The 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).
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.
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).
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.