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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 or books that contribute to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we review two vegan cookbooks with different goals. One offers quick and easy recipes with a minimum of ingredients while the other focuses on low-fat, low-calorie recipes for weight loss.

Click here for review of Appetite for Reduction

The 4-Ingredient Vegan:
Easy, Quick, and Delicious

By Maribeth Abrams with Anne Dinshah

Book Publishing Company, 2010
Paperback, $14.95

The appeal of quick cuisine has an enticing allure and might be just the hook to bring those who've strayed back into the kitchen. Authors Maribeth Abrams and Anne Dinshah combined their talents to bring The 4-Ingredient Vegan concept to those seeking great tasting healthy meals with minimal ingredients and little fuss.

In her nutritional consulting business, Abrams repeatedly found her clients gravitated to those recipes that were so easy to prepare, assemble quickly, and easily commit to memory. She emphasizes taking the time to sit down to enjoy these easy recipes, perhaps accompanied with soft music or candlelight.

The focus is on shortcut ingredients like canned beans to add instant heartiness, slivered, chopped, or toasted nuts for richness and crunch, miso to infuse a burst of flavor, and prepared, creamy vegan soups for sauces and casseroles.

A well-stocked pantry is key to putting tasty meals on the table with ease and speed. Stocking Your Kitchen is an extensive section on pantry staples, how to use them, and where to purchase them. Some items mentioned include dried lentils, condiments, miso, nut and seed butters, nutritional yeast flakes, vegan mayonnaise, and vegan sour cream.

4 ingredient Vegan Dinshah, a lifetime vegan and author of the vegan cookbook Healthy Hearty Helpings, developed the recipes that center on four or fewer ingredients with the exception of water, salt, pepper, and oil or margarine. She says, "Making perfect vegan French toast is an art that requires a fair amount of intuition." In her breakfast recipe for Cashew French Toast she stresses patience and suggests cooking the dipped toast for a full 5 to 7 minutes on the first side before flipping.

An uncommon, yet hearty start to the day is the Baked Bean and Tater Casserole combining only prepared Tater Tots, chopped vegetables, and a can of vegan baked beans layered in that order. The casserole is tucked into the oven, and 20 to 30 minutes later breakfast is ready.

For a classic Russian Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup, Dinshah tosses together some surprising ingredients like ginger ale, ketchup, and a head of shredded green cabbage. The final touch is salt and pepper. It certainly doesn't get easier than that. Anyone in the mood for a great salad might consider the Aegean Chickpea Salad, a mélange of canned chickpeas, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers, and capers. Finished with olive oil, salt and pepper, it's ready in minutes.

The Main Dishes section offers a host of innovative quick fixes like Spinach Casserole or Seitan with Tomatoes and Sauerkraut. Onion lovers can enjoy the Stuffed Onion Casserole that creates little bowls of hollowed out onions and fills them with split peas, amaranth, and spinach seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Tasty side dishes are a must to accompany and enhance the meal. Dinshah offers several dishes that put potatoes in the spotlight. Harvest Mash is an excellent way to make mashed potatoes come alive with the simple addition of yams, carrots, and chopped cabbage. Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries, Apricots, and Pecans provide a sweet tasting dish, while Smashed and Spiked Potatoes made with white beans and roasted garlic present a more savory offering.

Dessert dishes, too, are quick and easy to whip up and still maintain the theme of four or fewer ingredients. Pear-fect Strudel encloses fresh pears and dried apricots seasoned with pumpkin pie spice in phyllo dough for a delicious finish.

Many of the recipes list suggestions for variations, while others give helpful kitchen tips. A particularly welcome feature is the nutritional analysis, ideal for those seeking ways to boost fiber or lower fat in their diets.

Because the recipes have so few ingredients and the directions are super-easy, The 4 Ingredient Vegan is an excellent book to introduce those new to preparing their own foods or are new to vegan dining. No frills, daunting terminology, or complicated directions makes this book the ideal starter kit for people of any age, especially teens who decide to go vegan and need healthful recipes that focus on simplicity.

Appetite for Reduction

By Isa Chandra Moskowitz
With Matthew Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2011
Paperback, $19.95

Long time dieters might be convinced isn't possible to have a meal that's low calorie, healthy, attractive, colorful, killer delicious, and still come away from the table feeling fully satisfied. They would be wrong. Author and chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz has created a dieter's paradise in her newest book Appetite for Reduction.

Isa says, "Healthy cooking doesn't have to mean deprivation. It doesn't mean restraint, it doesn't mean willpower, and to hell with the idea of 'being good.'" She refers to the practice of exploring a banquet of plant-based foods, cooking them with a variety of techniques, and enjoying traditional recipes that bring the world into your kitchen.

The author of five other cookbooks, she created Appetite for Reduction for herself and her desire to overcome health and weight challenges by focusing on healthier options. Combining low fat, low calorie, healthful foods was important, but above all, the recipes had to be fun to eat and offer exceptional flavor.

Each of the recipes has been given the nod from registered dietician Matt Rusigno and includes a complete nutritional analysis. Though the dishes seem quite lavish, most of the recipes contain between 200 and 400 calories per serving, some even fewer. Another plus is that most of the recipes can be prepared in a half hour.

Matt assures readers that a whole foods plant-based diet can provide higher fiber, lower fat, more nutrients, beneficial phytochemicals, and powerful antioxidants than the typical Western animal-based diet. Because the plant-based diet is unfamiliar to many, Matt answers typical questions that arise regarding protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, sodium, fiber, and fat.

Appetite for Reduction Each of the recipes contain an icon that identifies its focus: "G" is for gluten free, "S" says soy-free, "30" means 30 minutes or less for prep, "D" stands for downtime when you simply have to wait for the food to bake or simmer.

Many of the chapter introductions are detailed, offering a plethora of variations on a theme and sparking innovative ways to serve, prepare, and enjoy the recipes. Full-On Salads is a must-read introduction to get the full benefit of life in the salad bowl. Many of the salads are so well-conceived they can be enjoyed as entrees--Sushi Roll Edamame Salad, Sanctuary Chef Salad, and Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu. Accompanying these salads is a host of exceptional dressings that are flavor-packed and low in calories.

Totally Stuffed Sides boasts whole-grain and potato dishes that round out a meal and sometimes become the meal themselves. Mashed potato lovers seeking tricks to make this usually high-calorie, high-fat food still taste great with less of the bad stuff will thoroughly enjoy the adventure of making Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes, or what Isa calls "Caulipots."

Outside-the-box dishes like Jerk Asparagus, Mushroom Tibs, and Orange-Scented Broccoli stand out with creative spicing. Japanese seasonings and a sauce of mirin, soy sauce, agave, and miso. bring broiled Eggplant Dengaku to life. Even Grilled Portobellos become exceptional when marinated in a blend of white wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and liquid smoke.

About Main Event Beans, Isa says, "This chapter celebrates the endless versatility of beans … " and mentions that beans have something that meat does not: fiber and complex carbohydrates, the wholesome fuel for the body. This chapter comes alive with high protein dishes with a flair. Doing the twist on standard shepherd's pie is Upside-Down Lentil Shepherd's Pie made with the potatoes on the bottom.

Sink-Your-Teeth-Into-Tofu and Tempeh is not only about the cooking and handling of these soyfoods, but also dispels soy's negative propaganda circulating throughout the internet. People who turn away from tempeh because of its somewhat off-putting fermented flavor can find a way to tame it by steaming, a technique that also makes it more receptive to absorbing flavors. This chapter circles the globe with terrific international recipes like Red Thai Tofu, Tofu Chimichurri, and Curried Scrambled Tofu.

Tasty pasta and noodles dishes, satisfying soups, rich curries, chili, and stews are chapters each overflowing with deliciously seasoned recipes that maintain the theme of the book by keeping the calories and fat down and the fiber and flavor up. The last two chapters concentrate on two diverse methods of eating--the bowl and the sandwich--and offer a blast of inspiring ideas to enjoy both to the max.

Graphically appealing, the book is printed in a combination of deep burgundy and black ink with attractive typefaces that frequently switch from serif to san serif. Numerous shaded sidebars are not only helpful, but also enhance the design. They contain nutrition tips, kitchen hints, prep tips, or ingredient sources. The outstanding graphic highlight is found in the center of the book where stunning, full-page color photos keep the reader riveted. The attractive dishes are well styled and look truly irresistible.

Appetite for Reduction is a dieter's delight! Few weight-loss plans can offer this much fun in the kitchen, at the table, and in the mind. Isa Chandra Moskowitz has explored the world of foods by shopping at a variety of ethnic markets to introduce exciting vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, and condiments that turn simple recipes into exotic dining. Maintaining the focus on weight loss throughout the book, each of the recipes delivers low calories, low fat, and delicious dining.

Click here for past book reviews

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