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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we present two books that offer two divergent aspects of vegetarian cusine: Vietnamese fusion cooking and barbecue grilling.

Vietnamese Fusion Vegetarian Cuisine

By Chat Mingkwan

Book Publishing Company, 2007

$14.95 Paperback

Chat Mingkwan found his comfort niche in the kitchen, reluctantly at first as a young child growing up in Bangkok but presently he cooks, develops recipes, teaches, and writes about his passion--the vegetarian cuisine of Southeast Asia. His first book, Buddha's Table, presented the cuisine of his Thai homeland. Now he takes his readers on a vegan culinary tour of Vietnam.

Chat traveled to Vietnam where he explored the richness and diversity of Vietnamese foods. Each of Vietnam's regions, from its northern borders to the southern shores, opens the way to myriad culinary styles influenced by China, France, and India to create a true fusion of cuisines and a uniquely different dining experience. The Chinese brought noodles and wok stir-frying to the cuisine. The French contributed baguettes, patés, French coffee, and caramelizing sugar. India added spices and curries.

Vietnamese Vegetarian CuisineWhile peering through the lush garden gate on the cover of Vietnamese Fusion Vegetarian Cuisine, one sees an architecturally stunning Asian-style structure that might reveal a table set with an exotic Vietnamese meal. The book is graphically well designed and features a few full-color photos with gorgeous food styling.

Chat discusses the importance of fresh vegetables in the cuisine and how fresh herbs become a major player that accompanies the meal in almost unlimited quantities.

Replacing the traditional animal-based seasonings like fish sauce and shrimp paste, Chat presents a host of different soy and mushroom-based sauces to flavor the dishes along with fermented beans, fermented tofu, and seaweeds. Included is a glossary of bean sauces and bean pastes and complete instructions for making homemade tofu.

An additional glossary gives excellent details on all the herbs and spices that are essential to the cuisine along with less familiar items like galangal, la-lot leaves, jasmine, pandan, perilla leaves, and saw-leaf herb. Also typical are unique ingredients like smoked coconut, lily bud, lotus, sea lettuce, and morning glory, all foods Chat includes in his fusion recipes. Morning glory is the featured ingredient in Morning Glory with Bean Sauce, a main dish stir-fry seasoned with garlic, chiles, yellow bean sauce and light soy sauce.

Wrappers and noodles are indispensable to the cuisine. Chat's recipe for Crispy Spring Rolls are made with softened rice paper sheets that enclose a combination of mushrooms, glass noodles, tofu, and a variety of vegetables. The rolls are then fried until golden, drained, and served with dipping sauce, lettuce, and fresh herbs. This tasty appetizer is becoming more familiar to Americans with the introduction of Vietnamese restaurants across the country.

A long-standing traditional cooking utensil from China, the clay pot is used for cooking and serving Vietnamese dishes. Chat provides detailed instructions on its use and care and shares his tempting recipe for Clay Pot Glass Noodles, a combination of marinated tofu, glass noodles, Chinese black mushrooms and fresh asparagus in a sauce infused with Caramel Soy Syrup.

The mortar and pestle is another essential kitchen must-have for mixing and grinding when preparing the traditional Papaya Salad that spotlights shredded green papaya. Garlic and Thai chiles are pounded in a large mortar and pestle; then the papaya, carrots, tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and lime juice are added and gently pounded to enhance their flavors. Other kitchen essentials include a steamer, wok, and shredder.

An irresistible dish, the Vegetables with Spice Paste is a true fusion creation that comes from the warmer southern region where more tropical ingredients are grown. The fiery, chile-laced Spice Paste ingredients are pounded together in a mortar and pestle and added to a coconut milk-based combo of kabocha, potatoes, water chestnuts, and taro and served with rice.

The desserts are most unique and are centered around fresh fruits. Choices include Banana and Tapioca Pudding, Banana Cake, Steamed Rice Cakes in Banana Leaves, and Pineapple Tartlets. Featured in a tantalizing photo is Mango and Coconut Tartlets. The recipe is a stunning tart shell filled with coconut cream, coconut flakes, mangoes, and mango jam and laced with extracts of pandan, jasmine, vanilla, or rose. One can almost taste the exotic treat and inhale its fragrance while the eyes are transfixed on the photo.

Concluding the book are references and resources listing websites that sell Vietnamese ingredients. The headnotes in each recipe are highly informative and contain treasured culinary traditions and typical cooking techniques still used in Vietnam. Both Vietnamese and American names are given for each dish.

Vietnamese Fusion Vegetarian Cuisine is an intriguing cookbook just made for those who love to dabble in exotic cuisines. The recipes are alluringly composed with instructions that are clear and easy to follow. Chat Mingkwan has done a masterful job of simplifying a complex cuisine, yet he maintains the flavor and feel of Vietnam's compelling culinary traditions.

The New Vegetarian Grill:
250 Flame-Kissed Recipes for Fresh Inspired Meals

By Andrea Chesman

Harvard Common Press, 2008
Paper $16.95

Author Andrea Chesman has more than demonstrated she wields a savvy database of food and kitchen expertise at her fingertips with more than 20 cookbooks on her resume. Her book, The Vegetarian Grill: 200 Recipes for Inspired Flame-Kissed Meals was a 1999 nominee for the James Beard Award for the Vegetables and Vegetarian cookbook category.

Now she shares her passion for grilling vegetable-based dishes along with practical grilling techniques in this new, updated volume, The New Vegetarian Grill with 50 new recipes. Several of the recipes are completely vegan. Many of those containing dairy products can easily be substituted with vegan versions

The author says, "Vegetables cooked on the grill develop a sweet and smoky taste that is irresistible." Positive comments like Andrea's are inspiring enough to make one heat up the grill and explore the unlimited possibilities of preparing foods from appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches to wraps, flatbreads, kabobs, and even desserts with grill techniques.

Andrea began her grilling adventures years ago with nothing more than a gas grill. Then she acquired a vegetable grilling rack, an enamel-coated metal sheet with holes, which broadened her grilling experience and became the spark to a new vegetable cuisine. She recommends the convenience of the grill rack or the grill wok over the hinged grill basket, which she considers cumbersome.

While many readers use the terms grilling and barbecuing interchangeably, they are unaware of the distinction. Grilling is a method of cooking foods quickly over hot coals, searing the foods on the outside while retaining moisture inside. Slow-cooking foods by smoke and indirect heat is barbecuing, which Andrea says is best for large portions of meat. She says, "… grilling is ideal for locking in the flavor of vegetables."

The section on Equipment and Techniques is an excellent primer on outdoor grills, from gas, charcoal, and wood pellet, to portables and smokers. Both indoor built-ins and freestanding grills are also discussed in detail. Novice grillers will certainly appreciate knowing about stovetop smokers, grill pans, and contact grills, each with their advantages and shortcomings.

New Vegetarian Grill Andrea generously pours out every tidbit of grilling experience to orient and inspire with how-to's about building a fire, adding smoky flavor with wood chips, using the grill open or closed, and learning various grilling techniques with vegetables.

Most people steam artichokes and never consider them candidates for the grill. Andrea discovered the grill enhances the artichokes' flavors enormously and begins by steaming them, cutting them in half, discarding the hairy choke, and finishing them on the grill with a coating of extra virgin olive oil.

A delectable accompaniment to any meal, the Grilled Pearl Onions with Sherry Vinegar and Rosemary begins with a brief visit in the microwave to infuse the onions with rosemary and vinegar before tossing them onto the oiled grill rack. There's even a helpful kitchen hint to make peeling the onions a cinch.

Summertime is when most people plan outdoor meals on the grill. The author, however, grills year round and offers a unique treat for the holiday season--Roasted Chestnuts. Just 10 minutes in a closed grill is all it takes to bring a touch of nostalgic dining to the holiday table.

Crisp green salads come alive with the addition of grilled veggies. Whole compositions of grilled veggies become extraordinary salads, and salads that feature noodles brim with sweetness from grilled vegetables. The Great Grilled Salad section is pure salad-lovers' delight.

Marinades, dressings, and sauces are essential enhancements to the grilled vegetables. Andrea provides 20 delicious choices for brushing, dipping, and marinating veggies to the max.

Chili-Stuffed Zucchini offers a mouthwatering summertime dinner choice. The zucchinis are stuffed with a mean combo of beans, cheese, salsa, and cilantro and grilled with the lid down, giving the dish a touch of smoky flavor that melts-in-the-mouth. To make it vegan, replace the dairy Jack cheese with a vegan Jack cheese.

When it's time for dessert, simulate the camping experience with Grill-Baked Apples by stuffing the apples with walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon, wrapping them in aluminum foil, and giving them a 20 to 30 minute sauna on the grill with the top down.

Informative sidebars abound throughout the book and offer the reader generous sprinkles of suggestions, techniques, and handy hints for successful grilling. Graphically appealing, the book is well designed, effectively using two colors with recipe titles, ingredient lists, and sidebars in a warm hue of soft green. Dusty purple ink provides attractive contrast in the headnotes, directions, and as titles for the sidebars.

Innovative, original, and handsomely updated, The New Vegetarian Grill by Andrea Chesman is a volume that will bring helpful knowledge to the home chef as well as exceptional flavors to the table. The book is well conceived and dishes up 250 great recipes that are easy to prepare, even in today's busy households.

Reviewed June 2008

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