This month we review a cookbook that proves that two gourmet chefs can prepare delicious food people would not believe is vegan.
You Won't Believe It's Vegan!:
200 Recipes for Simple and Delicious Animal-Free Cuisine
By Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty
De Capo Press, 2008
Chefs Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty graduated from New York City's Natural Gourmet Institute and opened Down to Earth, a vegan restaurant in New Jersey to introduce delicious dishes to eager customers along with their non-vegan families and friends. Their desire was to demonstrate that vegan food is much more than just salad.
The chefs point out that the food science technology of today has lured people into buying convenience foods that deliver less nutrition per bite, while earning higher profits for the manufacturers. "Just in the last few decades, frozen, freeze-dried, instant, and artificial foods have become the norm. Modern society has embraced these foods, trading its health for the allure of the quick and easy meal," say the authors who hope to bring people back to a healthier way of eating.
Expressing their compassion for animals, they advocate vegan guilt-free dining instead of consuming animal products that contain residues of pesticides, hormones, and petrochemicals. They stress the importance of supporting local, organic farming practices to preserve the valuable topsoil and avoid polluting our earth, water, and air with devastating chemicals. "Ultimately, our philosophy about food stems from our deep love for the Earth and animals that share it with us," they say.
In the Basic Kitchen Equipment chapter the authors cover all the necessary tools and appliances needed to equip the vegan kitchen and prepare the dishes in the cookbook. Most items are familiar tools like pots and pans, measuring spoons, and measuring cups that most home cooks have. For the newcomer, this section is invaluable.
The chapter on stocking the pantry is extensive and serves as an invaluable glossary. Conversion Ideas, a one-page listing of vegan substitutions for animal ingredients is a great feature for newcomers to the vegan lifestyle. Many people purchase spice blends at the market, but with the easy recipes in the cookbook they can save countless dollars by making their own Italian, Mexican, Indian, Cajun, and French herb and spice mixes at home.
The recipe section begins with an extensive selection of breakfast dishes tempting enough to encourage even non-cooks and non-breakfast eaters to explore new territory. The Apple Crumb Muffins sound compelling, as do the enticing Adam's Ginger-Oat Waffles with Chamomile-Pine Nut Cream and Nectarines.
Drinks, Juices, and Smoothies include some unique blends like the Circulator that stimulates the blood and zaps an oncoming cold. Included in this section are recipes for Almond Milk, a carrot juice blend called Bugs Bunny, and Vegan Nog to celebrate the holidays.
Basics and Sides features helpful charts for cooking beans and grains, preparing Vegetable Stock, working with tofu, and preparing homemade seitan. This section also covers many recipes like Tofu Sour Cream and Sprinkle "Cheese" that are included as part of other recipes.
Comfort foods like soups are especially welcome when the offerings include delicious recipes like Curried Red Lentil Soup or the daring combo of sweet Potato-Tomato-Chipotle Soup, featuring two zesty chipotle chiles along with maple syrup to perk up the flavor.
The book includes ample selections for stand-out salads like the Chickpea Untuna Salad that relies on mashed chickpeas, dulse flakes, and nutritional yeast to hint at a tuna-like flavor. The Sandwiches and Wraps chapter offers tempters like Philly Seitan Sandwich and the Wheatball Sub that stands in for the classic Italian meatball sub.
To "tease and tantalize the palate" the creative chef duo provide an Appetizer section buzzing with a host of great starters like Scallion Pancakes with Plum and Dipping Sauces and Tofu Hot Wings.
Cookbook lovers will find pouring through the entrée section an exhilarating experience. The recipes, almost begging to be tasted, feature items like Herbed Tofu Loaf with Apple-Herb Stuffing and Cranberry-Orange Relish that would make an ideal holiday dish. With the something for everyone approach, the authors even included a Live Foods chapter, an extensive Desserts section, and a chapter on Kids' Food.
The last section, Resources, suggests places to shop for cooking utensils and equipment, organic foods, and sea vegetables, along with a list of vegan support groups.
A stunning 8-page section of full-color photographs sets this book apart. The photos, while attractively styled, depict dishes that anyone comfortable in the kitchen could easily prepare. The recipes are well-written and broken down into simple directions. Like many cookbooks, this one includes a host of dishes that are fast preps along with others that are a bit more fussy and just right for special occasions.
You Won't Believe It's Vegan! is a welcome addition to anyone's cookbook shelf, especially those who appreciate novel dishes and eclectic, imaginative flavor combinations. With so many tantalizing vegan dishes created with flair and innovation, the chef duo just might lure new vegans aboard.