I am not a huge fan of vegan food, and yet I have lots of vegan cookbooks. One reason for this is that I keep searching for a vegan cookbook that actually has recipes for tasty food. There are certainly a lot of good recipes that are naturally vegan: simple bread, lots of salads, some vegetarian Indian food and most vegetarian Chinese food. But when the fake ingredients start intruding on ingredient lists, the recipes get worse and worse. By fake ingredients I mean such things as egg replacers, nutritional yeast, soy milk, or tofu in place of something else. When I contemplate these recipes, I start to think that many vegans just do not like food. That said, I can sympathize with animal rights issues, and believe that a diet with a not insignificant vegan component is probably healthier. It is also relaxing to page through vegan books, since essentially every recipe is a recipe that I can cook in my kosher dairy kitchen. The two vegan cookbooks featured in this post both have, thankfully, a minimum amount of the more egregiously unpleasant vegan recipes.
Natalie Slater, the author of Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans and the creator of the web site of the same name, is not one of those vegans who hate food. She clearly likes food, as well as tattoos, pro-wrestlers, death metal bands, the adjective “cool”, and her very cool six year old son Teno, who hosts the not to be missed mini-blog “Food Puncher“. She has a cheerful dominatrix persona, which is a pleasure to follow through the rather eccentric food presented in the cookbook. I am not quite sure who the “bad vegans” in the title of the book are supposed to be, but perhaps they are vegans who are not that concerned with the healthiness of their diet, for Natalie has many recipes with a generous amount of sugar or other sweeteners. But, at least based on the recipes I tried, her food is “good food”. I should mention that the book has a very nice paperback binding, so that it opens flat without cracking the spine. The title of the book is misleading: this is not a vegan baking book. Had I realized what was actually in this book, I probably would have bought it two weeks earlier, but I was avoiding it as I have a horror of vegan baking books.
“Cannibal Corpse Crock-Pot” (page 102) was too intriguing a recipe to skip. Plus, Natalie mentioned in the recipe headnote that her mother was excited by this recipe, so I thought I might like it. I even bought a small crock pot with which to make this (and also to prepare for being an empty-nester). This is supposed to be a vegan version of pulled pork; the key ingredient is jackfruit, a huge tropical fruit. The recipe calls for canned young jackfruit in brine, which I found at the Indian grocery (Bombay Grocers). The general idea here is to dump the jackfruit in the crock pot, and cover with a simple ketchup based barbecue sauce. Cook for 6 hours, then tear the jackfruit into shreds. My biggest problem in executing this recipe was that I was not sure what parts of the canned jackfruit were optimally edible. There were seeds, which I picked out, a hard core on some of the wedges, which I chopped off, and some unappetizing graying parts on some of the wedges, which I also chopped off. I could probably have used all the jackfruit, but I wanted a fairly uniform texture in the final dish. After all the cooking, this stuff was pretty good. The dominant taste was the barbecue sauce; I am not sure that any jackfruit taste came through. But the jackfruit texture was perfect!
Natalie tell us to use Cannibal Corpse Crock-Pot (named, by the way, for Natalie’s favorite death metal band) in “BBQ Salad” (page 116) if we think we are cool. I could not pass up that challenge; anyway, I was not sure that I wanted to eat the jackfruit in barbecue sauce plain. The salad consists of brown rice, topped with kale and beans, and then with the jackfruit. This is served hot, with ranch dressing drizzled over top. Not being vegan, I decided to skip the vegan version of ranch dressing, and I just used Newman’s Own non-vegan ranch dressing. This was a very pleasing combination of healthy (brown rice, kale) and not so healthy (the sugary barbecue sauce, the ranch dressing).
“Mighty Migas” (page 70) is a Tex-Mex style migas, with scrambled tofu instead of eggs, and nutritional yeast instead of cheese. This was my first adventure using nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute. Years ago, influenced by the writings of Adelle Davis, I would consume brewer’s yeast daily; I mixed it in orange juice and it was disgusting. Thus when I started to see vegan cookbooks recommend the sprinkling of nutritional yeast on food for flavor, I was not interested. But food products can improve. I searched the internet for recommended brands of nutritional yeast. Fortunately, people seemed to like the only kind that I could find at our local Whole Food’s Market, Red Star, so I filled a bulk bag with the stuff and brought it home. When I dared to taste a few flakes on my finger, I could see why people use this as a cheese substitute, but it still tasted pretty bad. But maybe it would be better cooked, so I scrambled my tofu, added mushrooms, chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, spinach, and other ingredients, and stirred in the nutritional yeast. Instead of frying tortilla strips, I dumped in a handful of tortilla chips. The resulting dish was good. I could, however, barely taste any cheesiness, so I deveganized it by topping with lots of real cheese, and also added avocado cubes. The resulting dish was much better.
I like granola, but usually avoid it because it is so calorie laden. When you look at most granola recipes, the amount of fat and sweetener used is scary. I did find one granola formula in Bon Appétit that wasn’t too offensive, and another in the cookbook Carrots ‘N’ Cake: Healthy Living One Carrot and Cupcake at a Time. The granola bars from Bake and Destroy had a little more fat than I am totally happy with, and a lot of sugar, but they had nice spices and a very promising name: “This Granola Bar Will Save Your Life” (page 73). I tried this recipe three times. All three times, I used a combination of rolled oats and rolled rye instead of just oats, coconut oil instead of margarine, oat bran instead of wheat germ, and candied ginger instead of fresh ginger. On my first attempt, I did not have enough agave syrup, and instead of using another liquid sweetener, slightly upped the sugar. The bars tended to disintegrate and revert to plain granola, but that plain granola was delicious. The second time, I followed the recipe exactly (at least with the above mentioned substitutions). I did end up with bars that held together but they were too sweet and sticky. The third time, I decreased the agave syrup again, as well as slightly decreasing the sugar. Since I gave up on the idea of bars, I left out the two hour wait between toasting the oats and baking the bars, ending up with a granola slab, which I then broke up into chunks. The result made me quite happy, and is the recipe version I offer below. [Go to the recipe.]
Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, had been sitting on my shelf, unused, for about five years. Every now and then I would take the book down, leaf through it, and be completely uninspired. The recipes seemed to fall into one of two categories: those that were too similar to recipes I already used, and recipes that used to many fake veganizing ingredients. This time, I decided that I would finally find something to cook, so I asked for Shay’s help. When this book first came out, Shay and a vegan apartment mate had tried a number of recipes, so Shay had some idea what was good in this book. Some of Shay’s suggestions I used, and some led me to other recipes. After all the cooking and tasting was done, I concurred with Shay’s verdict on the book: most of the recipes were okay, but not spectacular, and not much different from what could be found anywhere else. I did, however, find at least one exception.
Although I do not like tempeh, I want to like tempeh, and so I keep trying tempeh recipes. Every now and then, I find a tempeh recipe that I don’t mind that much, such as “Edible Tempeh” from the first post. The tempe recipe that I tried from Veganomicon was better than edible: there were some good ideas in this recipe that worked well. This was the first time I ever found myself liking a tempeh dish. To make “Creamy Asian Pear and Tempeh Salad with Wasabi Dressing” (page 90) you start by steaming tempeh and peas; then add the other ingredients, the significant ones being Asian pear, mayonnaise, and wasabi. I could not find an Asian pear, and so used a regular pear and I admit that I deveganized the recipe by using eggy mayonnaise, but I do not think that these were critical departures from Isa and Terry’s version. The pear gave a subtle and sweet crunch, but what really made this recipe was the wasabi. The wasabi tamed the tempeh without overpowering it. [Go to the recipe.]
“Porcini-Wild Rice Soup” (page 140) is the sort of soup that is naturally vegan (as long as you use a vegetable broth): just mushrooms, some soup vegetables, and grains in vegetable broth. Using wild rice as the grain is a slight innovation. I didn’t have quite enough wild rice on hand, so combined it with some interesting red rice that happened to be in my cabinet. The soup was good and filling, although probably more appropriate for a cold winter day than a muggy summer one (but we had the air conditioning on). The biggest problem with this soup and others of its type is that the soup is not very soupy the next day, as the grains just keep absorbing the liquid. So you add more broth.
Vegan Indian food is usually authentic (just skip that dishes that try to use tofu for paneer) and so is fairly safe, taste-wise, to order in a vegan restaurant or to test recipes for from a vegan cookbook. Thus I tried, on Shay’s recommendation, “Samosa Stuffed Baked Potatoes” (page 60). I liked the idea: make a samosa type filling with potatoes, carrots, peas, and Indian flavorings, and then, instead of filling greasy little pastries, stuff it all back into the potato shells. The filling was an attractive yellow from the tumeric, and these potatoes were certainly good, although not too exciting.
Isa and Terry suggest serving the potatoes with “Red-Lentil Cauliflower Curry” (page 186). The title of the dish describes it: red lentils with cauliflower and Indian flavors. Like the potatoes, this is not too exciting but good enough. However, I happened to have some cauliflower and carrot pickle left over from my adventures with pink Indian cookbooks. When I mixed the pickle with the potatoes and the red lentil cauliflower curry, the result was zippy, exciting, and tasty. I also like the combination of cooked and raw cauliflower, cooked and raw carrots.
Vegan desserts are, for the most part, a complete waste of good calories. I have come across very few exceptions: the “No Moo Mousse” from Cooking With Trader Joe’s Cookbook Companion, a simple mousse with coconut milk, chocolate and rum (much better than the tofu version), and some amazing oat cookies sweetened with apple juice concentrate, “Granola Triple Oat Cookies” from Sweet and Natural Baking. I suppose I could include in this short list fruit pies with a non-dairy crust, but I like a dairy crust and I also like a dairy topping on my fruit pies: whipped cream or ice cream. But I am willing to experiment, and so on Shay’s suggestion, tried “Chewy Chocolate Raspberry Cookies” (page 234). This recipe was appealing because it called for no fake ingredients to replace the missing eggs. Instead of cookies, I made cookie, spreading the batter in an 8 inch square pan, and cutting the cooked cookie into brownie bars. The texture was not bad at all, especially for a vegan brownie, but the taste was just okay. Henry said that he detected a taste that should not be in brownies (obviously, the raspberry preserves). I though that these were not not chocolatey enough. There might be possibilities for these: adding chocolate chips and using cherry instead of raspberry preserves occur to me.
Adapted from Natalie Slater, Bake and Destroy
1 cups rolled oats
1 cup rolled rye
3⁄4 cup oat bran
3⁄4 cup sunflower seeds
1⁄2 cup almonds, chopped
1⁄2 cup raw cashews
3 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1⁄3 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1⁄3 cup agave syrup
1⁄4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon cardamom
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 400º. Combine the oats, rye, oat bran, sunflower seeds, almonds, and cashews and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until grains and nuts are starting to brown. Remove from the oven and stir in the ginger and cranberries. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°.
Heat the sugar, agave nectar, and coconut oil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt, and vanilla. Mix everything, the wet and dry ingredients, together.
Line a jelly roll pan (10½ x 15½ inches) with parchment paper. Press the granola mixture into the pan, and press down firmly all over. Put in the oven for about 25 minutes. Let the granola slab cool, then break into chunks.
Adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Veganomicon
8 ounces tempeh
1⁄2 cup peas
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 scallions, sliced
1 pear, peeled, cored, and diced
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
Juice of 1⁄2 lime
Crumble the tempeh into a bowl, cover, and microwave for about 3 minutes. Add the peas and wave for another 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce, and let the tempeh cool. When cool, add the scallions and pear. Mix together the mayonnaise, wasabi powder, and lime juice, then mix into the tempeh.