There is a lot of vegan food that does not taste very good, and there are a lot of vegan cookbooks full of recipes for this not very good tasting food. But disliking food does not have to be a prerequisite for embracing veganism; there is a lot of excellent vegan food out there for people who do not want to contribute to the suffering and unpleasant death of other animals, yet still enjoy eating. Two recent vegan cookbooks, both blog-based, have, based on my sampling, more good recipes than bad. Even though I no longer buy cookbooks, I can still cook from new cookbooks, but this puts me behind in the project of plowing through all the cookbooks that I have bought.
Tess Masters, the Blender Girl, loves her Vita-Mix. Almost all the recipes on her blog and in her book, The Blender Girl: Super-Easy, Super-Healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts, and Drinks–100 Gluten-Free, Vegan Recipes!, involve tossing ingredients in a blender at some point. And often a super blender is needed; my wimpy blender was just not powerful enough for some of these recipes. I also used my food processor, but often my blend was not as smooth as it should have been. Still, I liked her recipes a lot. There’s lots more that can be made with a blender besides smoothies, and a super blender is very useful in a vegan diet: blended nuts or blended cauliflower can contribute to sauces that replace dairy sauces.
I like the idea of incorporating more sea vegetables into my diet, but Whole Foods Market is not making this easy. They used to carry lots of different packets of sea vegetables, but now our local store only has nori, konbu, and a packet of mixed sea vegetables. So instead of buying hijiki and arame, I just used this mixed packet to make “Citrus Sea Slaw” (page 99). I also could not find water chestnuts (not being willing to use canned water chestnuts), so I used more jicama. I was making the slaw in advance, and was not sure how well the “mixed leafy greens” called for in the recipe would survive, so I used cabbage. The final result tasted fine, but was not particularly attractive.
“Dream of Spinach” (page 108) is the best possible green puréed soup ever! It is a blend of roasted garlic, scallions, red onion, celery, zucchini, parsley, and spinach, in vegetable broth, with some soaked raw cashews for creaminess. I think that the roasted garlic and soaked cashews are the secret ingredients that make this soup so much better than others. [Go to the recipe.]
I went through a phase several years ago of trying every pad thai recipe that I came across; some I enjoyed more than others, but I never came across the definitive (at least according to what I like) recipe. Blendergirl’s recipe (page 135) set me back on this quest. This recipe came close, surprisingly close given that there is no fish sauce, but the search is still not over. Tempeh, carrots, and bok choy are combined with the rice noodles; the sauce is quite nice, with sesame oil, soy sauce, coconut nectar, red curry paste, and a few other ingredients. As long as there was some of this left in the refrigerator, I looked forward to heating a bowl of it for a light meal.
“Penang Curry” (page 141) did not quite work for me. You make your own curry paste in this recipe, and the curry paste was good. The problem came with the ingredients to be sauced: tofu, chard, and orange squash. I think mushrooms, zucchini, and spinach would have worked better, even if the tofu was still included. Unlike the pad thai, this dish resulted in leftovers that I kept pretending that I did not see when I opened the refrigerator door.
“I-Love-Veggies! Bake” (page 144) is a gratin of butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans, in a sauce made creamy by blending cauliflower in vegetable broth. Butternut squash and sweet potatoes are too many orange vegetables in one dish for me; if I ever make this again I will omit one of them. The sauce, however, was tasty, and succeeded as a vegan replacement for milk or cream. I had the same problem with this gratin that I have with dairy gratins: my sliced vegetables just didn’t cook. After the one hour and fifteen minutes cooking time in the recipe, the vegetables could barely be penetrated with a fork. I left the gratin in the oven, turned the heat down, and took Wuffles to the vet. The vet visit was much longer that I had anticipated, but when I came back two hours later, the vegetables were cooked to perfection.
My version of “Raw Chocolate-Orange Torte” (page 152) was not that raw, since there are steps involving heat in the processing of chocolate. Raw chocolate does exist, but the chocolate that I used was not raw. Furthermore, the cashews in the crust are also an issue: “raw cashews” are rarely raw; heat is used to separate the nut from toxic resins within the shell. But I was looking for vegan recipes, not raw recipes, and this recipe is certainly vegan, as well as naturally sweetened and gluten free, and yet quite edible. I would call this a pie, not a torte. The crust consists of almonds, dates, and cocoa powder blended together; the filling has coconut oil, orange juice, agave nectar, soaked cashews, and more cocoa. For a recipe that conforms to all sorts of dietary restrictions, this was fairly good, but in the universe of all desserts, this recipe rates at best an “okay”.
Angela Liddon, creator of the Oh She Glows blog and The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Over 100 Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out tells of her journey to veganism through the valley of eating disorders. Although I am pleased when anyone goes from less healthy to more healthy eating habits, I am, as a cookbook consumer, a little suspicious of recipes from a person with such a history. However, this is a transition that Angela has successfully made, for her recipes are the recipes of a person who likes food.
The idea of “Glowing Strawberry-Mango Guacamole” (page 81) is surprisingly successful: onion, mango, strawberries, and cilantro added to mashed up avocados and flavored with lime juice and salt. Before I mixed everything together, it seemed that the flesh from one mango, finely chopped, and a cup and a half f finely chopped strawberries would be way too much for only two avocados, but this was a very satisfactory amount of add-ins. I did add more lime juice than called for.
Neither soba noodles nor edamame are my favorite ingredients, and so I am not quite sure why I added “Empowered Noodle Bowl, Two Ways: Thai Peanut & Orange-Maple Miso” (page 153) to my menu. Perhaps it was the miso, an ingredient of which I am quite fond. I only made the miso version, which consists of a sauce with miso, rice vinegar, sesame oil, tahini, orange juice, and maple syrup, over a salad with soba and edamame and other vegetables. My fondness for miso ended up trumping my dislike of soba and edamame, because I enjoyed seconds of this salad.
“Indian Lentil-Cauliflower Soup” (page 133) is not particularly special or unusual, but it is nevertheless exactly the sort of food that I like. The lentils are red lentils, cooked to a mush, and along with the cauliflower, there is spinach and sweet potato. The sweet potato might have ruined this soup if the soup flavors were less assertive, or of there had been more sweet potato, but it all worked out. I made more of a sauce than a soup and served it over rice, although later I thinned the sauce and got a soup.
Authors of vegetarian cookbooks seem to think that all vegetarian dishes of Africa contain peanuts (or peanut butter) and sweet potatoes or an orange squash. Angela is no exception. Her “Soul-Soothing African Peanut Stew” (page 120) has sweet potatoes as well as a few other vegetables in a peanut butter sauce. This stew was good version of vegetarian cookbook-style African food. The peanut flavor was not overwhelming, and there were enough other vegetables to keep the sweet potato under control.
“Eat Your Greens Detox Soup” (page 139) looked and tasted so healthy with lots of vegetables floating in a mostly clear broth. Along with the detox type vegetables, there are other detox ingredients such as ginger and tumeric. At the end of a month of Jewish eating occasions, this was the perfect soup to serve. The only problem I had with this soup was the color of the cooked broccoli, but I will just have to live with that unpleasant shade of green. [Go to the recipe.]
I am not that fond of Brussels sprouts, but I am intrigued by the theory that since bees share my dislike of Brussels sprouts, one way to keep bees out of the sukkah is to serve Brussels sprouts. Therefore I prepared “Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fingerling Potatoes and Rosemary” (page 205), and we had no bees! This dish is about half Brussels sprouts and half potatoes, and so the non-lovers of Brussels sprouts can usually manage a serving that is mostly potatoes. The lovers of Brussels sprouts at my table also approved of this combination.
For Angela’s contribution to the dessert category, I made her “Gooey Pumpkin Spice Latte Chocolate Pudding Cake” from her blog, a version of a recipe appearing in the cookbook. I served this warm, with fake (coconut) ice cream. Warm plus cold plus chocolate goes a long way, so even if this is not a great dessert, it’s easily appreciated, especially considering how relatively healthy it is.
Adapted from Tess Masters, The Blender Girl
¼ cup raw cashews
1 head garlic
1 red onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small zucchini. chopped
½ bunch parsley, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
5 ounces baby spinach
Before you do anything else, put the cashews in water and let them soak for 2 to 4 hours.
Wrap the garlic in aluminum foil and put it in a 350º oven for about 45 minutes. When the garlic is soft, remove it from the oven, and when it is cool enough to handles, cut off the top of the garlic bulb, and squeeze out all the good roasted garlic.
Now to make the soup: heat some olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onion, and after the onion has cooked a few minutes, add the celery and zucchini. Let the vegetables cook a little longer, than add the parsley, broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. Add the spinach and simmer another 5 minutes. Drain the cashews, and add the cashews. Remove the soup from the heat, and blend it all together. I think that this soup is best smooth, so a standing blender will work better than an immersion blender.
Adapted from Angela Liddon, The Oh She Glows Cookbook
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
2-3 carrots, sliced
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon tumeric
1 bunch broccoli, separated into florets; stems peeled and chopped
5 cups vegatable broth
1 bunch lacinato kale, spines removed and chopped
Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and cook until soft; then add the garlic, mushrooms, carrots, ginger, tumeric, and cinnamon. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the broccoli, broth, kale and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the soup until the vegetables to your desired degree of doneness, perhaps another 20 minutes.