described and they were fantastic. They only take about 5 minutes if you have the tortillas and onions on hand (which you will if you follow the encouragement of this book to make time consuming treats like that in advance to store). They were by no means traditional quesadillas, even though I swapped out the mozzarella for Mexican queso fresco, but they were much healthier and still very filling.

I highly recommend this book to cooks who live by themselves or with roommates who are not worth cooking for. You can’t eat microwave lasagna every night.