This month we review a book that proves vegan cooking can encompass delicious recipes from many cultures.
By Robin Robertson
Harvard Common Press, 2003
Many people seem awed that someone could create even one original recipe. For Robin, it seems that recipes flow out of her kitchen with ease. As evidenced by Vegan Planet's multitude of recipes and her past works, the author easily demonstrates her flair for originality by combining ingredients that result in an inimitable blending of flavors that truly satisfies.
Robin, a former chef, vegetarian cooking instructor, and food writer, tells her readers that this book is the culmination of many years of study, experience, inspiration and dedication. Indeed, her years of hard work and perseverance in the field of creating exceptional foods are clearly apparent in this monumental cookbook.
Not only did the author create an outstanding cookbook, but also she provides a guide to vegan eating and health information as well. Her extensive research into vegan nutrition has given her the knowledge base she shares with her readers.
To those who wonder what on earth vegans eat and are convinced the regimen is so limited that followers suffer deprivation, she responds, "a well-balanced vegan diet can provide all the nutrition we need" with a world of choice.
The chapter on Vegan Basics covers important dietary and shopping information that vegans need to know in order to maintain a healthy body and mind and to build a well-balanced food pantry. Covered are subjects such as proteins, vitamin B12, an explanation of the term organic, egg and dairy alternatives, a primer on tofu and soy meats, a recipe for homemade seitan, oils, salt, sea vegetables, a brief glossary of various flours, sweeteners, and notes about hidden animal ingredients. This section could actually benefit everyone, not just vegans or vegetarians.
Love at First Bite offers an extensive selection of appetizer ideas such as Baked Sweet Potato and Green Pea Samosas that are a great way to transform leftover sweet potatoes into a delectable starter. Five-Spice Portobello Satays, and Three-Onion Appetizer Pie were two more appetizers that held special appeal in the section that offers 20 appetizer recipes.
A helpful feature is the listing of recipes at the beginning of each chapter along with the page numbers--a sort of internal index system that allows the cook to choose a recipe that appeals without having to thumb through each page of that section.
Soups That Satisfy presents 25 creative soup ideas, some cold for summer and some steaming hot for warming the winter chill. Celebrate a marriage or anniversary with the Italian Wedding Soup, imagine touring the East coast and spooning up the New England-Style Chowder, or enjoy slurping Southern style with the Sassy Vegetable Gumbo. Soups rely on a good stock to form the base of a tasty recipe. Robin offers not just one, but three recipes that get soup off to a good start: Basic Vegetable Stock, Mushroom Stock, and a Super-Rich Vegetable Stock.
Salads and Slaws proves one can dine on the lighter side, yet enjoy pungent flavors and complete satiety. The Mediterranean Lima Bean Salad with Grape Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, and Marinated Tofu rates as having the longest title, yet offers temptation with its hearty and flavorful ingredients.
Good old stand-bys are featured in the Sauces and Dressings section. Vegan versions such as Tofu Sour Cream, Soy Mayonnaise, Eggless Hollandaise, and Vegan Bechamel Sauce appear along with recipes that tout an upbeat flair like Mango Sunburst Sauce and Avocado-Wasabi Sauce.
The weighty book contains a host of additional chapters that include chutneys and condiments, vegetable dishes, grain dishes, pastas, beans, stews and chilis, grilling recipes and stir fries.
The Global Oven inspires one to recreate the flavors of world cuisines. One can almost inhale the exotic aromas of cardamom, cayenne, and peanuts that flavor the Sweet Potato Gratin with Pineapple and Coconut Milk, or imagine oneself on a Greek island feasting on Tempeh and Eggplant Moussaka.
Robin reveals her love of the kitchen throughout the book but especially in the innovative chapter called Simply Stuffed. Eggplant, zucchini, cabbage, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, chiles, potatoes, squashes, pastas, and tofu all become the stuffing vessels.
Sixteen pizza recipes and two recipes for making pizza dough offer plenty of ideas for a successful pizza party, while the Sandwiches, Wraps and Burgers chapter provides a host of informal meals for family or fun gatherings.
Dessert Heaven contains a myriad of sinfully delectable sweets that many consider the best part of the meal. Difficult to resist are the Coconut-Macadamia Cheesecake, Fresh Peach Crisp with Almond Butter Cream or Pumpkin-Rum Couscous Cake. Following the dessert section is one that features smoothies and beverages.
An unusual placement, Don't Skip Breakfast, the last chapter, appears after Desserts and Smoothies and just before the valuable Resources and the extensive Index. However, it's packed with a plethora of robust breakfast dishes.
One frustration, though only a small one, is that the book's graphic designer chose a difficult-to read type style for the recipe titles. That aside, the book design, shaded side bars, and attractive line drawings create an outstanding package.
Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson belongs in every vegan kitchen. An excellent reference tool as well as a library of innovative foods and veganized standard recipes, the book offers everything the cook requires in one single volume. The recipes are not complex, yet they combine a complexity of savory, sweet, and spicy flavors. Both the novice cook and the seasoned home chef can take pleasure in preparing Robin's artful food compositions.
Reviewed July 2003