A review of a vegan recipe book seems to demand an upfront declaration of the reviewer’s dietary position. So: I’m a vegetarian (never eaten meat or fish or fowl) who has flirted with but never quite committed to veganism. I don’t do leather or cosmetics tested on animals, and I don’t touch those red M&Ms colored with crushed insects. Avoiding eggs is pretty easy if you read ingredient labels, which I do, ever since a seemingly innocuous tomato juice was revealed to contain anchovies. But it all goes pear-shaped when it comes to dairy–I find tea spiked with soy or rice milk unbearable. More tellingly, I’ve never been quite convinced of the moral urgency to skip dairy–if the cows aren’t destined for slaughter but live peaceful and healthy lives, it doesn’t seem so bad, really, to take a bit of their organic, cruelty-free milk.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s turn to the book. First off, a 10th anniversary for a vegan recipe book is a victory for herbivores everywhere. It wasn’t so long ago that we were expected to shut up and eat iceberg lettuce; just who did we think we were, checking that our minestrone didn’t have chicken stock and asking for no bacon bits in our Caesar Salads? That this book is successful is clearly cause to celebrate, and especially so, because it’s a bloody good book. It makes its ethical case without being preachy, recognizing that each of us arrives at our moral comfort zones at our personal velocities. The tone is conversational and chatty and filled with fun asides “please lock me up so I can eat my way to freedom, straight through these fantastic chocolate chip bars.” At its heart, this is a book for anyone who enjoys cooking and eating flavorful food, and it’ll appeal to omnivores and herbivores alike. And, and, and, the authors are the last word in cool. I mean, just look at them.
Kramer writes in the foreword “I have countless fan mail from people telling me that they purchased the book without even looking inside because they saw us on the cover and were excited to see someone like themselves reflected back. I also have a few letters from mothers who ripped off the cover, or covered the book with paper so we wouldn’t influence their kids with our tattoos and piercings.”
Yes, I have something of a girl crush on Sarah Kramer, she of the piercings and tattoos and Cleopatra eyeliner.
How it all Vegan is divided into user-friendly categories such as breakfast, sauces and spreads, entrees etc. etc. The recipes all seem to to demand many many ingredients, but they are nicely laid out, and the cooking itself is uncomplicated. Best, they are written in a sensible, down-to-earth style suitable for dodgy cooks of my ilk. The mains aren’t a poor man’s meat substitute, but would hold their own at a Thanksgiving table. As might be expected, the desserts are the most substitution-based recipes of the lot. There’s a handy index of alternatives for commonly used animal products–I used the suggested 3 tbsp applesauce instead of an egg in my brownies, and it worked.
The book ends with tips on making vegan household products, including mouthwash and baby wipes and bug repellent. There’s also an excellent index of ingredients that contain animal products. You may not be convinced about going vegan after reading this book, but you can’t cite a dearth of foods or resources as a reason anymore.
I wish though, that there were more pictures of the food. I’m surely not the only one to read recipe books like others read fashion magazines, and eight full-page photographs–two of which feature (the admittedly toothsome) Kramer–just aren’t enough for this book. The photos are all clumped together in the middle, and you have to go back and forth to match them to the recipes. And I think they could have really selected more interesting recipes to photograph. Two pictures of peppermint patties? One for a generic glop-on-the plate cilantro ginger tempeh toss? The one photo that actually got me moaning was the butter tarts.
I’d never tried these tarts till I came to Canada. Oh, my wasted life.
Better Than Butter Tarts
1 cup raisins
1 tbsp vegan margarine
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
3 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 unbaked pre-made pastry shells (3 inch)
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 400F. Put raisins into a medium bowl and cover with very hot water. Set aside for 10 minutes. Drain hot water off raisins and add margarine, sugar, flax seeds, water, and vanilla. Stir together well. Spoon 1 tbsp of mixture evenly into each tart shell. Sprinkle each tart with finely chopped walnuts. Bake for 15 minutes and serve at room temperature. Makes 12 tarts.
How it all Vegan (10th Anniversary edition) by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010