This month we review a book that focuses on simple nourishing recipes to feed a hungry family.
The Vegan Family Cookbook
By Chef Brian P. McCarthy
Lantern Books, 2006
At first glance, McCarthy's cookbook gives the impression of a long-treasured collection of family recipes that resides on the kitchen counter collecting smudges, rips, and kids' stick-figure artwork. The cleverly designed cover is a cordial enticement to enter the realm of The Vegan Family Cookbook and join the cooking fun.
A family cookbook in the true sense, this volume was an effort brought to fruition with the combined talents of McCarthy's wife, Karen, and his two sons who were instrumental in editing, testing, and writing.
Admitting that his family's first attempts ten years ago to eat "healthier" by going vegan felt much like a sacrifice, McCarthy, a professional chef, focused his skills on creating vegan dishes that even his non-vegetarian relatives would enjoy.
The recipe writing style presents recipes in near-skeletal form, making the dishes sound so easy even a novice cook would feel comfortable attempting a culinary fling. Headnotes are non-existent as are nutritional analyses. Directions contain a minimum of words, and ingredient measurements are abbreviated. Mini sidebars explore recipe variations, brief cook's notes, and hints for serving.
Recognizing the time constraints of busy families, the author takes advantage of some prepared items like canned beans, tomato sauce and pizza dough for recipes like the seasoned Breadsticks and soups like Minestrone or Moroccan Red Lentil.
Raising the nostalgia bar is McCarthy's recipe for Grandma's Ginger Beer and Eggless Nog, while offering some of today's hip party sips like Mojitos and Watermelon Agua Fresca. For homemade breads an array of yeast-raised recipes offer tempting choices like Maple Chunk Cinnamon Rolls or Potato Cheese Bread. There are even basic recipes for preparing Pita Bread and Pizza Crust at home. On the faster track are quick bread favorites like Banana, Corn Bread, or Zucchini Bread.
Dinner dishes feature a plethora of American stand-bys like Vegetable Noodle Casserole along with Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, Asian, and Mexican specialties. Kung Pao Tofu, typically served in Asian restaurants, becomes a family favorite at home with McCarthy's easy directions and readily available ingredients.
What family doesn't look forward to a little something sweet for special occasions? The author's dessert section offers great diversity from Cherry Bon Bons, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Lemon Nutty Biscotti, to Pies and Cakes like Rhubarb Pie and Pineapple Upsidedown Cake.
The Vegan Family Cookbook presents some invaluable cook's notes like washing all produce before using, or using light olive oil for baking and sautéing. For unfamiliar items, the reader can turn to the handy glossary, while the helpful conversion chart gives novice cooks important measurement information. A vegan pantry list, a listing of foods and their protein values, and a recipe index complete the book.
The reader won't find complicated or elegant fare between these pages, but The Vegan Family Cookbook will be warmly welcomed in any vegan household with hungry little mouths to feed. With over 400 family-geared recipes, the book is a gem of a collection of tasty, familiar dishes that will make it a treasured volume in any vegan kitchen.
Reviewed June 2007