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cookbook reviews

Bold Vegan: Food of Southeast Asia Review

Hey guys!

Today I have the privilege of sharing a visually-stunning, delicious and unique cookbook with you.  I was sent an e-book called Bold Vegan: Food of Southeast Asia by Molly and Luanne, the dynamic duo behind the book.  Right off the bat, I loved the team – Molly the vegan, and Luanne the Malaysian omnivore – because when veganizing oft-meaty recipes, it’s very useful to have someone around who knows just what the meaty version tastes like.

Now guys, I’ve read plenty of e-books, but this one takes the cake for gorgeousness.  The layout and design is bright and bold, with ample amounts of yummy food pictures strewn throughout.  Check out the website for their cookbook to see some photos of the recipes contained within – so good.

Not only is the book beautiful, it’s very information-dense as well.  Molly and Luanne discuss the various regions in Southeast Asia, talk about lesser-known ingredients (with pictures!) like condiments and spices, and each recipe has a tidbit about its country of origin.  Each recipe also has a “spicy” and “difficulty” meter (1-5), which is really useful if you’re spice-sensitive (or spice-loving), or want to see at a glance how complex a meal will be to execute.

This cookbook is small, containing around 30 recipes (including several accompaniments), which I deem a good thing – it typically means the recipes contained are well-loved and best-of-the-bunch.

Of course, there was no way to prove the recipes had that best-of-the-bunch quality unless I got in my kitchen and concocted some meals!

I started with the Spicy Coconut Laksa, a Malaysian part-noodle, part-soup kind of dish.  It ranked 4 on the spicy and difficulty meter, which was good on both fronts – not only do I love spicy food, I love a good challenge as well.

In the background information on this recipe, they mention, “You know you got your Laksa recipe down when you or your guests start slurping, wiping their brow and runny noses throughout the meal!”  Yup, that’s my kind of spicy.  And it held true!

I found this recipe to be quite easy to make (there’s just a few parts to it), though you need to have good kitchen sense in order to improvise a recipe like this.  I only used 2 red Fresno chilies instead of 3 (they were really big) and omitted the hot chili oil, mainly because my curry powder is very, very hot and bitter.  I only used 4 tablespoons of curry powder (instead of 5) for this reason.  The end result was absolute perfection – it was very spicy, but matched my tolerance level.  If I had used the full amount of spice, it would’ve been too much for me.

Another change I made was to sprinkle a little brown sugar in each bowl – it really balanced out the flavors (again, this is pretty dependent on your curry powder).  Oh, and did I mention it was one of the best things I’ve made in a while?

When I ate it for lunch, I was all, “this is pretty damn good”.  Then I had it as an afternoon snack, thinking, “hellz yeah, this is where it’s at”, and then I had it for supper, when I officially determined that I would forever dream about this noodle soup and crave it always.  I also had it for a bedtime snack, and the tiny amount of leftovers for breakfast the next day…it was that good.

So after a smashing success with the first recipe test, I set out to try the Rich Butternut Squash Curry, originating from Indonesia.  I was looking for something homey and simple, and this only had a 3/5 difficulty ranking (and for the record, 3 ended up being pretty easy for me).

This was the first time I’ve made a curry out of winter squash (I used kabocha instead of butternut since it’s what I had), but I was particularly attracted to it because of its use of curry powder, coconut milk, star anise, and a lovely homemade chili paste that uses a crap-ton of ginger and garlic.

The nice thing about winter squash is it kind of dissolves when it cooks, creating a creamy, stewy texture.  This was heaven served atop plain brown rice with plenty of cilantro.  I made this for lunch and when Mike came home, the first thing he said was, “It smells incredible in here – I could smell it in the hallway!”  Ahh yes, is there anything better than fragrant, flavorful food?

With a second success under my belt, I was feeling confident enough to tackle a 5/5 difficulty recipe, and the Crispy Stuffed Pancakes with Pickles Onions (origin Malaysia) were calling to me.

I’ve never eaten anything like a savory stuffed pancake before, but this was the perfect introduction.  You could easily pick up the pancakes, which I guess is important for street food.  The filling was a mix of spices, ground round and aromatic veggies, and the pancakes were rolled really, really thin and then folded up like a package.  Which, honestly, ended up being a lot easier than it sounded!  A little time-consuming, but that’s why Mike was around to help with this one.

I made the Sambal Sauce to go with these pancakes as they suggested in the recipe, and I wasn’t crazy about it when I ate a spoonful of it, but as a condiment for the pancakes it was ideal, especially coupled with the quick pickled onions.  The only change I made to the recipe was to halve it and add a squirt of lemon juice.

Mike and I couldn’t get enough of these – they were so good.  I really love the Fresno chilies used in the sambal sauce – they make for more of a “slow burn” as opposed to an immediate fire in the face.  This meant that I could load on the sauce and not melt.  In fact, I didn’t really notice how spicy it must’ve been until I noticed Mike and I were sniffling.  Cleared out them sinuses!

—-

So guys, that’s three for three.  And not just “pretty good” wins, I’m talking “mind-bending foodgasm” wins.  I think this proves that the recipes are indeed well loved and best-of-the-bunch.

I love exploring new culinary cuisines, and Southeast Asian food is something I haven’t spent much time with.    I’m really glad I had a chance to taste some food from this cookbook and expand my knowledge!

And I know I’m at risk of sounding like a fangirl, but I really can’t find any cons about this book.  The recipes are really well-balanced – there’s easy and hard ones, ones with simple or specialized ingredients, ones that aren’t spicy and ones that are flaming hot, ones that are healthy and others that are more treat-like.  Some recipes use tofu, tempeh or seitan, and others are just veggie-based.

So my closing thoughts about this cookbook are as follows: 1) It’s awesome.  2) It’s awesome.  3) You should check it out because it’s awesome.

cookbook reviews

The Vegan Cook’s Bible – A Review

The Vegan Cook's BibleThe Vegan Cook’s Bible, written by culinary herbalist and cookbook author Pat Crocker, is one of several cookbooks I received for Christmas. It’s unique in that the first part of the book is all about the various protective aspects of fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, including information on why a particular food is good for you, how to store it, and how to prepare it. I found this part of the cookbook neat and I learned a few things. Did you know that turnips were a decongestant, antibacterial, and a diuretic? Me neither!
This cookbook also provides information on how to keep the seven body systems healthy, including the cardiovascular system, the nervous system and immune system. Each system has a “Ten Best Bets” section where Pat details the best foods you could eat for the health of that particular system. Again, I found this fun, interesting, and a neat addition to a cookbook.
As I started exploring the recipes of this cookbook, I was half-expecting it to be a typical vegan cookbook, but even in the “basics” section, with recipes like “Coconut-Carob Milk” and “Green Tea Molasses” I knew I was in for something neat.
From the “Basics” category, I decided to make the Smooth Peanut Sauce (p153), a recommended topping for the Vegetable Pancakes (p160).
pancakes
The idea of these pancakes are not new to me – chickpea flour + veggies + skillet = awesome. I’m a big fan of chickpea flour to begin with, so I pretty much knew I would love this recipe no matter what. And I did, except I didn’t love the Smooth Peanut Sauce as a topping. Let me rephrase – the topping was delicious, and the pancakes were yummy, I just didn’t care for them together, at the same time. I needed to load on a lot of hot sauce to be happy about it.

If I were to make these pancakes again, I would choose a different topping option she suggests, such as the Apricot Tamarind Marmalade, or Umeboshi Sauce, but I just wasn’t crazy about the peanut sauce alongside the pancakes.

The peanut sauce is a really nice-tasting sauce which would be great with spring rolls or fresh rolls, or even thinned out and poured over noodles. This was an unusual peanut sauce to me since it called for applesauce. Happily, the apple flavor goes unnoticed but it does add a very polite sweetness to it.

Next up was the Soups, Salads and Sides section, and since I love soup it was a no-brainer which I would gravitate toward. I happily noticed the Spinach Cream Gazpacho (p200) – if a cookbook offers a cold soup recipe, I pretty much have to try it because a) I love cold soups and b) it’s difficult to make a truly delicious cold soup.
gazpacho
This was my favorite recipe that I tried from the entire book. It was super healthy what with the cucumber and spinach and tomatoes, and it had a sweet and almost dessert-like flavor thanks to the dates. I thought the flavors were balanced perfectly in this soup and I could have eaten the whole thing by myself in one go. If you’re going to make any cold soup, and especially if you like a slightly sweet soup, do yourself a favor and make this one! It’s heavenly.
What I would make from the Casseroles, Stews and Curries section was determined by what I had kicking around my kitchen. The Moroccan Chickpea Tagine (p230) was the result, and it was super easy to whip up. I love anything that involves throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and letting it all hang out for a while. The end result had a nice, mellow flavor with no spice coming on too strong, and it was very homey and comforting (if chickpeas, sweet potatoes and quinoa are your idea of comforting).
chickpea-tagine

In my opinion, this stew begs to be served alongside something green, and it would look beautiful with some chopped kale or spinach tossed in at the end of the cooking time. But I’m a sucker for anything green, and a meal without it just doesn’t feel right.

All in all, this stew was fairly unremarkable but perfectly pleasant in its own right. It’s simple and subdued and makes a fairly hefty portion, so you can count on leftovers if you’re busy.

I ended up skipping the Baked, Roasted and Stir-Fried Vegetable section – not on purpose, but because I thought the next recipe I’m about to show you was from that section. Whoops.

Check out the Udon Noodles with Tofu and Gingered Peanut Sauce (p304), in the Pasta, Rice and Whole Grains section:

tofu-noodles

The title of this meal contained all good things. All. Good. Things. I didn’t use udon, opting for soba noodles instead as per her recommend. This dish was fast (took about 30min) and flavorful.

I tend to dislike excessive sodium consumption, so when I saw that the recipe called for 1/3 c. of soy sauce I just couldn’t bring myself to use the full amount, instead using about ¼ c. instead (of the low-sodium variety). This didn’t seem to impact the overall flavor. If I were to make this again, I would also opt for less sugar, as Logan and I both found it a tad too sweet.

My only complaint about this dish is that I like stir-fries with loads of veggies, and this one had a modest amount of kale and broccoli. Ordinarily I would load on the bell peppers, carrots and whatever else I have handy, so when it was time to serve the meal it didn’t seem like enough vegetables. That’s likely just my own preference coming into play, though, and it was still a delicious meal.

Also from the same section came the Red Lentil and Buckwheat Pancakes (p322).
buckwheat-pancakes

Okay, so the original title of this dish is for waffles, but a gal without a waffle iron has gotta do what she’s gotta do. These pancakes were yummy, containing some healthy stuff that you typically don’t see in pancakes. I altered the recipe slightly and subbed ½ c. whole wheat flour instead of the white flour, because I don’t mind a denser pancake.

Despite the savory nature of these pancakes, they’d be super yummy with maple syrup or any fruity topping you’d typically put on pancakes. Since we ate them for lunch, we opted for a savory approach, topping them with lightly cooked vegetables and a creamy vegan white sauce. I would definitely make these pancakes again – who knew red lentils would be so easy to smuggle into pancakes? You can detect the flavor but not the texture, and it’s pleasant and not deterring. Yum!

Next came the Beverages and Snacks, and I opted for the Orange Creamsicle drink(p336) since I didn’t have to run out to the grocery store to whip it up for breakfast.
orange-smoothie

I tend to gravitate toward really simple recipes, and since I had a haul of oranges in my fridge I knew this would be the one I would try. Blending the concoction up for breakfast using homemade nut milk and freshly-squeezed orange juice, it was delicious, highly-flavored and filling. It’s on the thin and liquidy side, so those expecting a thick smoothie consistency would be wise to add less milk.

The recipe suggests it serves 2, and it doesn’t lie – but I had it all to myself for breakfast. I needed the fuel for doing morning errands!

The only change I made was to omit the flax oil – first, I’d much rather use whole flaxseed, and second, I understand the necessity of omega 3s and simply didn’t feel the need to add it to my breakfast this morning. I would also suggest adding a little ice if you want a truly cold and creamy beverage.

And last but not least, Desserts! You’ll find wholesome treats here, and some really incredible sounding treats like Parsnip Carrot Cake and Poached Peaches with Lavender Custard. However, since I have two shows to perform next week, the healthier the better, so I went with the Lemon Cream Rice Pudding (p355), which is super tame what with the brown rice and tofu-based lemon cream.
lemon-pudding

There’s a lot of small steps to making this recipe – you’ve got to make the Fruit Puree which goes in the Lemon Sauce, and then you’ve got to make the Soy Sour Cream (unless you use store-bought), and then you’ve got to combine the lemon sauce and sour cream which THEN gets mixed in with brown rice. Though it seems like a lot of steps, each one is very easy with a minimal ingredient list.
My only complaint was with the Soy Sour Cream recipe, which calls for blending firm tofu. I don’t know if any of you have tried blending firm tofu before, but it’s terrible. I did it once a long time ago, and never again. The texture is grainy/chalky. I wonder if this just wasn’t a typo, as firm SILKEN tofu would be perfect, or even soft tofu, which is what I used.
Aside from that technicality, I really liked this for a healthy dessert. It was nice and sweet and the lemon flavor was bold without being sour.
Summary: The Good

-This is a wholesome recipe book, and aside from some of the recipes which call for a lot of sugar, they focus on the healthy aspects of vegan cooking, using lots of whole foods and natural ingredients.
-Some of the recipes look very creative and like nothing you’d see in a typical vegan cookbook. There are some impressive-sounding recipes (Green Bean, Pecan and Pomegranate Salad, or Leek, Kohlrabi, Garlic and Onion Tart) which would be great for company, or for fancier home meals.
-Simplicity. Pretty much all of the recipes I made were very easy and I think I could’ve figured them out as a novice.
-Pretty pictures! This book has several full-color photos, and they’re gorgeous. I only wish there were more!
-The unique information in the first 130 pages. I didn’t even know what an endocrine system was before this book!
Summary: The Bad

-The only thing that really made me cranky about this book was in the informational pages, and not the recipe pages. When she lists the “top 10” foods for the health of various body systems, fish (or fish oils) appears in most of the lists. Really? You had to include fish in a vegan cookbook? You couldn’t have found another plant food that helped, say, the nervous system? (And aren’t mercury and environmental toxins terrible for the nervous system, anyway?)
Pat Crocker is no vegan, and I’m fine with that – non-vegans can still make killer vegan recipes. But just because she believes in the healthfulness of fish (which I strongly question) doesn’t mean that vegans do, and she might have taken care to explore other plant options.
For example, she lists fish as the number one choice for nervous system health because of the omega-3 fatty acids and the B vitamins (especially B12), which she says can be “difficult to find in a vegetarian diet”. B12 aside, I have no problem finding B vitamins in my diet, considering their abundance in plant foods, especially legumes and whole grains.
So instead of recommending fish for omega-3s, what about recommending flax, or hemp? Why not recommend whole grains like oats, rye, quinoa and brown rice for B vitamins? Why not mention the importance of supplementing B12? That, I feel, would be better catered to vegans. I’ve done enough research to know that we don’t need fish to survive, and compared to, say, oatmeal, fish is far from being an ideal food. Those guys are full of toxins, “bad fats” (not all of the fat found in fish is of the omega-3 variety), and a crap-ton of cholesterol. Give me oatmeal with a spoonful of ground flax any day.
That said, the recipes are fairly sound, so if you’re looking for healthy, easy meals that will impress you during hectic weeknights, The Vegan Cook’s Bible is a solid choice.