Monday, May 26, 2014

125 Best Vegan Recipes

125 Best Vegan Recipes 
Authors: Beth Gurney and Maxine Chuck 
Publisher: Robert Rose (2014) 

As a gang of foodies and (mostly) veggie-lovers, our family is always on the lookout for ways to keep meals interesting. Nobody ascribes to a purely vegan, or even a vegetarian lifestyle, but between the economy being the way it is and the new health concerns that arise with age, meatless (or less-meat) meals are beginning to take centre stage. Whether you abstain from animal products completely for ethical, political, economical or health reasons, or simply want less meat on your plate, vegan cookbooks are a great place to start. 125 Best Vegan Recipes by Beth Gurney and Maxine Chuck is one of the newest books of the type on the market and aims to be a resource for fledgling and long-standing vegetarians alike.

Vegan Recipes is a tome of simple, approachable recipes perfect for new and seasoned meat-freers alike. Appetizers, light mains, casseroles, grains, vegetable sides and desserts all have a home here – there’s even a section just for kids! If you’re leery of tofu, there are many legume and nut based options as well as a sizable quantity of “meat analogue” based recipes. Generally, I’m not a fan of relying on “fake” meat and dairy simply to make something vegan – it seems like too much of a cop-out for those who want to claim they’re vegan to follow a trend, not to mention the majority of them aren’t particularly nutritious. However, I do understand that most of this book’s intended audience are looking for convenience and a familiar flavour and texture moreso than “classical” vegan recipes, and for those transitioning to the lifestyle (especially with children), their use fits the bill. That said, some of the “recipes” in this book aren’t really recipes at all, but compilations of store-bought mock meats, jarred sauces, pasta or grains and a few vegetables. Anybody who can make standard-issue spaghetti and meatballs out of dried pasta, a jar of marinara and a box of pre-made, spherical meat can make a vegan version – without the need for a Spaghetti and Soy Balls (p.80) recipe.

Browsing through the offerings in Vegan Recipes with a mind towards “scratch” cooking, I settled on the “Soups” (p. 40) chapter. The first one I tried, Leek and Potato Soup (p. 50), called for rice milk as the “cream” – a move that, in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t followed. The rice milk was watery, sweet and separated with the cooking time – interfering with the flavour of the ingredients. I did make a follow-up batch with sunflower milk, though, and the resulting bowls were luscious and flavourful – leading me to believe that it was just that one ingredient at fault. The Tomato Soup (p. 54) was much more successful, especially when I added multigrain pasta and used home-roasted tomatoes. The sweet, savoury and tangy natures of the (admittedly standard) ingredients worked spectacularly here, and I liked that the soup was a little chunkier. It was definitely a recipe to come back to again, especially since there were some variations I can’t wait to try!

Tomato Pasta Soup
Tomato Soup (p. 54)
One of the stumbling blocks this book poses for many would-be cooks is the lack of photography. To its credit, Vegan Recipes does contain some full-page colour photos, but they are inserted in bulk rather than accompanying their namesake recipe. It’s worth noting, too, that a fair number of those were not taken of the dish itself, and were instead sourced from stock footage sites. While I’m sure the intentions were good in this respect, it’s worth remembering that the Cranberry Orange Scones (p. 171) emerging from your oven will not necessarily mimic the gorgeous picture.

A vegan diet is not necessarily the golden ticket to a lifetime of health and wellness. It can, and often does, rely on processed foods, refined grains, packaged meals and few “originally vegan” recipes. That said, getting into the kitchen in the first place is a wonderful first step towards embracing a new food-related lifestyle! While seasoned vegan cooks will scoff at the offerings in Beth Gurney and Maxine Chuck’s 125 Best Vegan Recipes, the book will open up a realm of possibilities to the newer cook and remove the aura of intimidation that the label “vegan” can entail.