Authors of Vegan 101, Heather Bell and Jenny Engel own the L.A. based gourmet vegan food company, ‘Spork Foods’, where they offer cooking classes, training and demos to help people discover the joys of vegan cooking. It is Heather and Jenny’s aim to introduce you to the world of plant-based eating and to show you that it can be just as interesting and delicious as any other kind of food.
The book is divided into seven chapters; the first chapter ‘School in Session’ introduces the reader to some of the alternatives used in vegan eating such as tofu, seitan and tempeh, and how other everyday products can also be used to substitute meat and dairy. There are a couple of general question and answer pages, as well as testimonials from people who have either taken classes or worked with Spork Foods. The remaing six chapters are split in to types of meal: ‘Breakfasts’, ‘Salads’, ‘Soups and Stews’, ‘Handhelds’, ‘Mains’ and ‘Desserts’.
Still being new to vegan cooking, the first thing I look for in a new cookbook is how many unusual ingredients (to a novice vegan) I need to buy. This book requires a fair few, however, I wasn’t put off as there were also plenty of recipes that use everyday ingredients too, meaning I can slowly stock up on the more unusual items over time, but still be able to use the book. I think that one small thing that works against the book is that it is American. Several times American products are mentioned, which I think would be quite expensive and difficult to obtain here. I imagine that with time and some more confidence in vegan sourcing and cooking I’ll know what alternative products from the UK are available to use instead, but for the minute it just makes me want to skip over those recipes!
I’ve bought a few vegan cookbooks last year and one thing I’ve noticed is how a lot of meals ‘look vegan’, that isn’t to say they don’t look appetising, they just look different, and if I’m honest out of the ones I’ve made so far only about 40% were worth making a second time. The first thing I noticed while browsing through this book though was how tasty everything looked, it is a shame then that there aren’t nearly enough photos. I would say that around one recipe in four is accompanied by a photo, and I personally find that pretty unacceptable. I eat with my eyes, Good Food Channel, Sainsburys Magazine, recipes on Pinterest, I devour them all. The number of recipes included (100) is impressive, and I understand that more photos means less recipes, but I found myself getting a bit frustrated with not knowing what finished recipes were supposed to look like (especially the ones that use ingredients that I an less familiar with).
The selection of recipes in each chapter however does feels eclectic, incorporating a variety of flavours and textures so that that there is something to please even the fussiest of eaters. It is due to this mouthwatering selection that I can just about forgive the image/recipe ratio, as many of the text-only recipes still sound delicious.
Some of the recipes that I am looking forward to trying are ‘Walnut Breakfast Sausages’, ‘Apple Coffee Cake Muffins’, and ‘Parmesan Orzo Salad with Toasted Pecans and Cranberries’ from the ‘Breakfast’ chapter. From my favourite chapter, ‘Soups and Stews’ (it must be the time of year) I’d like to make ‘Classic Minestrone Soup’, ‘Tortilla Soup with Ancho Cream Topping’, and ‘Red Lentil Soup with Almond Gremolata’.
I’ve never tried hearts of palm before so I’m curious to try the ‘Hearts of Palm Mozzerella Sticks’ found in the ‘Handhelds’ chapter.
From the ‘Mains’ I would like to try ‘Brazil Nut Pesto Stuffed Mushroom’, ‘Acorn Squash Fritters with Spicy Korean Sauce and ‘Pad Thai with Tamarind and Lime’, then for ‘Dessert’ I’ll finish with ‘Cognac Baklava Rolls’, ‘Cuban Coconut Rice Pudding’, or a ‘Toasted Marshmallow-Pecan Milkshake’.
As you have probably gathered, this book isn’t perfect (and it so easily could be), but it is clearly written and easy to follow and what it lacks in photography it makes up for in choice of recipes (it is actually great value for the number of recipes). It has definitely caught my attention and made me feel that turning fully vegan is a possibility – as long as I can find all of the ingredients.
Vegan 101 by Heather Bell and Jenny Engel
Published by Callisto