When I made the choice to become a vegetarian over a decade ago, I had to re-learn what I knew about vegetables. At that time, I came to fully realize that vegetables aren’t just for salads and that being a vegetarian means that it’s not just vegetables but also plants in general I needed to focus on. Since it was just my husband (who was already a vegetarian) and I, we subsisted on lots of pasta, cheese, salads, and tofu. It wasn’t until the birth of my daughter five years ago that I really started to consider what being a vegetarian would mean for her. I couldn’t fall back on what I knew as a child — although my mom is an awesome cook and made dinners from scratch it was still very meat-based. I wanted to ensure that my daughter would be happy, healthy, and eat a variety of foods. If you want to talk about origin stories this is how I started my journey to improve my home cooking techniques and skills and, it is also how I started to Instagram my food and fuel my desire to review cookbooks. I feel that maybe something I’m trying would be of interest to another home cook! With each new book I look for recipes that I know my family would like to eat but I also look for recipes that push me to try new ingredients or techniques. Cooking, like anything else in life, requires patience and practice. Cookbooks provide a great opportunity to develop culinary skills, a repertoire of recipes, and, most importantly, confidence.
I’m most definitely settled and rooted here in Nova Scotia which makes it more of a challenge to seek out culinary learning opportunities. But, as the Natural Gourmet Center in New York City has done with their new book, The Complete Vegan Cookbook, is to take over 41 years of knowledge and put that knowledge into the hands of home cooks. In the late 1970s, Annemarie Colbin, PhD, founded the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in hope of helping people to learn how food connects and intersects with our health and the way we feel. Colbin, a life-long learner, dedicated herself to researching the different food philosophies and ways people eat from around the world. Since she didn’t feel that one way was any better than another, she developed her own guide to “mindful eating.” With the Seven Principals of Food Selection — whole, seasonal, local, traditional, balanced, fresh, and delicious — Colbin’s aim is to improve people’s health and understanding about food.
The Complete Vegan Cookbook is not really looking to change people into vegans but expose people to cooking and eating plants in new ways that don’t involve meat. The authors have indicated which recipes are gluten-free (g), soy-free (s), and nut-free (n) for ease of reference. The over 150 recipes are organized into 10 chapters: Plant-Based Essentials, Snacks & Starters, Soups & Stews, Salads & Sides, Weeknight Dinners, Weekend Feasts, Weekday Breakfasts, Weekend Brunches, Desserts, and, Juices & Brews. What I really appreciated about this cookbook is how extensively the authors go into how to source food, build up your pantry, what equipment to use, and basic cooking fundamentals. In the same way students in their classes would be given a solid foundation upon which to grow, home cooks are really set up for success. So, if all of this is new to you then the first 60 or so pages really delve into everything you need to know before making any recipes. The knowledge is presented in a very practical way.
After trying 10 recipes, I’ve had ten delicious outcomes! One of the most delicious recipes I’ve made this year comes from this book — the Chickpea Crepes w/ Curry Filling and Mango Sauce are incredible! I found that the chickpea flour combined with unbleached all-purpose flour made for crepes that were easy to cook (I find that most gluten-free waffles, crepes, and pancakes are challenging to make because they can stick to the pan and they’re more delicate making them hard to flip). The chopped, fresh herbs really gave this crepe a savory edge and the curry filling (chickpeas, carrots, onion, potato, spinach, coconut milk, seasoning) was the perfectly paired with the crepes. Best of all? The Mango Sauce — mango, tomato, shallot, lime — was so unexpected. Before reading the recipe, I assumed the sauce would be sweet but to my surprise and delight the sauce was neither sweet nor savory but a blend of the two. I love how fresh the sauce tasted! And, with the rich, coconut-milk based filling it added to the whole flavour of the dish. My 5-year-old loved this recipe and it’s one I’ll be making again.
When I posted to Instagram that I’d received The Complete Vegan Cookbook to review, one of the authors (Rebecca Miller Ffrench) urged me to give the Yuca Focaccia a try. The Yuca root (aka cassava) is a new ingredient to me although, as the authors explain, it’s a food staple for millions of people in the tropical and subtropical regions. The yuca root was easy to source at my local grocery store — a one-pound yuca root was $1.29 (CDN). The recipe provides tips on how to choose and prepare your root, as well as providing helpful step-by-step photos on how to remove the skin and core. Cassava flour was more challenging to find. While available online, I wanted to see if any local grocers stocked it. I found one store here in Halifax that carries the flour ($27 CDN for a 2 lb bag — comparable to what I could buy online). Pricy but I was curious to try the focaccia recipe as well as the recipe for Sweet Potato-Cassava Tortillas, so I bought a bag. Both the bread and tortillas turned out so well! My family and I appreciated the texture and mild flavour of the yuca/cassava. And, I found it is an ingredient which is easy to use and one that yields great results.
Continuing my journey to make foods that support the health of myself and of family, I really appreciate how well-tested the recipes are and the degree to which the ability of home cooks is observed. The Complete Vegan Cookbook is full of delicious recipes that you’ll want to make again. If you’re already vegan or observe a plant-based diet, then this book offers recipes for you to add to your collection. Not vegan? Then let this cookbook be a guide to all the wonderful plant-based meals you can make and enjoy! I know, for myself, I’ve let this book offer inspiration to perk up my “Meatless Monday” fare. If you’re curious to see what I’ve been making, then checkout my custom Instagram hashtag #completelyeatworthyvegancookbook or my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Natural Gourmet Institute, Penguin Random House and Clarkson Potter Publishers for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.