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.

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.