Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New American Vegan: 3-Recipe Review

Okay, time to stop procrastinating. You'd think that, being an otherwise unemployed pregnant housewife, I'd write things to post up here more often, but that's clearly not the case. Procrastination is one of my most highly-trained skills. Case in point: I started writing this review four days ago, and am only just now getting around to posting it. Go me. 

I've posted up several recipes recently(-ish) from a lovely cookbook called New American Vegan by Vincent J. Guihan, for Tangy Pumpkin, Tomato, & Jalapeño Soup, Tofu Cutlets, and Hot Grilled Portobello Steak Sandwich with Gravy. All were fabulous; go check out the individual posts if you want details!

So now it's time to review the cookbook itself. 

New American Vegan starts off with a somewhat lengthy exposé on the author's personal veganism: why he went vegan in the first place, why he feels veganism is an important issue, and a brief overview on why he felt the need to write a cookbook when “there is hardly a dearth of cookbooks for vegans available today.” 

There are many great things I can say about this book, and I will. But there's a few negative things too, so let's get those out of the way now. 

First, I am personally not a fan of “preachy” vegetarians or vegans. Actually, I'm generally not a fan of any kind of “preachiness” on any controversial topic. I can't deny that there are many wonderful reasons to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet; I've been vegetarian myself for 8+ years, dabbling in veganism for the last few, and I've never felt healthier. Personally, I believe most of the world would be better off on a plant-based diet. My diet is a fact most people learn about me pretty quickly, and I'm always willing to talk about it if people are genuinely curious. That's the thing though: if people don't ask, I don't talk about it. There's no quicker way to turn people off to a “radical” idea than to offer unsolicited reasons for why they should consider it. Of course, most people don't bother to read the introductions to cookbooks anyway, so this isn't really that big of an issue here. Plus, most of the people buying this book specifically are already in agreement with Guihan to some degree or another; it may come across as a little preachy, but in this case he's preaching to the choir. 

My other (minor) complaint? Pretty much every vegetarian/vegan cookbook I've ever read contains a certain number of “staple” recipes, and New American Vegan is no exception. Guihan offers his own recipes for vegetable stock, vinaigrette salad dressing, and tomato sauce. I know that many cookbook authors write from the mindset of creating the “only cookbook you need,” and that these recipes can be invaluable to someone with no cooking experience who has no idea how to make the basics at home. That said, as someone who has been cooking for a few years now and who already owns a somewhat extensive collection of cookbooks, I get tired of repetition. I already know how to make a perfectly adequate tomato sauce, thank you; I'd rather these pages in a cookbook be taken up with something new that I've never seen before! Like the last point though, I realize this is a personal issue; I'm sure his recipes are quite delicious, and that many new cooks will be grateful to have them. 

On to the good. 

As I said before, there are many good things that can be said about New American Vegan. I'm always amazed at the creativity that eating a plant-based diet can inspire. While a number of the recipes in this book are simply Guihan's take on classic dishes (such as Old-Fashioned Hearty Lentil & Vegetable Soup or Jambalaya), others are something exciting and truly new to me. For example, I have seen a number of recipes for a vegan crème brulée; most of them use either silken tofu or ground cashews to create that signature creaminess that we all love. Guihan's version is Banana & Avocado Brulée, a completely plant-based version that doesn't so much mimic the classic as offer an entirely new take on the idea. (Yes, this recipe is on the list to try sometime soon!) Another example: between published cookbooks and the Internet, there are more veggie burger recipes in existence than any rational person could try in a year. (I sense another interesting idea for a food blog coming on... or maybe just an idea for a regular feature on this one?) Guihan's offering is a Chickpea and Coconut Burger, a flavor combination that it would have never crossed my mind to try. Many vegetarian cookbooks offer some kind of pizza recipe; Guihan offers a few too, but also includes a recipe for Spinach, Arugula, & Walnut Pesto Stromboli with Kalamata Olives & Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I don't think I've ever seen a Stromboli recipe in any of my cookbooks before, so the author definitely gets bonus points for the inclusion of this one. 

Another thing I love about this book is Guihan's emphasis on sauces. It seems relatively unique; most cookbooks contain specific sauce recipes as part of specific recipes. It's easy to find a vegetarian/vegan cookbook with recipes for gravy, or pesto, or exciting salad dressing. But Tarragon Aioli? Artichoke, Caper & Black Pepper Butter? Strawberry Chipotle Sauce? New American Vegan has these and more. And better yet, Guihan offers advice on how to use them: what kinds of recipes in general, and some of his recipes later in the book go great paired with specific sauces. I really think he's onto something here; the addition of exciting sauces has the potential to add a whole new level of appeal to vegetarian and vegan cooking. 

I also appreciate how this cookbook contains a nice mix of simple and complicated recipes. It seems like many cookbooks focus on either keeping it quick and easy or on “gourmet” meals which are inevitably complex and time-consuming (but ultimately worthwhile if you have the time). Guihan's recipes range from expeditious (Quick, Rich Borscht, which you can have on the table in 30 minutes if you chop your veggies quickly) to elaborate (Spinach & Cheeze Tortellini, which requires making pasta dough from scratch, stuffing it, and then cooking it). One of the things the author says in the beginning is that he wanted to create a cookbook that beginners could work from, but which also had room for growth built in; having such a wide array of recipes definitely creates that possibility for the ambitious home cook interested in expanding their abilities. 

So there it is: the good and bad of it, in my opinion. Some recipes are nothing fancy, but there are a lot of unique dishes to be found in here; I think it's worth picking up!

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