This month we review two cookbooks: one touts adding spice to your life while the other encourages you to be wildly creative in the kitchen.
Vegan Fire & Spice:
200 Sultry and Savory Global Recipes
By Robin Robertson
Vegan Heritage Press, 2008
Well aware there are those who can never get enough of the stuff and those who shun spicy foods entirely, Robin has designed the recipes to fit everyone's heat tolerance. Simply by replacing hot chiles with mild green bell peppers, the timid still can enjoy a flavorful, well-seasoned dish while the heat-seeking chile warriors can double up on the quantities. The mini chile pepper symbol beneath each recipe title is a guide to the heat level with one chile for mild, two for medium, and three for super-hot. Robin admits that her definition of hot and spicy is from a Westerner's point of view and doesn't approach "the incendiary heat of native Thai."
A mini primer with spices that titillate the tongue and a brief description of eight of the most universally used chiles introduces readers to a few basics, while A Word of Caution offers the importance of using rubber gloves when working with fresh chiles to avoid uncomfortable burns from direct contact.
Delivering a pleasant sensation of spice without the heat of chiles, the author uses cumin, curry, ginger, horseradish, mustard, peppercorns, and wasabi. Some of these spices are accompanied with chiles as in the Yucatan Potato Soup that combines a jalapeno chile and cumin. Nigerian Peanut Soup, a three-chile-pepper recipe, offers a kettle of simmering pleasure by incorporating Serrano chiles along with ginger, coriander, and black pepper.
What to do when chiles assault the tongue with their fiery attack? The section on Cooling Down suggests following the wisdom of international cooks that pair hot foods with starchy items like breads, rice, and pasta to cool the mouth. Vegan yogurt, fresh fruit, and vegan ice cream also help reduce the heat.
This veteran cookbook author loves to travel with one hand on the measuring spoons and the other guiding an imaginary airplane as she flies her readers' tastebuds around the globe. The recipes are representative of cuisines: of The Americas, Mediterranean Europe, The Middle East and Africa, India, and Asia.
The Americas begins with regional dishes from the United States and features spicy treats like Smokin' Texas Caviar, Jumpin' Jambalaya, and a blazing, three-chile Texas Barbecue Sauce. Traveling southward to Mexico, you'll encounter easy-prep hot specialties like Veracruz Potato Salad and Chipotle Corn. Once in the Caribbean, don't miss the stinging two-chile Jamaican Baked Vegetables and Jamaican Jerk Sauce.
Have your saucepan ready for the Mediterranean tour as you swing by Italy for some sizzling Stuffed Cherry Peppers or Tempeh Cacciatore. A quick stopover in Spain will put you deep into sassy two-chile Vegan Paella country.
The Middle East is a must visit to sample some Turkish Red Pepper-Walnut Spread called Muhammara. Then, spend an evening dining on Persian Orange Rice with Pistachios.
Don't miss a taste of the Basque country with an incendiary Basque Chickpea Stew and enjoy your spicy greens with a cold salad of Braised Chicory Salad smothered in olive oil, onions, and tomatoes.
Offering a host of complex seasonings, India beckons with an irresistible, spice-infused Braised Cabbage with Cardamom that invites garlic, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, hot red pepper flakes, cinnamon, and black pepper to join in the mix.
If you still have the traveling bug, come to Asia on Robin's creative recipe tour and experience the fragrant aromas in dishes like Hot and Spicy Thai Tofu, a brassy three-chile dish that brings tofu together in a skillet with three Thai chiles, broccoli, garlic, soy sauce, and crushed roasted peanuts.
To Robin's credit, she's made Vegan Fire & Spice a totally user-friendly cookbook by employing familiar ingredients easily found in any grocery store and avoiding exotic, hard to find items that often frustrate a home cook. Her technique is to combine the ingredients that are characteristic to the cuisines like chiles with soy sauce and sesame oil to create Chinese and Korean dishes. Less common ingredients, like lemongrass, are substituted with those that are similar and easily available.
In a single cookbook, Robin Robertson's Vegan Fire and Spice is like having a whole set of international cookbooks that have been custom veganized and adapted to the Western kitchen and grocery store, yet retain their bracing spiciness and charismatic flavors. The book is a full-throttle fire-eater's blast!
Going Wild in the Kitchen:
The Fresh & Sassy Tastes of Vegetarian Cooking
By Leslie Cerier
Square One Publications, 2005
Venture into the wild side of the garden and you'll probably find cookbook author Leslie Cerier foraging for a handful of wild greens she features in Going Wild in the Kitchen, a very vegan-friendly, vegetarian cookbook that expands the boundaries of traditional cooking. Inspired, curious, and effervescent about cooking, Leslie aims to ignite that spark of excitement in others to help them explore new foods and discover their creative sides.
"Cooking is a daily ritual that feeds your spirit as well as your body," says the author, while expressing it's more than just eating to satisfy hunger. She views cooking as "a celebration of the earth's bounty" and embraces the changing seasons that bring new taste inspirations to the everyday table.
Recipe for Inspiration is an invaluable nineteen-page chapter that encompasses the author's how-to's like refreshing favorite recipes by exchanging a few ingredients, cooking on the grill when steamy weather chases us out of the kitchen, and presenting suggestions for collecting edible wild plants. This section is packed with informative, detailed charts that inform the reader about uncommon edibles and when to harvest edible flowers, wild greens, and roots, and how they will taste. Here she discusses sweet, sour, pungent, and spicy herbs as well as spices she uses to enhance her recipes.
An extensive glossary of grains and beans along with cooking charts for both introduces the reader to less familiar foods like amaranth, carnaroli rice, and grano. The glossary also includes a primer on mushrooms, Asian vegetables, sea vegetables, noodles, sweeteners, and ingredients new vegetarians may not have encountered, like kudzu and umeboshi paste. Concluding the Recipe for Inspiration is an old-fashioned glossary of cooking terminology to bring newbies up to speed.
Mother Nature lavishes new gifts like leafy greens, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and edible wild foods sprouting up from the earth with each change of season, providing Leslie with a never-ending harvest to keep her fired-up.
The author is a true believer in starting the day with breakfast. Her choices range from simple blender treats like Raspberry Almond Smoothie or porridge to more moderately involved Scrambled Tofu with Tomatoes and Fresh Basil. Alternatively, a special morning meal could include Teff Banana Pancakes, Cranberry Scones, or Blueberry Muffin Cake. While each recipe lists specific ingredients, the Mix and Match page at the beginning of each chapter suggests alternatives to create recipe variations.
Clearly, the author loves to prepare soups. One can almost taste a ladleful of hearty Moroccan Lentil Soup with Saffron, a delicious pot of vegetable-enhanced lentil soup seasoned with garlic, ginger, cumin, and cayenne. The facing page, titled Great Garnishes, contains an almost encyclopedic listing of ways to dress up a soup.
Wilder than her soup combinations, are the wild ingredients Leslie uses to make Flavored Oils and Vinegars. Imagine infusing pine needles into white wine vinegar! Wait five to six weeks, then, enjoy this very exotic treat. To season tabbouli salad, she suggests a combination of lemon balm, mint leaves, and violet flowers that become her Lemon-Mint Oil.
The section on Sauces, Dips, and Dressings brings the cook into the world of fusion, where the author expresses untamed creativity in combinations like HummBaba, her blend of Hummus and Baba Ghanoush. While Mexico and the Mediterranean are far apart, they become one in a bowl of tasty Cilantro-Olive Spread.
There's absolutely nothing buttoned-down about this creative cookbook author, a delightful trait that shines through on nearly every page of Going Wild in the Kitchen. Knishes, filled with potatoes or meat, are old-world traditional turnovers found in Jewish delis, but no deli will ever encounter the likes of Curried Vegetable Knishes with Chickpeas. These knishes are seasoned with cinnamon, cayenne, garlic, ginger, fennel, and cumin seeds and filled with butternut squash, raisins, and chickpeas.
Whether its grain dishes, main dishes, side dishes, or anything in-between, it's a wild ride in this author's kitchen. And she gives her dessert recipes equally unbridled creativity. At dessert time, home cooks can dig deeply into heavenly dark chocolate land for recipes like Hot Fudge, Dark Chocolate Cake, and Vegan Chocolate Mousse Pie, or if they yearn for fruity flavors and spiced treats, they can plunge their forks into Maple Cranberry Pecan Cake or Pumpkin Date Pie.
There's plenty of bedtime reading in Going Wild in the Kitchen to inspire a plan for the next day's dash into the kitchen, book in hand. Leslie Cerier packs this volume with loads of Mix and Match ideas to inspire anyone interested in cooking with a multitude of variations. Sidebars, cooking tips, head notes, and For a Change suggestions all share a common theme-there are no have-to's in these recipes, only variations and more variations in this innovatively crafted cookbook.
Reviewed July 2008