The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Cooking: Bring heath and compassion to your table with 240 scrumptious recipes
Over the past few years of reviewing I have learned that there truly are very few bad cookbooks. Oddly enough, they are usually the mainstream ones, where the recipes haven’t been thoroughly tested to make sure they actually work. However, what I do find is that we each have certain recipe creators whom we click with. Those that share a similar diet, a similar palate for flavors, or a similar yearn for spice. For myself, of the books and blogs I have followed in the vegan community thus far (since I am not vegan, I do have a few non-vegan “bonds” too), I have found a recipe connection with authors such as Dreena Burton, Ricki Heller, and Beverly Lynn Bennett, the author of this particular book.
The main reasons I love Beverly’s recipes are for her style of cooking: relatively simple recipes, most often with everyday ingredients; well written instructions; and a focus on whole foods (including the use of whole grain flours and unrefined sweeteners whenever possible). The book is packed with recipes, 240 to be exact, so there are ones that help introduce new vegans to the uses of tofu and seitan, for example; however, for those like me who limit soy and wheat intake, she has a plethora of options, including creative ways to incorporate fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. That said, those who are coming from fast food territory will still be welcomed by Beverly with some shortcut recipes for things like Tofu Dog Bites.
Beverly is truly an expert in her field, having started The Vegan Chef before the turn of the millennium, back when foodie websites and blogs were mere infants. So it is no wonder that The Complete Idiot’s folks approached her to produce both their Vegan Living and Vegan Cooking versions. I have reviewed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Juicing (thumbs up) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Total Nutrition (a disappointment), so I am well aware of the cutesy “Idiot’s” format that some may love, some may feel neutral about, and some may be irritated by. At this point, I am pretty neutral, and able to look into the actual substance of the book
The book starts with an informational section that is about 25 pages long, but it feels fairly complete for its purpose. Beverly touches on health needs and then dives into explaining milk and meat alternatives. Later in the cookbook is a chapter that is dedicated to making your own cheese and dairy alternatives.
Since I am already dairy-free, I chose to sample a recipe that also had a meat substitute vibe, the Savory Mushroom Sausages. The only changes I made were to cut the maple syrup in half (down to 1 ½ teaspoons) and increase the salt by ¼ teaspoon, as we aren’t fans of the sweet flavor that many breakfast sausages have. They were awesome! Admittedly, my husband wanted more of the mushroom flavor and less of the bread crumbs, but I found the mix perfectly addictive. I actually preferred the leftovers, after chilling overnight, as it really gave the various flavors time to meld. This was a soy-free and optional gluten-free recipe too!
I bake my own granola, so I was excited to trial the Vanilla Nut Granola recipe. It used a very different mix of spices, extracts, nuts, and seeds from my standard recipe. I really enjoyed the subtle sweetness and the very nutty tasting blend. All of Beverly’s recipes are very easy to customize, so on the next go there are a few personal touches I will introduce. I think swapping the maple syrup for agave (which is half the price in my neck of the woods), and leaving out the pecans (which tended to burn easily) would make it an ideal blend for my household, adding just a slight touch of additional sweetness. Also, she ingeniously uses a blend of oil and water to keep the granola low fat, but we aren’t calorie counters around here, so I will probably use all oil next time for a firmer crunch.
I loved the Carrot-Cashew Butter, a simple and thick spread with a light natural sweetness from the two main ingredients. I was also smitten by the Low Fat Miso Ginger Dressing. It was only my second time using miso, and the experience prior left me with a bad taste in my mouth, literally, but Beverly nailed it in the sweet, ginger-rich condiment.
This is definitely a cookbook that will get some mileage in my kitchen. Recipes that are next up on my list include the Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones (made with rolled oats!), the Thai Peanut Sauce (I can never get enough of that stuff), the Raw Cheddar Cheese Spread (soy-free), the Raw ABC Nut Milk, the Red Lentil Bologneses (I am on a lentil kick), and the Blueberry Corncakes (a twist on traditional pancakes). But don’t stop with my selections, there really are tons of different recipes to pick from in this one, from “Decadent Desserts” to “Marvelous Main Dishes.”