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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarian Reading

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 review two cookbooks that are a must for health-conscious vegetarians.

The Enlightened Kitchen

By Marie Oser

John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002

Paper $16.95

Enlightened Kitchen Like a fine wine that improves with time, cookbook author Marie Oser continues to develop her craft in creating a finely tuned product in The Enlightened Kitchen, her newest cookbook. The book is a permanent collection of Marie's syndicated column by the same name that has appeared in the food section of The Philadelphia Inquirer since1999.

The author is well aware that for new vegetarians the thought of giving up familiar comfort foods can be off-putting. However, she instantly comforts the newcomers with assurances they can enjoy the same great-tasting delicacies, flavorful sauces, and rich-tasting desserts without the harmful ingredients that are detrimental to health.

Hopefully, everyone who purchases the book will read the introduction and the chapter entitled Good Food, Good Health for its concise, well-researched information. The author makes a compelling case for adopting lifestyle changes that include a plant-based diet and exercise. In a mere 25 pages Marie presents facts, figures, and charts based on well-documented research and numerous studies that prove the advantages of a low fat, high fiber, plant-based diet.

In the brief chapter on dairy products the author presents information that may be surprising to dairy consumers, facts such as:

"A cup of broccoli contains about the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk."

" . . . cow's milk enhances the uptake of lead, cadmium, mercury, and other metals."

"What this study [Harvard Nurses' Health Study] also revealed was that increased intake of calcium from dairy products was actually associated with a higher fracture risk."

"A recent study released by the Harvard School of Public Health also has linked the high intake of dairy products to an increased risk of prostate cancer."

From high cholesterol to high blood pressure, heart disease to cancer, and diabetes to obesity, these diseases of high-fat dietary excess can be prevented and often reversed on a low-fat plant-based diet including soy products.

For those who ask what foods a vegetarian eats to supply the body with calcium or protein, the author provides the reader with handy charts for quick reference. Additional charts listing antioxidant vitamins and numerous phytochemicals contained in plant foods further enlighten the reader.

While most cookbook authors place dishes for entertaining toward the end of their book, Marie chooses to open her recipe section with a chapter called "Enlightened Entertaining" that offers a host of ideas for appetizers, entrees, snacks, and desserts. Here she presents delightful suggestions such as packing the Hearty Tortilla Wraps for a picnic, preparing a Savory "Sausage" Lasagna the day before a special dinner, or feasting in grand style with her Festive Holiday Roast.

Two cans of drained black beans and a handful of other ingredients are magically transformed into the tasty starter of Black Bean Cakes with Creamy Dijon Sauce with Marie's recipe in the Soups, Salads, and Starters section. Soups like Gingered Acorn Squash and Chunky Vegetable "Beef" Soup are just a sample of the many delectable and easy-to-prepare items in the book.

The Enticing Entrees section features Marie's soy expertise with no less than 45 main-dish recipes. Some items are international favorites like Kung Pao "Chicken," while others such as Roasted "Chicken" and Vegetables are American comfort foods, all familiar dishes that have been made healthier by conscientiously removing the high fat and adding vegetables, grains, or legumes that are high in fiber.

Included in the book are numerous side dishes, recipes for muffins and loaves, and a section featuring desserts to satisfy the sweet cravings, but Marie has added a section called The Self-Sufficient Gourmet that stands out as singular. Not a standard feature in every cookbook, this collection of recipes appeals to the from-scratch cook who can use this section to prepare multi-function baking mixes, dessert or savory toppings, marinades, homemade soymilk, homemade tofu, and creamy sauces.

Marie Oser Throughout the book many sidebars highlighted with a light gray background add an attractive element of design as well as offer helpful and informative kitchen tips. This well-seasoned author recognizes the need for timesaving convenience foods that are nutritious too. She reaches into her well-stocked vegan pantry and skillfully combines many prepared items in her recipes that bring a healthy meal together quickly and effortlessly.

Throughout the recipe portion Marie takes a unique approach to the Nutritional Analysis. Side by side, she offers a comparison between the "Enlightened" low-fat plant-based version and the "Traditional" high-fat animal-based version of the same dish. For example, her enlightened version of Individual Broccoli Quiches provides 6 grams of fat, while the traditional version provides 31 grams.

An extensive Resource Guide, annotated and complete with company addresses, phone numbers and web site addresses, provides the reader with many options for stocking the pantry. Because many vegetarian items may not be available at every health food market, the guide becomes an important tool. Internet Resources, a list of Recommended Books, a Bibliography, and an excellent index complete the resources.

Experienced cooks and novice kitchen dabblers alike will find The Enlightened Kitchen a great reference guide for learning the intricacies of working with soy products. Many will even be surprised to discover the extensive variety of soy foods available. Not only does Marie Oser make a compelling case that clearly demonstrates the benefits of a low-fat high-fiber plant-based diet, but she guides the health seeker along the road with her finely seasoned collection of recipes as well.

The Whole Foods Diabetic Cookbook

By Patricia Stevenson, Michael Cook, and Patricia Bertron, R.D.

Book Publishing Company, 2002

Paper 12.95

Diabetics need no longer suffer declining health or be compelled to consume the unhealthy high-fat foods of the standard American diet. A positive approach to their disease is to seek out The Whole Foods Diabetic Cookbook created by a triad of experienced authors who combine their expertise to demonstrate that whole foods are the key to controlling diabetes.

Patricia Stevenson, writer and researcher, authored the first edition of the book, Vegetarian Cooking for Diabetics. Patricia Bertron, R.D., staff nutritionist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, presented the information on diabetes and nutrition. Michael Cook, a health and nutrition editor and food stylist, contributed his expertise as well.

Together the authors present a concise book written in easy-to-grasp language that offers an up-to-date approach to healthy eating for the diabetic. No longer is the diabetic diet focused on simply controlling sugar and carbohydrate intake. Research and medical studies have shown that when a diabetic patient switches to plant-based whole foods, blood sugar becomes more stable, high cholesterol levels drop, and high blood pressure can become normalized over time.

Diabetic Cookbook The book clearly demonstrates how diabetics benefit when taking an active part in their own health. Registered dietician Bertron briefly explains the nature of diabetes, risk factors, and complications. She then stresses the importance of controlling the disease with diet and exercise, focusing on a vegan diet to obtain optimal control. Nutritional concerns including sweeteners are fully addressed, yet remain condensed and easy to understand.

Bertron provides a helpful whole-foods glossary, recognizing that most diabetics will find a diet of plant-based foods unfamiliar. Shopping tips and menu planning are thoughtfully covered as well.

The recipe portion of the book offers familiar comfort foods like pancakes and French toast, but made with whole grains rather than the white flour usually listed on standard recipes. The fat content will be noticeably lower in all of the recipes, while a glance at the nutritional analysis for each recipe will show an increase in fiber content, both important in controlling diabetes.

Breakfast offerings include tempting recipes like Yeasty Vegetable Crepes and Mushroom Scrambled Tofu but also include old-fashioned starters like Hot Oatmeal. Every one of the recipes for breads, muffins, and rolls contain whole-wheat flour with the addition of cornmeal or oats in some of the recipes.

The Salad section lists a few salad dressings that are completely fat free, allowing the diabetic to enjoy a super-low-calorie meal of salad with dressing. Choices include Miso Dressing, One-Calorie Herb Dressing, Lemon-Tomato Juice Dressing, and "Russian" Yogurt Dressing.

From Sandwiches and Soups to Main Dishes and Vegetables, the nutritional focus has been placed on fresh whole foods high in fiber, low in fat and sodium, and low in calories. A few indulgences like Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Icing, Apple-Oat Drop Cookies, and Quick Rice Pudding bring the book to its conclusion. However, even these are made of whole grains to aid in keeping the blood sugar stable.

Although the focus of the book is directed at the diabetic, the collection of recipes in The Whole Foods Diabetic Cookbook make an ideal addition to any vegan kitchen. The recipes contain easy-to-find ingredients, easy instructions for quick-to-prepare dishes, and a healthy focus on nutritional content.

Reviewed March 2003

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