This month Vegetarians in Paradise presents a book that shows vegan fine dining can emanate from the home kitchen.
The New Now and Zen Epicure
By Miyoko Nishimoto Schinner
Book Publishing Company, 2001
Like most people, we usually save desserts for last, but now we're traveling right in step with the author and taking an indulgent approach with dessert first! The dessert section is utterly decadent, as desserts ought to be! Take, for instance, the Maple Rum Torte the author describes as "rich and devastating." You don't have to imagine it; you can see it on the beautifully photographed page along with her Bushe de Noel, another dessert extravaganza.
For a summertime treat, Miyoko suggests a doubly devastating combination starting with the Cashew Cheesecake on the bottom, and a sensational topping of Jellied Peach Jewels. While you're swimming in the dessert pool, you just might succumb to the temptation of a delicate Almond Cake that doubles as a dramatic Christmas Tree Cake during the holiday season. More desserts that pamper the soul reside in the dessert section.
Miyoko began her vegetarian exploration on a seventh grade camping trip when she was twelve years old. Grouped with the only two vegetarian children on the trip, she persevered through the three day journey, though not without initial doubts, and discovered a new way of eating.
This book and her first one, The Now and Zen Epicure, are the inspired results of many years of experimenting since the time she returned home from that camping trip. A number of the recipes in this outstanding book were developed and served at Miyoko's Now and Zen Bistro, her San Francisco restaurant that is now closed.
An exceptional feature of the book is Ingredients and Their Uses that explains the use of agar, pressed tofu, okara, and kuzu, items that may be unfamiliar to many home cooks. Foods more recognizable to vegetarian cooks like coconut milk, carob, and miso also appear in this section.
While many vegetarian cookbooks ignore breakfast completely, or, at best, offer one or two breakfast ideas, Miyoko's book demonstrates that she has mastered the art of great morning starters with thirteen outstanding dishes along with numerous variations. Dishes like Banana-Nut Pancakes, Cheesy Walnut Raisin Blintzes, Walnut Surprise Muffins, and Believable "Bacon" are wholesome and mighty tempting.
To review a cookbook properly, one must become intimately acquainted with the foods. Simply put, it must be a hands-on experience. We plunged in with the Mushroom Pate appetizer. It was a cinch to prepare. The hard part was waiting 1 1/4 hours for it to do its thing in the oven. Other appetizer temptations included, among several quiche offerings, the Greek Olive and Basil Quiche, Sushi Crepes, and Hot Herb Cheese Puffs.
We immediately set to work on the Very Benevolent Caesar Salad to satisfy our craving for something simple, green, and crisp. It was perfect!
The irresistible full-color photo of the Portobello and Polenta Lasagne was our entrée selection. The recipe was clear and easy to follow, the result exquisite. We could easily have chosen the Paella, the Sweet and Sour Tofu, or the Mediterranean Eggplant & Tofu Gratin. Our hats are off to Miyoko for her fully tested recipes that result in complete success.
Though the author is married and is a busy Mom with three children, she is still able to direct her creative energies toward healthy, inventive, vegan foods that aspire to stand on the same pedestal as those of revered chefs worldwide. Miyoko teaches cooking classes, writes articles on vegetarian cooking, and is a featured guest chef on television cooking shows. If that isn't enough, this dynamo has again taken her talents into the entrepreneurial world to create Now and Zen, a vegan food company that makes meatless meats and dairy-free confections.
Miyoko's The New Now and Zen Epicure cookbook is hard to top. It has it all: simplicity with elegance, ease of preparation with indulgent flavors, and visual feasts that treat the palate as well. It would be well received as a gift and just might beckon a non-cook into the kitchen. Even those who never venture into the world of vegetarian fare might find this book invaluable when looking for that exceptional dish to serve special guests.