Veganomicon Cover

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.

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.

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.

Cover of The Artful Vegan

VeganMofo: The Artful Vegan

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.

The Artful Vegan is exactly the kind of cookbook that home cooks complain about. The recipes require multiple premade components, 20+ ingredients, unusually sourced items, and a massive time commitment. It’s definitely designed to be a looker, not a cooker.

It’s also one of the vegan cookbooks that I use the most.

At first, it was because of necessity. I was a new vegan an my omnivorous friends, lured by the lush photography, gave it to me as a gift. I wasn’t yet hooked into the vegan food blog network like I later would be, so this daunting restaurant-focused guide was all that I had.

From this cookbook, I learned to make vegan sloppy joes. Unlike the mix-with-ketchup recipe you find on the back of a TVP packet, The Artful Vegan version combines 12 ingredients in just the sauce. Another 12 are involved in cooking the tempeh and the suggested serving includes homemade focaccia. I may have used all of the ingredients the first time, but I didn’t make the bread. Overtime I pared down the recipe, stripping out one or two ingredients each iteration, until I had a recipe that was quick and easy but also made a way classier sloppy joe than you can imagine. That’s right–a classy sloppy joe. The Artful Vegan‘s got that.

I learned to do this with several of the recipes in the AV. The Miso-Broiled Japanese Eggplant over Noodle Cakes didn’t need the walnut-miso sauce or wasabi cream to be fantastic, I learned, but it did need something crunchy like the noodle cakes to balance out the texture. Thanks to the AV, I was soon cooking seemingly intensive, gourmet meals cheaply and easily.

Now, roughly 10 years later, I don’t consult the AV anymore. Although I have many of its photos memorized, like the iconic mushroom parcel perched atop creamy polenta with a grilled pear sinking in beside it, I rarely flip its pages. I have already took the lesson that I needed from it–that not all fancy cookbooks are wrong for home cooks, that the only thing keeping cheap food from being quality food is determination–or, in my case–naive experimentation.

Cover of Isa Does It

VeganMofo: Isa Does It

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. 

Today I have something a little bit different from my other VeganMofo entries: a preview of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Isa Does Itwhich will be released next month.

The newest book to come from the Isa Chandra Moskowitz vegan empire is Isa Does It, designed to teach how to make quick weeknight meals. The descent into producing a Rachael Ray-make-things-easier book was inevitable; even Jacques Pepin has two volumes of Fast Food My Way and his name doesn’t even work in a silly pun. As you may glean from my tone, I greeted this new book with skepticism.  As Tamar Adler says,  teaching how to cook quickly does little more than make cooking seem more difficult than it actually is. It’s hard to make an egg take more than 5 minutes to cook, or in this case, a tofu scramble. And in most cases, the recipes here are not significantly quicker than the already quick recipes in Moskowitz’s other works. Her works tend to be very beginner and home cook friendly already, so why should you buy this one if you own one or several of her previous works?

You should buy it because despite the “quick and easy” ploy, this book is a solid cookbook with great recipes. I have enough books by Moskowitz and her partner in crime Terry Hope Romero to fill a small bookshelf, and this may be my favorite.

The quality of this book is amazing. This is the kind of book that will convince meat eaters that vegans aren’t missing out on anything in life. Every page is glossy and colorful, and the photos from Vanessa Rees are perfectly styled and shot. This looks like a $50 book, not an $18 book. It’s published by Little Brown for heaven’s sake. Right now on my nightstand I have Pynchon’s Vineland proudly displaying “Little Brown” along the spine. Guys, we finally have a vegan cookbook being treated as well as a Pynchon!

What really matters, though, is the recipes, and these are great. Moskowitz and Romero always have one or two recipes that change the way vegans cook, and it looks like this may also include a few. The  Roasted Butternut Squash Alfredo  has already charmed the vegan Internet, and definitely charmed me and my meat eating boyfriend when we tried it. Soaked cashews and roasted squash form a creamy, sauce which doesn’t replicate alfredo. Instead it’s more strongly flavored, making it–in my opinion–tastier, but harder to pair with other ingredients. Trust me, I put it to the test. I still have some left from a big batch I made earlier this week and have been using as a dip for everything from broccoli to buffalo popcorn tofu. It’s not perfect; my first try was a bit too lemony, so I added more squash and in the future I will probably also reduce the amount of wine used. It’s still going to go into my usual dinner rotation; since that’s the goal of the recipes in this book, I would say it’s a success.

The best part about the butternut squash sauce? It’s not made with oil. The fat in the sauce is coming almost entirely from cashews and white wine. I was initially disappointed to see that this book doesn’t have nutritional facts like Appetite for Reduction, but most of the recipes are reasonably low in fat anyway. It’s just not being advertised this time around.

I know I sound gushy, but I am sincerely excited about this book. I bought Vegan with a Vengeance when it was first published and still cook some of the recipes from heart eight years later. Since then my tastes have changed, however. There was a period of time when I fell off the Moskowitz bandwagon. Cookies? Cupcakes? Not my cup of tea. And Veganomicon was too bland overall for my taste. Appetite for Reduction brought me back into the fold, being one of the few cookbooks that don’t encourage indulging but also don’t resort to “diet” food. It looks like the trend is continuing with this book, so thanks to Little Brown for bringing this into the world. Maybe I can let the name slide after all.

VeganMofo: Vegan Soul 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.

A few recipes and other reviews to whet your appetite:

Bryant Terry as a guest on The Splendid Table discussing his book

Citrus Collards with Raisins, Redux: Terry considers this the keystone recipe of his book, the one that best exemplifies what he calls Afro-Diasporic cuisine.

Holy Cow! tests the Black-eyed Pea Fritters and Sweet Potato Puree with Coconut Milk

Vegetate has beautiful photos of Chocolate-Orange Pudding, BBQ Tempeh, and more

Your Vegan Mom raves about the book and tries out the Johnny Blaze Cakes

Vegan Noodle has tried a ton of the recipes, with photos

VeganMofo: The Alternative Vegan

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.

Alternative Vegan is the type of cookbook that would really be a recipe zine, if passing around recipes zines by hand was still something people did. It’s a 20-something vegan (and restaurant) chef describing the kind of food that he cooks at home at night, like rice and beans, throw-everything-in-the-pot-soup, and roasted potatoes. The only twist is that many of the recipes are not just bachelor food, but Indian bachelor food. The beans and rice here is Venn Pongal and the pickles he presents are Indian pickles. More experienced chefs might not want a cookbook that has a recipe that calls for nothing more than spreading hummus on lavash, but new cooks or cooks working in a constrained space like a dorm might feel relieved to know that there is something that they can make with limited resources.

You can preview many of Dino’s recipes at his blog: Alternative Vegan.

VeganMofo: Vegan Fusion World Cuisine

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.

For most of my life, I have not been a fan of raw vegetables. I didn’t even like fruit very much for that matter. I had a healthy plant-based diet for years, but it consisted heavily on roasted vegetables and warm soups. I was tempted by the pseudo-health benefits of a raw diet, but it ended up being the one diet I never tried because I knew that it would be nigh impossible for me. I could probably have given up sugar more easily than give up cooking my food.

When I first visited Blossoming Lotus in Portland, then, it was with a sense of adventure. They had, at the time, a varied menu with the kind of macrobiotic bowls that vegans used to be known for, comfort foods such as bbq tempeh and mac and cheese, and a selection of raw dishes that were unique to Portland. I could finally try a raw dish that was not just a salad, and a professional quality one as well. I had the raw pizza that day: a flax seed and nut crust, topped with a cashew-based cheese, curling strips of zucchini, and other vegetables that were both tender and flavorful. It was delicious. Based on this dish alone, I went out and bought their cookbook, Vegan World Fusion, thinking that it would usher in a dietary Age of Aquarius where I would suddenly want to eat all of the beautiful, healthy dishes my taste buds had previously scorned.

That didn’t necessarily happen, although I am still sure the blame rests with me and not with the book. The book is beautiful and packed with recipes and as varied as their restaurant menu. A raw fettucini alfredo is preceded by a thai salad and two pages before that is an okra masala. I enjoyed all of the recipes that I tried, such as the blue corn crusted tempeh, but the truth is that I actually tried very few of them. Many things in this book were turn-offs for me. Every page is glossy and in color, but most of the photography is of mountains or eastern religious iconography, not of the actual food. The recipe names obscure what is actually being presented; take Serendipity Soba, for instance, which could be more accurately described as a peanut noodle bowl with vegetables, or Mount Sinai Manna Bread, which is a versatile raw loaf recipe based on wheatberries or spelt berries. It made it hard for me to imagine myself preparing and enjoying the food. Instead I was imagining myself on a meditation retreat in Hawaii. Very pleasant, but not what I needed to inspire dietary changes.

Luckily, the restaurant is still flourishing in Portland, so I can enjoy their food for its taste alone, and I don’t even have to clean up afterwards.

Sample recipes:

Southwest Tempeh Chili

Sistah Jah Love Roasted Squash Soup

Conquering Lion Cashew Cheez

Other reviews:

Positive review from Vegan Guinea Pig

Don’t Get Mad Get Vegan tests the Green Goddess Dressing and a tofu scramble

Vegan Cookbook Challenge recreates the live pizza

a tomato in a toque reads How to Cook Cheap Fast and Vegan

VeganMofo: The Vegan Stoner 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.

It seems right that I start VeganMofo with the first vegan cookbook that I’ve reviewed on this blog.VeganMofoers will recognize the name instantly as that of the hugely popular cooking blog of the same name.

The cookbook is not only as cute as the blog, but cuter. Many of the recipes are repeats, but the book is still worth having in your kitchen because you need a cooking reference, so it may as well be one that makes you laugh.

See my full review here: Sprouts Illustrated

Reviews and samples from around the web:
5 Minute Churros at Mr. and Mrs. Vegan
Lentil Loaf at Karmatarian

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.

a tomato in a toque reads How to Cook Cheap Fast and Vegan

Sprouts Illustrated

The Vegan Stoner is a collection of delightfully illustrated recipes produced by the same folks who run the eponymous blog.

They may call it stoner food but I refer to it as bachelor food. It is the type of thing that I ate when I was living by myself and my silverware drawer was full of plastic cutlery that I had stolen from Starbucks. Or rather, it’s what I wish I ate. At that time I did not have the innate sense of how to create something both tasteful and healthy. The Stoner crew, Sarah Conrique and Graham I. Haynes, not only manage that here with lentil topped baked potatoes and carrot pizza but also manage to do it in 7 sentences or less. It’s a cookbook that can get daily use, the kind you grab when you realize you only have a half empty container of almond milk, ketchup, and 4 items in the cupboard and you’re hungry, now!

Surely, this is a situation stoners often find themselves in, but, let’s be honest, they are by no means the only ones.

A loyal fan of the blog will recognize a few of the recipes here. The published book, however, also treats you to the ganja-fueled adventures of a cohabitating group of vegetables. In each chapter there are a few scenes of bead-wearing mushroom relaxing on a bean bag or a grumpy pear smothering his emotions with food. In addition to learning what my life would be like if all of my friends were sentient produce, I also got a glimpse of something more relevant: how much our culture has progressed into foodieism. I own another cookbook targeted at a similar crowd called the Starving Students Vegetarian Cookbook. You know what type of recipes it includes? Beans on toast. In this one you get a vegan Hollandaise Benedict.

I myself am an unabashed foodie. I realize it is politically problematic, but I can’t deny who I am. And despite its reliance on canned goods and shortcuts, the Vegan Stoner Cookbook is one I would be proud to have in my kitchen. If nothing else, it’s the cutest reference for rice and bean cooking times and water ratios in existence.
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More?

You can sample the Zucchini Bean Balls and Baked Banana Cake from their book, as well as their adorable drawings, on their blog.

Even more? Here are some bloggers trying out a few recipes:

The Divine Ms. K. enjoys the VS peanut stew
The Pantry Pocket instagrams the Tempeh Rueben
Painted Whales tries the Lentil Loaf