Cookbook reviews by Rachel: The Sexy Vegan »
Overall Rating: C
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced; most recipes unnecessarily complicated
Best for: People with lots of time to spend in the kitchen and who want to spend it on hearty, dude-friendly food
I kind of love Brian Patton, author of The Sexy Vegan. He’s basically what you’d get if John Hodgman and Ellen DeGeneres had a baby and the kid came out with Hodgman’s self-conscious nerdiness and Ellen’s dietary choices, plus hyperactivity. Patton recently tweeted a link to this yearbook photo. He makes silly jokes in his cookbook, starting with the title. He seems like the kind of friend I’d love to have at every potluck, especially the ones that involve drinking games until 2 a.m.
Thing is, friends like that don’t necessarily write the best cookbooks.
Like Brian himself, the book made me smile on nearly every page (in a Will Ferrell-meets-Shakespearean-puns kind of way: ”New England Blam Chowder: I cleverly change the C to a B and BLAM! We’ve got a delicious vegan chowder”; a dish called “My Balls”). But it’s been sitting on my shelf for months and the only time I’ve managed to use it is when I forced myself to so I could write this review.
The problem is not that these recipes don’t work or aren’t good. The problem is that they’re unnecessarily complicated, and Patton gives no hints or advice to convert them into something suitable for the everyday, after work, home cook. He doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s asking a lot, he just continues his charming-dude act.
Oh Brian, you’re just too high maintenance!
One entree that sounded amazing and that I considered making, Barbecue Ribz, involves flipping to SIX OTHER RECIPES. These include things like “Crazy Shit Vinegar” (a relish and flavored vinegar with peppers and carrots you could in theory make ahead of time and have on hand if you’re a member of the cult of Brian Patton) and “Blackened Seasoning”, which is just a spice blend, but seriously Brian, don’t make me mix it up ahead of time or do math and shit! I hate that! Just tell me what spices to use! The Millenium Cookbook isn’t even this complex!
And Millenium food this ain’t. The dishes I managed to accomplish—by taking a special, specific trip to the grocery store and planning way ahead—went over well with some nonvegan friends at a dinner party, but they were homey, not gourmet. Definitely not the kind of thing you’re glad you saved a whole afternoon for.
The Blam Chowder was not very clammy but a yummy, hearty, creamy vegetable soup. What really made it was the smokey flavor imparted by the tempeh bacon. But I cheated and used store-bought tempeh bacon, not Patton’s recipe (which takes a sub-recipe, liquid smoke, vegan Worcestershire sauce, and at least eight hours to marinate).
The jambalaya was like a chunky pepper/tomato sauce over rice; again, what made it was the sausage. Patton’s recipe for seitan sausage is more involved than say, Isa or Terry’s (it includes a cooked potato and mashed white beans), but it resulted in a softer texture which was a nice change. But the dish would have been just as delicious if he’d billed it as fast food, told you to make some rice while you chopped some veggies and opened a can of tomatoes, then added some Field Roast afterwards. It tasted basically like that. Not worth my whole day.
Final Verdict: An amusing but ultimately inessential addition to the growing vegan cannon.
Cookbook Reviews by Rachel: Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas »
Overall Rating: A-
Level of Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate
Best for: Anyone looking for no-fuss ways to veganize their family celebrations.
You know how they call that time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s “the holiday season”? There are holidays all year round, it turns out. (Flag Day: June 14). What would fill the “seasonal” aisle of the grocery stores otherwise? So while you might think a cookbook called Vegan Holiday Kitchen should get reviewed in like, November (which happens to be when everyone else reviewed it), it’s with an eye to strategy and not simply a result of laziness that I bring you this late March report. This cookbook covers not only Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, but Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Independence Day. Plus brunch, which I guess is its own holiday.
PSA: Passover starts after sundown Friday, April 6. Easter is Sunday, April 8. Holidays approacheth! Do you have a plan?
Nava Atlas had a clear purpose with this photo-heavy offering: honor tradition, add the vegan element, and create special-occasion meals that are fun, not stressful. To that end, her recipes tend to the simple and don’t shy away from shortcuts (canned lentils?!). But the lack of elaborate preparation or unusual ingredients makes this a really awesome resource when you’re looking to cook in someone else’s kitchen (like I did for Thanksgiving), or if you’re short on time, or if you just think complicated recipes are scary.
I’ve made a lot of stuff from this book over the last six months (though it’s not an everyday go-to), but somehow I failed to photograph most of it. Here’s the Red Wine-Roasted Brussel Sprouts everyone loved in November (pre-roasting):
And here’s a sandwich I made on the Vegan Challah, which came out really delicious, if not quite as flaky as the original (secret ingredient: squash!):
While some of the recipes are restricted to particular holidays or seasons (Passover = lots of matzoh, July 4th = grilling), it’s also fun to mix and match. At Christmas, we brought Moroccan-Flavored Tofu with Apricots and Olives, in theory a Rosh Hashanah offering, to a friends’ house for fancy dinner; it got devoured with compliments.
Atlas is a good communicator: The recipes are written clearly and are easy to follow, and each is labeled at the top if it is or could be soy-, gluten-, or nut-free. I’ve wanted to tweak some of her instructions (less sweetener in the Agave and Mustard-Glazed Green Beans, for example), but haven’t had any disasters or failures, praise be.
My only major complaint is that, especially in the Thanksgiving and Christmas chapters, Atlas shies away from star-of-the-show, protein-heavy, centerpiece dishes that I think are pretty key to a vegan celebration. Stuffings and pilafs abound; hearty stews and tofus do not. Perhaps this is a rebellion against Tofurky, but I want my protein, dammit.
Anyway, this book will be my #1 go-to for figuring out what to cook in my mother’s kitchen to bring to a seder next month. I’d wanted to try the matzoh balls before writing my review, but I’ll just have to post about it later.
Final verdict: Solid, crowd-pleasing recipes designed for simplicity. Especially valuable for the wealth of Jewish recipes, more than I’ve seen collected anywhere else.