Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A review of two vegan cookbooks by a wannabe vegan

I've been doing a lot of vegan cooking lately. Ever since my mother-in-law got me "Happy Herbivore" by Lindsay Nixon for Christmas, I've turned cooking into a really fun game. It's called, "Let's see how healthy we can make everything we eat." I also purchased "Vegan with a Vengeance," a cookbook that was recommended to me by a coworker. I love both books, but I have qualms with both of them as well. I appreciate both of them and the things I have learned from them.

"Happy Herbivore" is a good book for those who are just starting to attempt to be vegan (like me!) It's also for people who are probably cooking in their kitchen for the first time. I've loved most of the recipes so far. I made nomelets (round egg-looking things that are a substitute for egg omelets, but are actually tofu) and breakfast sausages and muffins and cinnamon rolls and meatballs and brownies. Most of them have been absolutely excellent.

However, Nixon tends to oversimplify things. The breakfast sausage recipe just doctors an already-existing vegan sausage product. I can't stand doctored recipes. One of my ex-boyfriend's mothers would doctor up some already-packaged product and make it "better," but it really wasn't. The breakfast sausages were okay, but not spectacular.

But doctoring and using packaged products makes the recipes fast, convenient and obtainable. I feel like I'm spending LESS time in the kitchen making MORE things. If you WANT to make your own salsa and boil your own beans, then no one's stopping you. "Happy Herbivore" offers convenience.

A frustrating thing I've found with Nixon's vegan cooking (and vegan cooking in general) is that it seems to go against certain irrefutable scientific cooking rules. She said (either in her cookbook or on her blog, and I'm paraphrasing) "Instead of using butter, just use a cold banana!" A cold banana in no way espouses the properties of butter in cooking. Nixon's cooking tries to be mostly fat-free, but fats are needed, in some cases, to make a quality product.

One very specific example is frosting and glaze. When I made vegan cinnamon rolls and tried to make the glaze recipe, it ended quite unfortunately with the cinnamon rolls receiving a chalky crust instead of a smooth, creamy glaze. On my end, I might have needed to add more nondairy milk. But the recipe should have had the correct proportions of sugar to milk. FROSTING needs a fat element (butter, cream cheese, margarine, etc.) to make it fluffy. GLAZE does not need fat, but it needs to be made in the correct proportions in order to be effective.

I also tried to make black bean brownies, and they were just awful. I'm going to tweak the recipe and try it again. I think black bean brownies could be made edible, but that recipe wasn't really that great. It used two bananas, and tasted more like the beans and bananas than chocolate (you know, like brownies are supposed to taste like...)

I had great success with vegan meatballs and the single-serving muffins and brownies. I want to try Nixon's recipe for seitan, and I'd also like to try some of the stews and dals. I have a massive bag of turmeric waiting for some Indian and Ethiopian cuisine action.

"Happy Herbivore" goes to great lengths to make fat-free recipes, so I was in a bit of a shock when I read cake recipes in "Vegan with a Vengeance" that use gobs of canola oil and vegan margarine. Some of the recipes were in no way healthy recipes because of the fat, so I tried to make them healthy. My coworker suggested "Appetite for Reduction" as well, so I'm going to look into that to try and find some healthier choices in vegan cooking.

I made the Seitan recipe in "Vegan with a Vengeance" as-is, and then I marinated it in the jerk marinade on the following page. I made coconut rice to go with it. The lemon zest in the seitan, plus the lime juice in the jerk marinade made the dish a little too citrus-y. But that's okay, as it mixed well with the creamy rice. I dropped the seitan into the boiling broth when I was making it, rather than dropping it into the cold broth and allowing it to heat up. I had no problems with the seitan falling apart. I kneaded it for about 10 minutes to toughen it up a little more. The end result tasted like a ground chicken product.

The Coconut Heaven cupcakes were amazing. I could eat the frosting with a spoon. I added half coconut extract and half vanilla extract to the frosting for the extra coconut flavor.

I've received pretty good reviews for all of my vegan cooking so far. My husband tries everything and declares it to be delicious. He's been taking leftovers to work nearly every day. I shared my vegan meatballs, the coconut cupcakes and my vegan meatloaf with my parents, and they also thought it all was pretty good.

Unfortunately complete and total veganism doesn't quite fit my lifestyle. You can chalk it up to me being busy or you can chalk it up to me being lazy. I really don't care. Vegetarianism is easy, but a total vegan diet is a whole new level of meticulous restriction and control that I'm just not interested in following right now.

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