Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cookbooks: Pure Vegan & Vegan Eats World

In a year that was awash in vegan cookbooks, two really stood out for me.

One was Vegan Eats World: 300 International Recipes for Savoring the Planet (DaCapo Lifelong) by Terry Hope Romero, the author of Veganomicon. The other was Pure Vegan by Joseph Shuldiner. While both books are excellent, for me it’s not an either or proposition. Both add great value to their region of gastronomy. That is, both do wonderful things with a style of cooking that (arguably), for many years, didn’t produce much that was worth eating.

Debut author Joseph Shuldiner is a graphic designer. So it probably goes without saying that Pure Vegan is gorgeous. The photos, the layout, the colors… the French flaps! It’s a beautiful production. What makes it sublime, though, are the recipes. They are not gimmicky, as some vegan recipes can be. Here food is not masquerading as other food: it’s mostly just being what it is: beautiful, healthful, simply prepared and wonderfully plated.

My personal highlights: I loved the Potato Torte. When finished, it looks like something that might be coated in cheese or cream or other non-vegan products, but neither is the case.

Another oh-so-simple idea, here beautifully presented is the (No) Cheese Plate, intended to be served as finger food with wine. All of the ideas are good, but the recipe for a Fig Paste that looks and serves like a cheese or pate is very good and very simple.

For me, however, the star is Nutty Mushroom Risotto, making it the first time I’ve ever had a truly “creamy” vegan risotto… without missing the cheese! The secret is hazelnuts: skinned, toasted and coarsely chopped.

Vegan Eats World offers 300 recipes to Pure Vegan’s 70, but many of these are fast and sweet: lots of sauces and spreads and other things that will go into making other dishes. For much of really good vegan cooking, that seems to be key. If you had to stop and make Toasted Rice Powder every time you want to have a Southeast Asian salad, it would be time consuming. But if you already have some prepared, you’re a little more ready to go.

Being properly vegan has to include that kind of thinking. Most of the time you can’t just blithely run to the market and buy what’s available. You have to be able to make vegan alternatives for everything in your pantry if need be.

In that regard, Vegan Eats World is superior as it hand holds you through all of those steps. Vegan tzatziki and raita and even a parmigiana topping for lasagnas and other pasta dishes made of chickpea flour. The recipes here are terrific, as well. Though it was both complicated and time-consuming, I loved Sesame Panko Tempeh Cutlets: kind of katsu made with tempeh. A Pad Thai made with avocado and spicy greens kept me from missing any shrimp or eggs that might have been in the original. Lots of great curries and stews featuring saitan or tempeh.

As the title promises, Vegan Eats World is a culinary trip around the world: vegan-style. ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



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