Cookbook Review: Mayim’s Vegan Table, Mayim Bialik (2014)

May 13th, 2014 12:45 pm by Kelly Garbato

Quick & Healthy Plant-Based Meals

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Actress-slash-neuroscientist-slash-vegan mom Mayim Bialik makes her foray into the vegan cookbook market with Mayim’s Vegan Table: More than 100 Great-Tasting and Healthy Recipes from My Family to Yours. (She previously published a parenting guide, also with pediatrician Jay Gordon, called Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way.) With an emphasis on quick, easy, nutritious meals, the dishes found in Mayim’s Vegan Table are likely to appeal to families on the go and newbie vegans. But longtime vegans (and I include myself in that category) might just discover a few new favorite recipes, too!

Mayim’s Vegan Table begins with three introductory chapters about the environmental, nutritional, and ethical benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as tips and tricks on how best to introduce children to a healthy vegan lifestyle. (I must admit to skimming over these; show me the food, please!) There’s also a standard “stocking your pantry” chapter. The recipes are grouped into categories for Breakfast; Soups, Salads, and Sandwiches; Snacks, Sauces, and Dips; Veggies and Sides; Entrees; Breads; and Desserts. The dishes range from simple (Daiya-Style Pizza, Parsnip Fries, Cashew Cheese) to the more complicated (Creamy Enchilada Casserole, Hot Pretzel Challah Bread).

In preparation for this review, I made the following:

 

2014-03-22 - Mayim's Pancakes - 0002 [flickr]

  • Pancake Batter (page 67)

    So this is a pretty serviceable recipe for pancake batter. It’s not my favorite pancake recipe of all time – that’s a toss-up between Isa’s Perfect Pancakes (Vegan Brunch) and the Lavender Pancakes from Alicia Simpson’s Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food – but these pillows of carbs are tasty enough. They manage to be both fluffy and cakey at the same time, which is a feat in itself. It would have been nice if Bialik included a few original topping ideas to dress things up, though.

     

    2014-04-17 - MVT Breakfast Burrito - 0006 [flickr]

  • Breakfast Burrito (page 70)

    How can you go wrong with a one-dish tofu scramble/breakfast burrito recipe? (You can’t!) With tofu, red peppers, spinach, and Daiya cheese FTW.

    Actually the tofu here is supposed to be diced, but I pressed and mashed it, tofu scramble style, on accounta I don’t like diced tofu. (Too spongey!)

     

    2014-04-16 - MVT Nondairy Kugel - 0003 [flickr]

    2014-04-16 - MVT Nondairy Kugel - 0013 [flickr]

  • Nondairy Kugel (page 131)

    This is easily my favorite recipe in the whole book; but then I have a well-documented weakness for macaroni and cheese!

    Okay, so maybe Kugel isn’t technically mac & cheese, but it’s close enough for me. Creamy Daiya cheese sauce. Breadcrumbs browned on top. With just “a touch of sour cream for that classic and slightly tart kugel taste.” Sooooo good. If I were to make one change, I’d cook the onions before adding them to the casserole; they seemed a little on the raw side for me.

     

    2014-04-18 - MVT Potato Hash - 0001 [flickr]

  • Potato Hash (page 72)

    A quick and easy one-dish meal with black beans (I used Navy), corn, chorizo (or Lightlife hotdogs, in my case), red peppers, onions, garlic, and some other goodies.

     

    2014-04-19 - MVT Quinoa Burgers - 0010 [flickr]

    2014-04-20 - MVT Quinoa Burgers - 0002 [flickr]

    2014-04-20 - MVT Pizza Crust - 0005 [flickr]

  • Quinoa Burgers (page 97)

    Another favorite, these burgers are super-simple with just seven ingredients. The recipe proved problematic, though: my burger batter came out way too wet and sticky to handle. I ended up adding 1/4 cup of flour and between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of quick oats before I could shape it into patties without half the quinoa clinging to my phalanges. An easy enough fix, though I’ve yet to figure out what went wrong. And did I mention that I ended up with double the number of burgers estimated in the serving size? Weird.

    You’re supposed to fry and then bake them, but I decided to try baking them for a healthier meal. 30 minutes (20 and then flip) at 425F on a lightly greased baking sheet did the trick.

    Pro tip: leftover batter makes a pretty excellent pizza topping. Just spoon the uncooked batter onto the top of a pizza in marble-sized blobs and bake.

     

    2014-04-20 - MVT Pizza Crust - 0006 [flickr]

  • Daiya-Style Pizza (Lose the Daiya, Keep the Crust; page 149)

    Speaking of pizza! Bialik’s pizza dough recipe is similar to our own go-to recipe, just minus the sugar (which should result in less rise and a thinner dough). The first time we tried it, the dough remained dense and chewy even after baking. On our second go-round, it baked up nicely…so we’ll just chalk the first test run up to old yeast, wacky weather, or plain old human error.

     

    2014-04-24 - MVT Baked Ziti - 0004 [flickr]

    2014-04-24 - MVT Ricotta - 0004 [flickr]

    2014-04-24 - MVT Cashew Cream - 0003 [flickr]

  • Baked Ziti with Herbed Ricotta and Cashew Cream (page 142)

    There’s so much to love in this recipe! The ricotta – which has a macadamia nut base – is divine, and the cashew cream is delicious too. Bialik includes a recipe for red sauce as well (which I didn’t try), which you can easily swap out for your own favorite, or a premade version if you’re pressed for time. This recipe requires quite a few dishes, but is easy enough that beginners should be able to pull it off.

     

    2014-05-01 - MVT Root Vegetable Latke - 0001 [flickr]

  • Root Vegetable Latkes (page 130)

    These latkes are reminiscent of the potato pancakes my mom used to make when I was a kid (reminder to self: get that recipe like yesterday!), but with extras: Sweet potatoes. Zucchini. Carrots. Onion. Dill. So many savory flavors!

    As with the Quinoa Burgers, this recipe didn’t come off without a hitch. For starters, I ended up with at least twice as much “batter” as expected. I doubled the matzo meal and flax eggs in order to compensate for all the extra vegetable mass. Instead of frying them, I baked the latkes for a healthier meal. Twelve minutes on each side at 425F on a greased baking sheet worked okay, though I’m still tinkering around with other time/temp combos. (There was a teeny bit of burning around the edges at 425F.)

    For what it’s worth, the leftovers also make a decent burrito filling! Just heat them in a skillet with a teaspoon of oil, along with any other veggies your heart desires, and voila! You have a hearty, healthy(ish) meal to go!
     

    All in all, my experiments ranged from moderate successes (Potato Hash, Root Vegetable Latkes) to lick-the-plate-clean good (Nondairy Kugel, Quinoa Burgers). I can’t say that I was unhappy with any of the dishes I tried, though there were a few nervous-making moments (e.g., when I ended up with way more batter than expected for the Quinoa Burgers and Root Vegetable Latkes).

    There are still quite a few recipes on my to-do list: Cream of Carrot Soup (ran out of dill! doh!), Falafel, Golden Couscous with Herbs, Shepherd’s Pie, Creamed Corn Bread, and Rugelach (dare I?). Also, the Brussels Sprout Chips both scare and intrigue me.

     

    Pros:

  • I really like the international flair of the cookbook – especially all the Jewish recipes: Matzoh Ball Soup, Tzimmes, Latkes, Kugel, Challah Bread, Mandel Brodt, Rugelach, Sufganiyot, and Hamantaschen, oh my! (Or should I say Oy vey?) Why hasn’t anyone made an all-vegan, all-Jewish cookbook yet? (Or have they?) Get on that, crafty types!
  • That said, many of the recipes have an American bent, inspired by Mayim’s husband; this might make them more palatable for persnickety eaters.
  • Balik describes her style as “accessible plant-based eating”; as such, the unusual and hard-to-find ingredients are kept to a minimum. I was happy to find that most of the items I needed for this review were already staples in my pantry!
  • The Quinoa Burgers, Nondairy Kugel, Herbed Ricotta, and Cashew Cream are all excellent and destined for steady rotation in my kitchen. I’m also a huge fan of one-dish meals, and the Breakfast Burrito excels in this regard!

     

    Cons:

  • A major criticism I’ve seen of Mayim’s Vegan Table is that the recipes are “too easy” – i.e. so intuitive that they’re commonsense. And, while it’s true that some of the recipes are beginner’s basic – Kale Chips, French Onion Dip, Bruschetta, Zucchini Chips, Oven-Baked Fries – I think this is pretty common across cookbooks. Most of the vegan cookbooks I’ve reviewed have included a few gimmes – hummus and banana ice cream seem to be especially trendy right now.

    But there’s also quite a bit of more imaginative fare here: Dilled Chickpea Burger with Spicy Yogurt Sauce, Sprout & Potato Croquettes with Dipping Sauce, Turtle Bread, and Creamed Cornbread. And did I mention all those Jewish recipes?

    Nevertheless, the simplicity of many of these dishes is the number one reason why I’d recommend it primarily to vegan parents, newbie vegans, and vegans on the go.

  • Then again, I found that some of the recipes needed tweaking to work, which lessens their usefulness for the above demographics. After all, busy dads and inexperienced cooks likely won’t have the time or knowledge to experiment with a recipe until it works for them. So. Grain of salt.
  • Bialik doesn’t include nutritional info, which doesn’t bother me much, but may be a sticking point for some readers.
  • The book’s layout is on the plain side. While I found the type colors and fruit and veggie artwork aesthetically appealing, Mayim’s Vegan Table isn’t nearly as flashy as its competition.
  • The photos are limited to sixteen glossy pages set in the middle of the book; as such, most of the recipes lack an accompanying photo. Normally I don’t care either way – but in a few instances, a photo would have let me know whether I was on track with the recipe.
  • While Bialik doesn’t make heavy use of processed vegan meats and cheeses, she doesn’t eschew them altogether. For example, Daiya cheese makes multiple appearances, and recipes calling for vegan chorizo and bacon without offering instructions for making them from scratch seem to steer readers down the path of least resistance and toward the store-bought stuff. Again, this doesn’t bother me – you can have my Lightlife Smart Bacon when you pry it out of my cold, dead, 90-year-old hands – but not all vegans are fans of these convenience foods.

     

    Mayim’s Vegan Table is a difficult cookbook for me to rate; it’s times like these I agonize over Amazon’s lack of a half-star rating system. While I think it’s just shy of earning four stars, I don’t think it’s entirely deserving of a three-star rating either. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Amazon.

    Buy it for: vegan parents; newbie vegans in need of simple, healthy meal ideas; Jewish vegans who’d like to veganize some of their childhood favorites.

    (This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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