Today I’m introducing a new feature – Well-Read Wednesdays! Every Wednesday I’ll review a book that may be of interest to vegans and vegan wanna-bes. It may be a favorite cookbook – or a disappointing one! It may be a book on animal theology. It may be a book about animal advocacy. It might even occasionally be a novel!
This week, since we’re in the middle of Vegan MOFO (Vegan Month of Food), I’m sharing one of my favorite cookbooks for vegan newbies – Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia C. Simpson.
Note I am emphasizing for vegan newbies. Longer term vegans who’ve been cooking awhile might find some of the recipes a bit simplistic, or duplicates of staples they’ve already added to their cooking repertoire. That’s not to say there’s not some real gems in this book for those of us who are a bit more advanced – and I will get to those.
For now, let’s look at it like a beginning vegan – or a beginning cook.
First, there’s Alicia herself. She’s funny, low key, down to earth, and relaxed about cooking. She writes a little “introduction” to each recipe, and before long you start thinking of her as a friend.
Alicia’s experience being a vegan in the South is pretty much like mine (except I’m a native not a transplant) …
“I was uprooted to South Carolina, the land of pulled pork, spare ribs, and everything BBQ. The fact that I was a California-born vegetarian meant that I was just one step away from being a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater to the good folks of South Carolina. When it was discovered that I was a vegetarian, the first questions were undoubtedly, ‘So does that mean you don’t eat BBQ? No pulled pork? Nothing?‘ I would shake my head in acknowledgement and they would clutch their pearls and gasp in horror.”
The recipes are all “normal” dishes you’re already familiar with it – especially if you grew up in the American South! There are no Ethiopian stews or beet tangines. Instead, there’s smoothies, waffles, pancakes, muffins. Glazed carrots, candied yams, baked beans, onion rings, collard greens, smashed potatoes, potato salad. A selection of soups. Pastas. Vegetable lasagna. A number of Mexican dishes – several kinds of tacos, taco salad, enchiladas, fajitas. Veggie burgers and veggie meatloaf. Yes, we more experienced vegans may already have our own versions of many of these – but wouldn’t it have been nice to have had this book as a resource in the very beginning?
The recipes are all fairly simple with “normal” ingredients you can find in an ordinary supermarket. No running to ethnic stores or ordering off the internet for galangal root or tamarind paste!
The ingredient lists are fairly short. Don’t freak out at the few lists that seem a bit long – it’s mostly dried spices. Some vegans turn up their nose at anything but fresh herbs, but dried spices are budget-friendly and can save considerable prep time – perfect for beginners.
Most recipes are also fast – perfect for those stressed-out evenings when you get home late.
Every recipe I’ve tried has turned out well.
What I Didn’t Like:
Many recipes called for store-bought vegan cheese (bleeeahhhh).
Some of the recipes were overly simplistic and made me cringe just a little. Using canned refried beans in a taco, making English muffin pizzas, adding steak sauce to a veggie burger. But I don’t know … maybe that would be helpful to a vegan beginner?
And The Gems:
An absolutely genius Macaroni and Cheese recipe without even a grain of nutritional yeast. Yes, it’s got some cashews, but most of it’s Yukon Gold potatoes and carrots. Seriously.
An awesome Fettucine Alfredo recipe (the first one). This recipe was an epiphany to me. I have twerked (er, TWEAKED) and riffed on this basic recipe so much!
French Toast using chickpea flour. Makes all the difference in the world.
Several very good recipes using TVP instead of expensive faux ground beef crumbles (Fool Your Friends Tacos, Veggie Meatloaf, Tacos Pecadillo). First time I’ve ever had “luck” using TVP.
I haven’t tried these yet, but some of my friends swear by the Oven-Fried Chik’n Seitan and Filet o’ Tofish Sandwiches.
Thousand Island dressing. A really good pizza sauce and enchilada sauce. Alicia’s Taco Seasoning Mix blend.
Peach Cobbler using frozen peaches. (I can hear my great aunt Martha saying, “Deah, frozen fruit in cobblahs is just not done! Might as well put sugah in cornbread.“) But fresh fruit can be a pain (plus expensive, plus not always in season, in which case it’s tasteless) … Long story short, I rarely make cobbler! But why not use frozen peaches, if it means … you know … I might actually make cobbler? And more importantly, eat cobbler? Turns out this recipe is super-yummy even with the frozen peaches.
A special thank you to Celeste of Honk If You’re Vegan for encouraging me to make a regular feature of book reviews.