Cookbook Review: Cooking Vegan, Vesanto Melina & Joseph Forest (2012)

July 12th, 2012 11:21 am by Kelly Garbato

Cooking Vegan: You Know It!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: the publisher sent me a free copy of this book for review.)

The second collaboration between (vegan) dietician Vesanto Melina and (not-vegan) professional chef Joseph Forest, Cooking Vegan: healthful, delicious, and easy is a nice introductory vegan cookbook, particularly for newbie vegans and skeptical omnivores, as well as veteran vegans who want to eat a more healthful diet.

With chapter headings like “Vegan Nutrition” and “Vegan Ingredients,” the first fifth of the book is devoted to describing the basic building blocks of a vegan diet: fats, sweeteners, nondairy milks, soy foods, thickening agents, etc. (Spoiler alert: the age old question “But where do you get your protein?” will be answered!) There’s also some more general info about organizing your workspace, following recipes, and the like. Twelve suggested “theme” menus (Children’s; Super Simple; North American; Japanese) provide additional guidance for overwhelmed cooks.

Now for the food! The recipes in Cooking Vegan are divided between nine categories: breakfasts and beverages; dips, spreads, snacks, and sandwiches; soups; salads; salad dressings; entrées; sauces and gravies; side dishes; and sweet treats. Each recipe is accompanied by detailed nutritional information, and many come with suggested variations.

Before I begin reviewing a cookbook, I leaf through the recipes and come up with a list of dishes I’d like to try, so that I can check my pantry for ingredients and update my shopping list accordingly. For Cooking Vegan, this meant about thirty recipes, give or take – roughly enough to fill up a sheet of legal paper. At this point, I’ve tackled about half of them – enough that I feel comfortable writing a review.

With few exceptions, I enjoyed nearly all of the dishes I tried. In particular, the Scrambled Tofu, Marinara Sauce, Tapenade and Pesto Pizzas (including the pizza dough!), Good Morning Granola, Mac Uncheese, Light Mushroom Gravy, and Vegan Dazs Ice Cream stand out in memory, and all will be joining the regular rotation here in the Garbato-Brady household. (Actually, the Vegan Dazs already was a staple, just under another name: One-ingredient banana ice cream. Look it up!) The sole dud? The Holiday Pie Topping, which has a rather unpleasant aftertaste.

Still on my to-do list: Gooda Cheez (for which I bought a bag of agar, all special!); Heart Healthy Hummus; Black Bean Soup; Tuscan Minestrone; Wild Rice Salad; Shepherd’s Pie; Mushroom Lentil Patties; Corn with Bell Peppers; Scalloped Potatoes; Cashew Cheeze Lasagne; Blueberry Muffins; Almond Butter Balls; and the Cashew Cream Topping. I’ll blog these as I get to them, so keep an eye out!

Based on my experience, the recipes found in Cooking Vegan are straightforward and easy to follow, with few unusual or hard-to-find ingredients required. While some of the recipes (such as the Mac Uncheese) call for a second recipe (in this case, the Gee Whiz Spread), this is kept to minimum, with one added recipe at most. (One notable exception are the pizzas, which reference recipes for dough and a topping. Both of which are super-easy to make!) When referring you to another recipe, the authors include a page number, which I really appreciate. (All that flipping back and forth to the index when you’re trying to cook dinner? No thanks!)

My main complaint is that Melina and Forest are rather light-handed with the seasonings. With the Scrambled Tofu, for example, I found myself doubling – even tripling – up on some of the spices. Likewise, before I worked my magic, the Mediterranean Lentil Soup could best be described as “bland.” Still, the fix for this is easy enough: taste, taste, taste! as you cook, and don’t be afraid to adjust the ingredients to fit your own style.

As someone who’s been experimenting with banana ice cream for a while now, I do have to point out one glaring error in the Vegan Dazs Ice Cream recipe. While the primary recipe uses a juicer to blend the fruit (I’ve yet to wrap my mind around the logistics of this…not a big juicer, me), one variation gives these instructions for using a food processor: 2 cups of frozen bananas to 1 cup nondairy milk; serve immediately. In my experience, it’s best to use as little liquid (be it nondairy milk, creamer, or water) as possible, since the liquid will form ice crystals as it freezes. While it’s clear that Melina and Forest don’t intend for this version to be frozen and enjoyed later, there’s no reason why it can’t be!

Either way, one part liquid to two parts bananas is still excessive, even if you’re enjoying it immediately as soft serve. Better to leave the frozen bananas to defrost on the counter for 30 to 60 minutes prior to making the ice cream – this will give you a richer, creamier dessert, whether eaten soft serve or frozen ice cream styley.

Under the jump: photos and summaries of all the dishes I tried. Feast your eyes!

 

  • Pesto Pizza (page 173) with Pesto is the Besto (page 82)

    2012-05-14 - CV Pesto Pizza - 0004

    Naturally, when we received our copy of Cooking Vegan, we flipped straight to the pizza section and got to work! Pesto Pizza was the first recipe we tried because – hello! – pesto is the best-o! (Why you stealing my catchphrase, Melina & Forest?) Made with basil, walnuts, and lemon juice, this pesto is similar in taste to that found in Vegan Junk Food. Which is to say, I absolutely love it!

    Shane wasn’t quite as sold; he thought it a little on the bland side, which is strange – I actually found it a bit more flavorful than Lane Gold’s version, which he gace two thumbs up.

    Tip: the leftover pesto tastes absolutely divine when served on Ritz-style crackers.

     

  • Tapenade Pizza (page 174) with Walnut, Olive Oil & Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade (page 77)

    2012-05-26 - CV Tapenade Pizza (Slice) - 0002

    The fussy-eating cynic in me was initially wary of this recipe (tapenade, what’s that? sounds like tapeworms!) but it totally won me over. The mix of kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, and capers in the tapenade is quite good, and it goes well with the carmelized onions on the pizza. It turns out that tapenade is kind of like pesto, but with less basil and lots of other things thrown in. In fact, I bet pesto would taste awesome layered alongside tapenade. The husband’s also a big fan of this one; it got much raver reviews than the Pesto Pizza, in fact.

    The original recipe calls for artichoke hearts instead of tomatoes, but I swapped ’em out based on what I had on hand. Still good!

     

  • Pizza Dough (page 172)

    While we’re on the subject of pizza, I really like the dough recipe in Cooking Vegan, too – it’s a little thinner than I’m used to (but not thin-thin; anyone have a good thin crust recipe they’d like to share? PLEASE AND THANK YOU!), with a nice, chewy texture.

    Too bad there are only four pizza recipes in the book. There should be a minimum pizza requirement in all vegan cookbooks, don’t you think? Like a dozen. At least! EVEN IN THE CUPCAKE AND ICE CREAM COOKBOOKS. Be creative vegan chefs, I have faith in you.

    Just joking. But not really.

     

  • Scrambled Tofu (page 70)

    2012-05-25 - CV Scrambled Tofu - 0002

    Prior to the Tot Casserole in Vegan Junk Food, my experience with tofu was limited to using silken tofu in desserts, blended so thoroughly as to be invisible. I was absolutely convinced that I hated the stuff. (So gross and spongy!)

    In just a few short months, I’ve done a 180. This dish? WOW. It’s delicious, easy to make, and downright foolproof – perfect for a beginner vegan. Experiment with the spices and veggies to make your own creation. The original recipe calls for cabbage and red bell peppers, but in the version pictured here I used frozen corn instead. Tomatoes also work great in this dish, and if you love mushrooms as much as I do, double up! It’s hard to go wrong.

    For what it’s worth, this is one of those recipes where the authors went a little light on the spices. Taste the scramble as you go and don’t be afraid to add more nutritional yeast, tamari, cumin, and tumeric (or anything else your heart desires!) as needed.

     

  • Bonus Nomz!: Breakfast Pizza with Scrambled Tofu & Garlic Sauce

    2012-06-30 - Tofu Scramble Breakfast Pizza - 0010

    Make a batch of Scrambled Tofu and put it on a pizza! You won’t regret it, I promise.

     

  • Bonus Nomz!: Vegan “Egg” McMuffin

    2012-06-27 - Vegan Egg McMuffin - 0007

    The Scrambled Tofu also tastes heavenly when sandwiched between two halves of an English muffin, along with some warm gravy and/or vegan breakfast sausage links. May I suggest the Light Mushroom Gravy (see below) and Lightlife Smart Links? It’s messy enough that you’ll need to eat this sammie open-faced, but that’s okay! No one’s watching. (We’re all too busy eating our own vegan McMuffins, you dig?)

     

  • Mac Uncheese (page 169) with Gee Whiz Spread (page 79)

    2012-05-31 - CV Mac Uncheese - 0001

    This is another ginormous hit in the Garbato- Brady household. As per usual, it doesn’t come close to rivaling my own decadent version, but hey! What it lacks in gooey processed goodness, it makes up for in healthfulness and frugality. The Gee Whiz Spread – the creamy heart and soul of the recipe – is fairly easy to make, and is made up of white beans, nutritional yeast, tahini, yellow mustard, and some other good stuff. Delicious, if not Kraft Mac & Cheesy. (The husband observed that this is a great pasta dish, but he wouldn’t quite call it “macaroni and cheese.” I think it’s the tomatoes!)

    Mac Uncheese will definitely be joining our regular repertoire.

     

  • Coconut Macaroons (page 225)

    2012-06-02 - CV Coconut Macaroons - 0017

    A simple, four-ingredient, no-baked dessert, these “macaroons” are tasty enough. On the downside, the nutritional info puts them at 70 calories per teaspoon-sized ball. Consider that mine were at least twice as large, and watch as the calories add up. At this rate, I might as well have a traditional macaroon!

    Raw foodies will probably have a better appreciation for this recipe than I. It comes with variations for apricot, chocolate, and dehydrator macaroons, so knock yourself out!
     

  • Mediterranean Lentil Soup (page 100)

    2012-06-02 - CV Mediterranean Lentil Soup - 0038

    Who doesn’t love soup? This one’s perfect for a crisp fall weeknight, when you’re too tired to do much cooking but still crave a homemade meal. It takes an hour to make but is mostly hands-off. As with some of the other recipes found in Cooking Vegan, my only complaint is that the authors are rather conservative with the spices, making for a bland-ish dish. Taste test as you cook and season to your heart’s content!

     

  • Marinara Sauce (page 185)

    2012-06-14 - CV Marinara Sauce - 0012

    …is awesome! Make this Marinara Sauce for the Olive Garden loving omnis in your family and watch as they oooh! and aaah! over your impressive culinary skills. In reality, this sauce is ridiculously easy to make, and will leave you wondering why you’ve been settling for the boring canned stuff all these long years. Serve in on top of a plate of linguine for a filling feast.

     

  • Whole Wheat Pancakes (page 71) with Apple-Cinnamon Topping (page 72)

    2012-06-15 - CV Pancakes & Apples - 0006

    I was expecting these pancakes to be a bit on the heavy side, but they’re anything but! Light and fluffy, the whole wheat flour gives them an interesting texture. (Hint: the recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour, but whole wheat flour works just as well.) Serve with the Apple-Cinnamon Topping (toasted almonds, yum!) and enjoy them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Pictured here with fresh blueberries on the side.

     

  • Spanish Rice (page 209)

    2012-06-16 - CV Spanish Rice - 0016

    Just like Mom used to make, only better! (I know, blasphemy right? It’s a good thing my mom doesn’t read this blog!) With brown rice, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, and a bunch of spicy seasonings. Eat up!

     

  • Light Mushroom Gravy (page 186)

    2012-06-18 - CV Mushroom Gravy - 0029

    Pour gravy on ALL the things!

    Seriously, if I knew how easy it is to make gravy from scratch, I wouldn’t have been buying pricey packets of vegan gravy powder all these years! Cooking Vegan features not one, not two, but three gravy recipes: Light Mushroom, Miso, and Rosemary. I’ve only had occasion to try the Light Mushroom Gravy – pictured here slathered atop french fries, steamed mixed veggies, and a fried veggie burger patty – but the other two are at the top of our to-do list. When Thanksliving rolls around, we’ll be prepared.
     

  • Good Morning Granola (page 68)

    2012-06-20 - CV Good Morning Granola - 0022

    Another foodstuff I’m kicking myself for buying rather than making is granola. (The markup on that stuff? Like whoah!) No more! Good Morning Granola – which I’ve made three times now! – has helped kick me of that habit. Made with oats, raw almonds, and cranberries (really it calls for currants, raisins, or dates, but who’s counting?) and sweetened with a delightful blend of apple juice, maple syrup, and almond butter, this granola kicks some serious ass.

    Tip: the recipe calls for rolled oats, but quick oats make a granola that’s just as shiny!

    Serve it with…

     

  • Bonus Nomz!: Vanilla Soy Yogurt & Granola

    2012-06-27 - Soy Yogurt & Granola - 0004

    …Vanilla soy yogurt (and/or some fresh blueberries and strawberries).

     

  • Bonus Nomz!: Banana Ice Cream Sundae

    2012-06-20 - Banana & Granola Sundae - 0001

    Or use it to make an ice cream sundae. Here we have one-ingredient banana ice cream (“Vegan Dazs Ice Cream,” in Cooking Vegan parlance; see below) layered with homemade chocolate sauce, and granola. Spoons up, vegan, it’s all fruit and fiber! (Almost.) Win-win!

     

  • Liquid Gold Dressing (page 126)

    2012-06-29 - CV Liquid Gold Salad Dressing - 0002

    What with its healthy doses of flax (seeds AND oil!), lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and tamari, Liquid Gold is tasty – but very strong! A little goes a long way. Seeing as the dressing keeps for 2 to 3 weeks, you might want to make a half a batch at a time.

     

  • Apple-Pear Crumble (page 219)

    2012-06-29 - CV Apple-Pear Crumble - 0016

    If you know me at all, you know that I’m always looking for new apple recipes. What with our four apple trees, we practically live on the stuff come autumn. As you can imagine, I’ve tried my fair share of apple crumble recipes – and I’m happy to say that the Apple-Pear Crumble in Cooking Vegan stands apart from the crowd. The oat topping is flavored with orange juice AND orange zest, infusing it with a pleasant citrus flavor. It’s a nice change of pace, though next time I think I’ll double up on the apples for a fruitier dessert. (Also, a girl’s got to use her apples!)

     

  • Holiday Pie Topping (page 213)

    2012-06-30 - CV Holiday Pie Topping - 0005

    Of the 15 or so dishes I made from Cooking Vegan, the Holiday Pie Topping is the only one I flat-out dislike. I didn’t expect this silken tofu and maple syrup combo to taste like dairy whipped cream (and neither should you!), but I also didn’t anticipate the weird aftertaste. Most likely what I’m detecting is the maple syrup sweetener – what else is there? vanilla? lemon juice? that’s it! – but it doesn’t even resemble maple syrup to me! Weird, right?

    For what it’s worth, the husband likes it. Maybe you will too?

     

  • Vegan Dazs Ice Cream (page 217)

    2012-06-18 - Banana Ice Cream - 0002

    “Vegan Dazs Ice Cream” is the authors’ cheeky way of saying “banana ice cream,” with which I am all too familiar! Melina and Forest provide a basic one-ingredient banana ice cream recipe, along with variations for chocolate and mixed fruit ice cream, and tips for making banana ice cream in a food processor. They recommend adding a cup of nondairy milk per two frozen bananas, which is a big no-no – all that extra liquid inevitably results in an icier frozen dessert. Use a splash of nondairy milk as needed – no more – for the best results. Definitely avoid adding extra liquid if using juicy fruits, such as strawberries or bananas.

    If you try only one recipe in Cooking Vegan, make it Vegan Dazs. Overripe, frozen bananas make for a surprisingly rich and creamy frozen dessert that rivals dairy ice cream. And because it’s made mostly of fruit, it’s the healthiest snack you’ll ever find. Top it with fresh berries, toasted nuts, granola, or even a bit of “junky” cereal for an indulgent meal. Go on,

    But seriously, banana ice cream is da bomb. Yeah I said it. Da. Bomb.

     

    (An abridged version of this review also appears on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

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  • 3 Responses to “Cookbook Review: Cooking Vegan, Vesanto Melina & Joseph Forest (2012)”

    1. The Perfect Pizza Press » Blog Archive » Recipe: Homemade Marinara & Mozzarella Pizza with a Rosemary Crust Says:

      […] from the Marinara Sauce recipe in Cooking Vegan by Vesanto Melina & Joseph Forest, […]

    2. The Perfect Pizza Press » Blog Archive » Recipe: Homemade Pizza Sauce with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes Says:

      […] tomato sauce recipes online, I decided to come up with my own blend, using the Marinara Sauce from Cooking Vegan as a starting point. (You might recall that I also put that on a pizza. Everything! Everything goes […]

    3. VeganMoFo VI: Eat to the Beat! » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

      […] Cooking Vegan, Vesanto Melina & Joseph Forest (2012); reviewed here […]

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