This month we feature a volume of family-tested recipes that even finicky kids will love.
The Vegetarian Family Cookbook
By Nava Atlas
Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, 2004
While Popeye, in his historic cartoons, chucked can after can of spinach down his gullet with lightening speed, parents don't always find it so easy to coerce their kids to eat the green stuff on their plates. Cookbook author Nava Atlas, however, knows just what it takes to prepare meals that please children as well as the adults in the family. Over the years, she has been compiling vegetarian recipes and creating her own that were well received by her children and their numerous friends.
Nava's children, now twelve and fourteen, are lifelong vegetarians. She tells her readers, "What has stood out for me over the course of time is that children are more open to new adventures at the table than their parents give them credit for, especially if the food is kept simple and served attractively in a warm and welcoming setting."
Continually presenting a wide variety of new foods and reintroducing them without pressure, she discovered the secret to pleasing children was serving foods that are uncomplicated and that have eye appeal. Nava admits that both veg and non-veg, kids do have quirky ideas about food. Creating recipes with the flexibility to be embellished for adult tastes or dressed down for kids is key to success. Many of the recipes have suggestions to "Embellish it, Make it a meal, or For Picky Eaters."
Tips for Busy Cooks offers a compact set of suggestions, such as:
Nava encourages newcomers into the vegetarian realm with Reasons to Go Vegetarian and Great Reasons to Go Organic as well as extensive notes on ingredients used in the recipes. Her family has been vegetarian for many years but has recently adopted the vegan path. Making the book highly adaptable to both vegans and vegetarians, Nava has added a notation close to the title of each recipe designating whether it is vegan, has a vegan option, or contains dairy or honey.
Facing the breakfast challenge, Nava presents a host of ideas some may consider unconventional as morning starters. For instance, she suggests Breakfast Burritos or Quesadillas, Pasta for Breakfast, Morning Parfaits, or Breakfast Sandwiches. Many recipes like the Basic Yogurt Pancakes include variations that even turn them into Waffles. A variety of granolas that would make tasty fare for any family includes Classic Crunchy Granola, Cinnamon-Apple Granola, and Cranberry-Pecan Granola, all with plenty of additional hints to keep breakfast interesting.
When nothing will do but a soothing, comforting soup, there are choices like Navy Bean Soup with Corn and Red Peppers or the Streamlined Minestrone. Perhaps a dish like Seitan Meat and Potatoes Stew has even more appeal. Adding crispy croutons, garlic toasts, or seasoned pita chips enhance the winsomeness of Coconut Curried Vegetable Stew.
"I'm a huge fan of salads," Nava says. Because she recognizes that salad is not always high on the list of kids' favorites, she offers possibilities like creating tasty dips to make vegetables more appealing. Early on she discovered that instead of serving tossed salads, kids find platters of raw vegetables more to their liking. With their more mature tastes, her teenage children now enjoy the wide variety of innovative, yet easy prep salads their mom offers in the salad chapter.
Pasta and noodles are always successful at winning kids over at the dinner table. Nava suggests aiming for the more nutritious choices like the Asian buckwheat noodles called soba, whole-grain ramen noodles, bifun rice noodles, whole-wheat somen, and whole-wheat udon as well as the American counterparts like corn, quinoa, soy, spelt, and artichoke pasta. Kids will surely gravitate to reliable standbys like Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese that she offers with both dairy and vegan options.
Enlisting the children of some of her skeptical friends to test her tofu recipes, she notes that some friends suggested she not use the "T" word. She ignored the notion and found the kids fully receptive when she served baked tofu with sizzling fajitas. Among the plethora of creative choices, the Tofu and Seitan chapter offers a delightful vegan Eggless Tofu Quiche made with silken tofu seasoned with curry powder, garlic, and a long list of vegetable variations.
Included in the 275 original recipes are unique main-dish treasures like Vegetable Bread Pudding, side dishes such as Orange and Maple-Glazed Beets, and winsome treats like Basic Muffins Seven Ways and Fruit Cobblers of All Sorts.
Nava imparts an impressive volume of information within the numerous sidebars sprinkled throughout the book. She emphasizes, "Don't Throw Away Those Broccoli Stems!" and proceeds to give directions for trimming and including them on a raw veggie platter. One sidebar suggests Five Simple Ways to Serve Potatoes, while another describes the differences between yellow and orange-flesh sweet potatoes.
The Appendix contains a Nutritional Glossary for Vegetarian and Vegan Diets describing the basics--a valuable guide for long-time vegetarians and newcomers alike. Suggested books and publications, related web sites, selected sources, and a thorough index complete the book.
In The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, author Nava Atlas reveals the many cooking secrets she devised to please her kids, their friends, and the adults in the family, too. An invaluable reference for preparing great tasting vegetarian and vegan meals for families, the book belongs on every home bookshelf whether vegetarian or not. Most important, the mainly vegan recipes emphasize health benefits and eating pleasure for everyone.