This month we review two cookbooks on different ends of the vegan spectrum. One focuses on gourmet haute cuisine while the other emphasizes quick-and-easy food preparation.
The Artful Vegan
By Eric Tucker with Bruce Enloe
Ten Speed Press, 2003
The Artful Vegan is the result of a unique staff that thrives on creative freedom and finds inspiration in every corner of its culinary surroundings. From a visit to a farmers' market to encountering a purveyor's new chanterelle to gleaning ideas from global cuisines, the restaurant crew blossoms with extraordinary teamwork in presenting their elegant visionary vegan dishes to appreciative diners.
Chef Eric Tucker says,". . . creating a dish is very much like composing a song. We always make musical references when tasting a dish. It needs more of a top note . . .It needs more bottom end, more bass. . ." When originating a dish for the following day's special, the three chefs literally sit down at a table and brainstorm ideas together with each contributing artful components to enhance the final symphony of flavors, textures, and colors drawn largely from the produce of small, local organic farms.
Tucker is passionate about every aspect of food and dotes on the idea of personally visiting the farms and talking food with the farmers that grow the produce for the restaurant. Perusing the cookbook, one can quickly recognize that holding the position of executive chef is not just a job for Tucker but an opportunity to express his talent with cutting edge cuisine in the still new arena of vegan cooking.
Former Sous-Chef Bruce Enloe, a self-taught wine aficionado, was the restaurant's wine steward. He is an avid proponent of organic wines and takes a creative approach to pairing wines with food, sometimes complementing them with the flavors lacking in the dish or mirroring the flavors that stand out in a food.
The cookbook's title The Artful Vegan is apropos of each of the artful dishes presented in the book as well as the attractive graphic design. Each page introducing the various chapters is enhanced with a soft, cream-colored background. The listing of recipes in the chapter appears in burnt sienna printer's ink, while a soft-focus close-up photo of a featured food rests at the top of the page. The full-color pages featuring outstanding dishes are breathtaking, the food styling magnificent.
The appetizer section features 23 amazing recipes, each offering complex flavors. Many of the starters require several components, yet the directions are so clear they make the dish convincingly doable. Each recipe is paired with a wine suggestion and the comments preceding the recipes provide a warm insight into the workings of the kitchen wizards. The Asian Eggplant Caviar with Black Sesame Buns and Saffron-Lotus Root Pickles or the Sesame-Crusted Oyster Mushroom Calamari over Burdock Kimpira will easily tempt foodies who enjoy preparing exceptional restaurant dishes. But then, the other 21 starters are equally exciting.
The dramatic color photos of the Southwest Salad Timbale with Nopal Cactus and the Indian Summer Grilled Fig and Radicchio on a Rosemary Skewer with Cherry Tomato Salad are typical examples of the elaborate preparations that are an everyday event at the restaurant. Soups, pastas, and entrées all receive the same awesomely intricate approach as evidenced in the entrée dish of African Teff Cakes with Fava-Wild Mushroom Wat and Carrot-Chile Chutney.
Even the names of the dishes do not follow traditional cookbook styles with minimalist titles. These chefs are proud to show off their creations and spare nothing in their descriptive recipe names.
Northern California is home to the most abundant produce California grows. The Artful Vegan takes full advantage of the diverse heirloom varieties of fruits, berries, and vegetables available from small specialty farms. The outstanding desserts feature unique seasonal items like huckleberries in the Pear-Huckleberry Trifle and persimmons in the Cardamom-Persimmon Flan with Dried Fruit Compote. Fresh fruit sherbets and sorbets are another opportunity pastry chef Amy Pearce takes to employ fresh fruits at the peak of their season.
The last chapter of the book, Basics, is a highly informative section that provides numerous recipes essential for preparing the dishes. The chefs suggest keeping many of the preparations on hand like the Vegetable Stock, Cashew Cream, flavored oils, and Chipotle Paste. Although some basics can be purchased ready-made, Tucker advises the home chef to expand his or her culinary repertoire by creating these from scratch.
Secrets of the professional kitchen are shared with information on smoking foods and techniques for preparing foods for cooking, such as how to skin and toast hazelnuts or how to supreme citrus fruit. A brief glossary and a detailed index listing the recipe titles as well as featured ingredients complete the book.
The Artful Vegan lives up to its title. It's a singular book that brings vegan cooking into the realm of haute cuisine. While the field of gourmet vegan food preparation is still in its infancy, this volume sets the mark high and presently stands unequalled.
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Vegetarian Meals for People-on-the-Go
By Vimala Rodgers
Hay House, Inc., 2002
The special feature of these recipes is the ease of preparation, bringing the time spent in the kitchen to about 30 minutes. The author even tells us that an eight-year-old child can prepare most of the recipes in the book. Today, many people are too busy to cook, but if they found a collection of appealing, healthy recipes that could be assembled in as little as 30 minutes, they might be enticed to return to the kitchen for short preps like these.
Vimala gained her knowledge of the vegetarian lifestyle from many sources and offers eating tips and shortcuts in The Basics of Vegetarian Cooking chapter. Tips like buying organic whenever possible, including nuts in your diet, considering bananas and avocados as meat substitutes, including plenty of raw foods in the diet, drinking water 30 minutes before or after a meal, and many more give the reader a few basic guidelines.
Informative and well presented is a brief section on stocking the pantry with condiments that enhance the flavor of foods naturally like whole sea salt, Tamari, and apple cider vinegar. The author also includes a few paragraphs on items to avoid, such as MSG. Food manufacturers have many ways to hide monosodium glutamate, such as in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, plant protein extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, textured protein, autolyzed yeast, and hydrolyzed oat flour.
A kitchen philosopher, Vimala writes, "The attitude of the cook automatically spills into the preparation of the meal. . . . Cooking is an opportunity to bless those whom you love--not only with the food you prepare, but also with the heartfelt energy you put into it."
The sections on Main Dishes, Rice, and Tofu feature recipes that are realistic everyday foods for a busy family with dishes that are bean, tofu, or rice based and are hearty. Many of the recipes appear in beautiful, full-page color with attractive food styling that turns a simple, earthy dish into an irresistible course such as the Chinese Spaghetti, Tofu-chiladas, or Tofu No-Meat Balls.
Although recipes like the Nutso Pesto, Magic Black Beans, and Vimala's Holiday Nut Loaf are not accompanied by appealing photos, they are equally inviting. For the families who love burgers, the Earth Burger or Oat Burger, with their preparation time a mere 10 minutes, are both health-enhancing meals in a bun.
Soups and Vegetable Dishes provide an array of treats from simply steamed artichokes to Spaghetti Squash. Vimala views a puree of vegetables as a gourmet touch that can dress up other vegetables like baked potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or parsnips. Her Puree Medley with Carrots, Beets, or Yams offers the family chef a quick and easy way to add color and spark to a simple dish.
The family salad doesn't have to be the same dull bowl of lettuce night after night if one selects from Sara's Mexican Salad or Aloha Delight Salad, or even a Sweet and Sour Beet Salad. Salad dressing can be made almost instantly by combining the ingredients for Ginger and Lemon Dressing in the blender. A quick hand at the brown bag sandwich, the author offers Brown Baggin' It, a brief section with great suggestions for the nutritious sandwich.
In the Breakfast and Appetizer sections tempting photos display Killer Granola and French Toast, both made with ingredients most home cooks have on hand. For a dazzling appetizer, the Avocado Cups pictured in brilliant color are alluring and could actually double as an ideal light lunch or could be enhanced with rice or beans for a satisfying dinner dish.
Among the 101 recipes are some impressively easy-to-make desserts. Holiday Mince Pie, Basic Apple Crisp, Cranberry Crisp, and Blissful Brownies are winning temptations. In Breads, the final section of the book, Vimala says that breads are the eighth wonder of the world and marvels that "an innocuous wet mass of ingredients, then, as they blend and interact, a new shape emerges." She has recipes for Cornbread, Quick & Easy Spelt Bread, and Kaleidoscope Bread that are featured in some of the photos.
Though Vimala refers to her recipe collection as vegan, she does occasionally use ingredients such as honey and ghee. Vegans can easily substitute these items with extra virgin olive oil or an unrefined sweetener.
There is no nutritional analysis for the recipes, but the reader will quickly notice they contain only a minimum of oils and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes. One cannot doubt the high fiber content of the collection and the overall health focus.
Vegetarian Meals for People-on-the-Go is the perfect book for families who want to provide the best for their children and themselves. The simplicity and ease of preparation are exceptional features as are the easy-to-locate ingredients. Busy home chefs will find this book an excellent introduction to vegan cooking because of its uncomplicated approach to truly nutritious meal preparation. The book's attractive presentation, coated paper, and color photos make this volume an ideal gift to introduce a newcomer to a healthy lifestyle and delicious vegan cooking.
Reviewed March 2004