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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 feature two books that promote delicious compassionate cooking.

The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook

By Joanne Stepaniak

Book Publishing Company 2003

Paper, $15.95

Jo Stepaniak's well-loved The Uncheese Cookbook has now morphed into The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, a larger, more graphically appealing, gastronomic 10th anniversary classic of first-rate faux cheese delights. There's hardly a soul who doesn't gravitate to the heady flavors of a dish featuring cheese. For vegans, who have kissed their cheese goodbye and opted for a compassionate lifestyle, Stepaniak's "uncheese" dishes are a welcome return with a dairy-free blessing.

In her introduction Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D., writes that dairy products have been actively promoted in the U.S. since 1916 when the first North American food guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended the consumption of 10 percent of one's daily calories from milk, about one cup. In recent years, that one daily cup of milk has become as obese as its consumers with the food guide pyramid now recommending two to three servings, or 2 to 3 cups daily.

Uncheese Cookbook With the support of government subsidies, the heavily promoted dairy products are affordable and ubiquitous. Milk and cheese advertising campaigns bombard Americans from the birth of their children to school lunch programs to fast food outlets in every mall and shopping center.

Melina discusses the downside of dairy consumption citing studies that indicate daily consumption of milk products does not improve bone health and actually leads to an increased risk of bone fracture. Additionally, she says that cow's milk is not "'nature's perfect food' except for baby calves." For humans, dairy consumption is linked to higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, childhood-onset diabetes, allergies, iron deficiency anemia, and Crohn's disease.

The benefits of "uncheese," however, are many. While dairy products contain no fiber, Stepaniak's totally plant-based recipes provide plenty of fiber plus vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that offer the body powerful antioxidants to protect us from destructive free radicals. Many plant foods contain calcium the body can readily absorb, such as the dark green leafy vegetables, legumes and soyfoods, fortified soy and rice milk, nuts and nut butters, fruits, and blackstrap molasses.

The Introduction contains several charts that make it easy to determine adequate nutrient intake. One exceptional chart lists the calcium content of several foods and shows the percentage of calcium the body is able to absorb.

Stepaniak's portion of the Introduction explains "uncheese" as "rich-tasting mixtures of dairy-free whole foods that are made into spreads, dips, sauces, and blocks." Experimenting with creating plant-based cheese substitutes since the late1980's, she was inspired by numerous people who found it difficult to give up cheese. After her first "uncheese" book was released, a few commercial food manufacturers began imitating her recipes, but with their refined starches and chemicals, they could never duplicate her homemade versions made with pure whole foods.

The author informs her reader that "uncheeses" are more vibrant than dairy-based cheeses. Because of their fresh ingredients, they are subject to spoilage and should always be refrigerated. To retain their flavor, texture, and moisture content, "uncheese" should not be frozen.

For the many people who suffer food sensitivities and allergies, Stepaniak has thoughtfully listed problem ingredients in tandem with nutritional analysis at the bottom of each recipe.

While most of the ingredients used in the recipes are familiar vegan pantry items, the few exceptions, such as kuzu, chickpea flour, arrowroot, and umeboshi plum paste, are listed in the section Ingredients that May Be New to You.

Along with an explanation of how to best understand the Nutritional Analyses, the author confidently expresses the vast difference people will notice in their weight, cholesterol levels, and how they feel when they switch from dairy cheeses to "uncheeses."

While many of the original recipes have been reformulated, Stepaniak has created a host of innovative new "uncheese" dishes for this 10th anniversary edition. Among the new treats in the Spreads, Dips, Pestos, Sprinkles section are Besto Pesto, Chickpea Havarti Spread, Cashew Sesame Bean Cheez, and the quick-fix Tofu Paté. Most of these are almost instant preps with the aid of a blender or food processor. While many of her recipes appear simple, her genius is in the development of the recipes

Fabulous sauces with that irresistible cheese flavor can be found in Chick-E-Cheez Sauce that can also double as a delectable fondue. All-American Cheez Sauce or Melty White Cheez are ideal for spooning over vegetables or baked potatoes.

Jo Stepaniak Seven steamy kettles of soup that ooze with cheese flavor include Curried Cauliflower Cheez Soup and French Onion Soup Gruyere among the other equally tempting varieties. The Fondue section stands out with another seven specialties such as Smoky Fondue and South-of-the-Border Fondue.

Mouthwatering classics like Macaroni and Cheez, Creamy Vegetable Chowder, and Gooey Grilled Cheez Sandwich with attractive full-page color photos are nestled in the Pasta, Polenta, Main Dishes section. Could anyone resist the Bare Naked Polenta? Its name alone entices, yet the suggested variations dress the polenta with delicious dignity.

Creating a traditional quiche poses a constant challenge to vegans who yearn for that memorable culinary queen of dishes. Yearn no longer. Classic Quiche lives on page 102 with variations that feature mushrooms, broccoli, squash, scallions, and spinach. Another hard to recreate specialty is soufflé. Stepaniak's Tomato and Cheez Souffle and Spinach and Cheez Souffle keep those wonderful classics alive in the vegan kitchen.

Vegan focaccia quickly satisfies that overwhelming urge for a bread to sink-your-teeth-into with the robust combination of Carmelized Onion, Olive, and Walnut Focaccia or the two other hearty variations in the Pizzas, Breads, Little Bites, Sandwiches section.

Stepaniak says, "Block cheeses are among the most challenging to convert to dairy-free versions." Still, she succeeds. The reader will find crucial information on the page introducing Block Cheeses. The chapter brings back the captivating flavors of Gooda Cheez, Swizz Cheez, Colby, Buffalo Mostarella, Muenster Cheez, Monterey Jack Cheez, and even Brie, some with parodies of their familiar names.

Dreamy desserts bring the cookbook to a sweet finish with specialties like Chocolate Almond Cheezcake and Pumpkin Cheezcake that will send aficionados into revelry. Other sweets include Peanut Butter Fudge Pie and Easy Cheezy Danish along with several piecrust recipes.

No vegan cookbook shelf can be complete without The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, a finely cut gem that brings so much joy to the dinner table. Home chefs who treasured Jo Stepaniak's first "uncheese" cookbook, will appreciate the grander reformulated 10th anniversary edition. With the popularity of her uncheese recipes, no doubt there are many dog-eared, food-spattered first editions awaiting replacement.

Foods that Don't Bite Back

By Sue Donaldson

Arsenal Pulp Press, 2003

Paper $16.95

While cooking and animal rights may seem totally unrelated, author Sue Donaldson combines the two subjects to bring animal suffering awareness directly onto the dinner plate. Donaldson clearly describes the misery animals raised for food experience before they reach the stockpot or skillet. The major focus of the book, however, is a banquet of vegan recipes with an uncluttered presentation.

Foods that Don't Bite Back is a catchy title that just may invite the curious reader to explore a subject never considered and discover facts that give pause to traditional eating patterns. While the Introduction may be material that is preaching to the chorus, the uninitiated could find the vegan philosophy enlightening.

Ovo-lacto vegetarians may be unaware of the stressful lives of dairy cows and layer chickens discussed in the Introduction. The author recognizes that while many people realize that becoming vegan may contribute to a healthier lifestyle as well as ethical and ecological correctness, people resist change.

"While it's true that, on first becoming a vegan, there is some start-up time required to learn new recipes, we are not talking about a significant time investment here . . . it takes no more hours in the day to eat plants than it does to eat animals," Donaldson writes.

The vegan diet is viewed as extreme, yet, when legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables replace the animal-based diet, dramatic health improvements occur naturally without the need to count calories or servings. Cholesterol intake drops to zero, fat consumption falls below the 30% limit recommended by the American Heart Association, and increased fiber intake improves digestion and elimination.

Donaldson addresses the pesticide concerns by encouraging the purchase of organic produce that may also send a message to the farming industry to reduce the use of pesticides. She also counters the familiar protein and calcium misconceptions by assuring readers that the quality of plant protein is equal to animal protein. Calcium is easily obtained from plant sources like dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, broccoli, and bok choy as well as from almonds, tahini, beans, tofu, and calcium fortified foods.

Newcomers transitioning to a vegan lifestyle will learn strategies for dining out and traveling and are encouraged to seek out other vegans through the internet or vegetarian organizations. The author alerts the reader about hidden animal ingredients in common foods and offers substitutions for cooking and baking.

Donaldson's collection of original recipes begins with breakfast and lunch tips that may bring newcomers exploring the health food market to discover excellent prepared items like eggless mayonnaise and tempeh. The Starters section offers tasty appetizers like the easy prep sage-infused White Bean and Herb Spread and Pecan Mushroom Paté.

The Soups section offers recipes for the steaming kettle as well as chilled specialties quickly prepared in the food processor. In summer, nothing beats a flavorful Gazpacho or a Chilled Cucumber Soup, while the chilly nights of winter invite hearty bowls of Hungarian Mushroom Soup or Spicy Root Soup. Foods That Don't Fight Back

The chapter on Side Dishes includes Salads, Vegetables, and Grains with temptations like the mouth-watering Potato-Artichoke Salad with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette, Baked Red Peppers with Garlic and Capers, and Barley Mushroom Pilaff.

The author's Main Dishes are composed of Beans, Tempeh, Tofu, Soups, Pasta/Pizza, and others. Among the lentil recipes is the outstanding Tarragon Lentil-nut Loaf made with green lentils, walnuts, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and seasonings that feature the pungent vitality of fresh tarragon. Curries are a favorite way to include legumes in the diet with tasty combos like Spicy Chickpea Curry or Indonesian-style Tempeh and Coconut Curry.

A main dish that combines both sweet and savory flavors is the Moroccan-style Tempeh with Apricots, Dates, and Olives. Enticing international entrees include Korean Tofu, Ribollita, and Hearty Lentil Soup with Cloves.

The sweet tooth is well tended with fourteen tantalizing recipes in the Desserts section. Cake lovers can revel in chocolate ecstasy with Frosted Chocolate Cake while the Triceratopped Spice Cake features three different toppings. Donaldson says the Carrot Fruitcake is "So healthy we needn't count it as a dessert."

Other desserts include fruity treats like Apple-Cranberry Maple Crisp, Banana-Poppyseed Muffins, and Ice Wine Peaches as well as global favorites like Almond Biscotti and Green Tea Tofu Ice Cream.

The Glossary of Ingredients does an excellent job of explaining unfamiliar ingredients like asafoetida, egg replacer, sambar powder, nutritional yeast, and different kinds of curry paste. The orientation on tofu is a thorough, concise explanation of the various types of bean curd that will be appreciated by the newcomer to vegan cookery.

Menu Planning is a brief but helpful example of how to compose a well-planned vegan meal and includes meals like a summer dinner, winter lunch, special occasion dinner, dinner for a crowd, and even a picnic meal.

The final chapter of the book discusses Vegan Pets with the author's first-hand experience maintaining her healthy dog on a totally vegan diet. She emphasizes the importance of seeking advice from a veterinarian who is vegan supportive to ensure a balanced diet. While cats are natural carnivores, she offers sources for taurine and vitamin supplements to maintain felines on a nutritious vegan diet.

Reading and Website resources offer a useful guide to new vegans or vegetarians that includes vegan nutrition, animal rights, travel, pet sources, and vegetarian organizations and publications.

The heart of the book is an excellent collection of original recipes that take the mystique out of the plant-based lifestyle and provide answers to common questions. The recipes are not complex, nor do they require anyone skilled in cooking to experience the benefits of a healthful vegan diet. Foods that Don't Bite Back is a simple, handy guide for new vegans and a welcome selection of new recipes for long-time vegans as well.

Reviewed July 2004

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