New cookbook 'Big Vegan': Full of ideas, short on delivery

by Kathryn Tempas

Robin Asbell is a veteran of the Twin Cities vegetarian and vegan scene. New Vegetarian and The New Whole Grains Cookbook led her foray into cookbook writing, and she has written for a number of local and national publications. Big Vegan: More than 350 Recipes, No Meat/No Dairy All Delicious (2011,Chronicle Books) is her latest attempt to show us that eating vegan is a healthy, delicious choice.

In the introduction, Robin elaborates on her vegan philosophy, vegan nutrition, tricks for replacing the umami element of meat to make satisfying main dishes, as well as special ingredients and techniques used in vegan cooking.

A pantry staples section gives recipes for making your own seitan (a wheat gluten-based meat alternative), a veggie “butter,” “sour cream,” and stocks for soups. Recipes then follow, encompassing every meal of the day.

Name a nationality, and there are recipes in Big Vegan: Korean buckwheat noodle salad, Moroccan glazed tofu, African jollof rice, Italian tomato-basil tofu scramble, Thai fried rice. Vegan cooking need not be bland or boring with this variety of options.

Pick an ingredient, and you’ll find a variety of ways to prepare it. Got beets on hand? Look in the index and you’ll find eight ways to prepare them—in salads, entrees, and sides. Interested in trying quinoa? Ten options await you. What to do with seitan? More than a dozen ideas to get you started.

Standards like quesadillas, lasagna, mac and “cheese,” and pizza have been re-invented to replace the dairy products. Quesadillas without cheese? Well, you can’t really call them that since queso is cheese, but tortillas wrapped around roasted winter squash with a cranberry-jicama salsa sound worthy of a taste test.

I tried ten recipes from Big Vegan, selecting from breads, sides, salads, entrees, desserts, and more. I’m vegetarian (though not vegan), but others in the family are carnivores, so this was a real test.

The Cuban Black Bean Soup with Cabbage was tasty and made a quick and easy lunch. Robin altered the classic carrot-raisin salad to Moroccan Carrot Salad, featuring dates and almonds for a pleasantly chewy salad.

For a quick dinner, the Sweet Moroccan Glazed Tofu came together in a flash. For a comforting dessert, the Butterscotch Pudding, had a nice creamy texture, but it might not pass for your milk drinking friends, as there is a definite soy milk flavor.

There were a few recipes that I think would be improved by a slight modification. The Apple Walnut Cake was chock full of apples and nuts, but could have used a little oil or perhaps earth balance® margarine to tenderize it.

The Whole Wheat Maple-cherry Scones needed a bit more baking powder to lighten their texture. The Red Lentil Masala burgers were a bit dry and tough, and the oats in the Strawberry-banana Blender did not blend in and the texture was unusual. Possibly grinding the oats to a flour before adding them to the drink would enhance the product.

The incredible variety of recipes—different nationalities, different ingredients, twists on old
favorites, and new ideas make this a good book for any vegan, vegetarian, or others interested in eating healthfully and meat free; but some recipe modifications may be necessary to improve the taste or texture.

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Dates and Almonds

(adapted from Big Vegan)

  • 2–3 large carrots
  • ½ cup dates, pitted and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted

Coarsely grate the carrots and put them in a bowl with the dates.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne. Gradually whisk in the oil.

Pour dressing over the carrots and dates and toss to mix. Serve immediately, topped with the almonds, or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Serves 4.

[Kathryn Tempas loves to leaf through luscious local cookbooks and her family is happy to oblige when she is looking for taste testers.]

Next issue: The Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley