Cookbook Review: The HappyCow Cookbook, Eric Brent & Glen Merzer, eds. (2014)

June 28th, 2014 3:22 pm by Kelly Garbato

Fancy Vegan Eats from Around the World

four out of five stars

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

Every vegan’s favorite food and dining app* finally gets the cookbook treatment** in The HappyCow Cookbook: Recipes from Top-Rated Vegan Restaurants around the World. Founded in 1999, HappyCow.net allows users to search, rate, and add to its directory of vegan and vegan-friendly eateries (and stores!), making dining out as a vegan a wee bit easier.

The HappyCow Cookbook features profiles of and recipes from some of the many eateries found on the website. Just as HappyCow.net is international in scope, with listings across the globe, The HappyCow Cookbook doesn’t stay stateside. Among the international joints it highlights are Buddha Burgers in Israel; Germany’s Coox and Candy; and El Piano, in Spain. In the US, restaurants in thirteen states make the cut; this includes not only the usual suspects (New York and California), but also less obvious locales (Texas, North Carolina).

(I was a little bummed – but not exactly shocked – to find that Kansas City had been overlooked. For the so-called “Steak Capital of the World,” it’s surprisingly vegan-friendly. Plus I really wanted to get my hands on Eden Alley Cafe’s vegan buttercream cake recipe!)

Each participating restaurant contributed several recipes, resulting in a rather varied selection of dishes. Here you’ll find raw food, processed food, and gluten-free food. Healthy food and deliciously decadent junk food and everything in between. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Meat & potatoes American fare, international dishes, and a fusion of the two. Recipes suitable for beginner cooks – and more complicated dishes that are better suited to dinner parties than casual family meals.

Here’s a peek at some of the recipes I tried in preparation for this review

 

2014-05-17 - HappyCow Quinoa Patties - 0005 [flickr]

  • Quinoa Patties from Green Cuisine (page 112)

    With a base of quinoa and millet, these burgers are as tasty as they are easy to whip up. The instructions call for pan-frying, but I baked them instead: on a greased cookie sheet at 425F for 15 to 20 minutes on each side. Delicious on sourdough bread with mustard, Vegenaise, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and spinach!

     

    2014-05-18 - HappyCow Omelet Sheets - 0002 [flickr]

  • Tofu Omelet Sheets from Cornbread Café (page 77)

    These omelets, like so many vegan egg dishes, sport a tofu base. Unlike most of the vegan omelet recipes I’ve tried, though, these are a two-step process: bake and then fry. (Briefly. The frying is mostly to melt the cheese, I think.) As it turned out, the baked omelet sheets proved too fragile to handle – so I sauteed my fillings separately and just combined before serving. Score!

     

    2014-05-25 - HappyCow Zuchetti Pesto - 0002 [flickr]

  • Zuchetti Pesto from Rawlicious (page 206)

    This was my very first time making raw veggie pasta; I even bought a brand spanking new spiralizer for the occasion! It’s not half bad, as long as you can let go of the idea that it “should” taste like traditional pasta. The biggest con for me is this: unlike real pasta, veggie noodles don’t really absorb liquids, making for a messy and watery meal. Otherwise it’s a filling and healthy alternative to the carby stuff.

    AND the pesto is pretty great too: a moist blend of spinach, basil, lemon juice and sunflower seeds; for extra-lemony goodness, sprinkle a little lemon zest on the pasta before serving.

     

    2014-06-04 - HappyCow Nutloaf - 0004 [flickr]

  • Nutloaf from Wayward Café (page 268)

    Easily my favorite of the bunch! At first glance I thought the nutloaf was a vegan version of a meatloaf; but really it’s more like a sandwich meat. Instead of a loaf pan, you spread the batter onto a cookie sheet, resulting in eight square cutlets about 1/2″ thick.

    Enjoy it on toasted bread with lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, onions, vegan mayo, and mustard (like so!) or in an open-faced sammie smothered in gravy (not pictured).

     

    2014-06-07 - HappyCow Crostini Italiano - 0009 [flickr]

  • Crostini Italiano from Veggie Grill (page 256)

    The Crostini Italian is meant as an appetizer, but I remixed it to make a meal. Same flavors, different presentation: Field Roast Italian Sausage served on baguette bread with olive tapenade, Tofutti cream cheese, and garlic and chives. Molto buona!

     

    2014-06-12 - HappyCow Page 186 - 0007 [flickr]

  • Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Cauliflower, Garlic, and Mashed Potatoes with Porcini Mushroom Gravy from Peacefood Café (page 186)

    You guys, as skeptical as I was of this particular vegetable/topping combo, I ended up falling in love with this dish. The gravy is to die for (or rather not!), and the roasted cauliflower is as yummy as it is a snap to make. Also it’s been ages since I had spaghetti squash, but Peacefood Café hoisted me squarely back on the spaghetti squash bandwagon.

     

    2014-06-14 - HappyCow Tricolored Pasta - 0001 [flickr]

  • Tricolored Vegetable Pasta with Sun-Dried Marinara and Cashew Cheese from G-Zen (page 107)

    The second of two raw pasta dishes found in The HappyCow Cookbook! I really liked the variety of noodles here: beets and carrots and addition to zucchini. The pasta sauce is kickin’, and contains a rather unexpected ingredient (dates, which you can’t even taste!). The cashew cheese is a little different, too – as opposed to most vegan Parmesan recipes, you soak the cashews prior to processing them, resulting in a cheese that’s closer to ricotta in consistency. I prefer not-soaked, but the wetter Parm worked well with the beet juices (soaked ’em all right up!).

     

    2014-06-19 - HappyCow Enchilada Pie - 0004 [flickr]

    2014-06-19 - HappyCow Enchilada Pie - 0007 [flickr]

  • Enchilada Pie from Stuff I Eat (page 229)

    This is one corny casserole, y’all! You’ve got your polenta. Your corn chips. Your corn tortillas. Your corn-corn. And don’t forget the red sauce and cheddar cheese. Plus there’s a tasty, tofu-based creamy cheese that congeals during baking so that it resembles an eggy omelet.

    Side note: The author suggests Follow Your Heart brand cheese – but since I’ve never known FYH to melt at under 425F (the bake temp on this is 350), I swapped it out for Daiya with awesome results.

     

    2014-06-19 - HappyCow Key Lime Tarts - 0004 [flickr]

  • Key Lime Tarts from Rawlicious (page 208)

    Raw tarts are both super-handy for hot-hot-hot days when you’d rather not fire up the oven – and incredibly easy to make. The crust is pretty simple, with just almonds, shredded coconut, and coconut oil; and the filling is 90% avocados and lime juice. In fact, the insides be bangin’ on their own; the avocado mix tastes a lot like lime flavored pudding!

    Pro tip: if you don’t have psyllium on hand, I used xanthan gum with great results.

     

    Overall I quite enjoyed taking The HappyCow Cookbook for a spin – but it’s not without its flaws.

    Pros:

  • There’s a rather excellent variety of dishes to be found here.
  • For those vegans who long to jet set (eat at ALL the iconic vegan restaurants!) but find themselves grounded by responsibilities (five dogs, hello!), The HappyCow Cookbook offers a way to enjoy all those awesome eat-out meals your friends keep instagramming – right in the comfort of your own home.
  • I found a few new all-time favorites! See, e.g., the Quinoa Patties; Nutloaf; and Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Cauliflower, Garlic, and Mashed Potatoes with Porcini Mushroom Gravy. I also tried my hand at raw pasta and lived to tell the tale! (The verdict: not half bad.)
  • The book’s brimming with gorgeous, full-color gourmet food photography and informative Q&A profiles of each restaurant. Bonus points: the spotlights give you something to read while you’re waiting for water to boil. Maybe you’ll even find your next vacation destination in here, eh?
  • Most of the ingredients are rather common and easy to find. The gluten-free baked goods, of course, require specialized ingredients (brown rice flour, xanthan gum) – but as GF baking becomes more widespread, more and more grocers are apt to stock these items. A few of the international dishes, though, call for items that you may only find online.
  • Owing to the variety of restaurants featured, there’s a little something for everyone here, from raw recipes that only use fresh ingredients to more processed fare (some of the dishes include processed meats and cheeses, but these are the minority).

    Cons:

  • While there are some easy-to-make recipes, many trend towards fancy and complicated. (Not surprising, since these are items pulled from the restaurants’ own menus.***) Better suited for impressing dinner guests than whipping up a quick weeknight meal.
  • A significant minority of the recipes I tried required tweaking.

    For example, the Key Lime Tarts: the crust recipe only produced enough dough to make three shallow tarts, instead of four. Initially I thought that my tart molds must be larger than those the author was working with, but no: the filling recipe made just enough. (My advice? Double the crust.)

    Likewise, the gravy in the Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Cauliflower, Garlic, and Mashed Potatoes with Porcini Mushroom Gravy recipe didn’t thicken up properly with just the recommended amount of cornstarch. Instead, I mixed two tablespoons of arrowroot powder with 1/4 cup of cold water and added it to the gravy after bringing it to a swift boil and then removing it from the heat (similar to the arrowroot slurry I use when making vegan ice cream). Instant medium-thick gravy. Magic!

    Example #3: the cream sauce recipe in the Enchilada Pie yields at least double than what’s called for in the recipe. You lay down 1/4 cup of cream sauce three times for a grand total of 3/4 cups. Meanwhile, the recipes calls for two cups of water – on top of 24 ounces of silken tofu. What!?! My advice: halve the recipe and use half the instructed amount of water.

    While none of the recipes could be described as a disaster, a few required troubleshooting. Definitely not for beginners, the easily flustered, or the faint of heart.

  • The clarity and specificity of the recipes varies (perhaps unsurprising, given the number of contributors, but frustrating nonetheless). For example, neither the Key Lime Tarts nor the Nutloaf mention what size pans you should aim for.
  • Most (all?) of the baked desserts are gluten-free – which is great for inclusivity, but not so much for those of us who fail at GF baking. (*Raises hand*: Me!)
  • The index … oy, the index. Recipes are listed by title and location – but not ingredients. There were times I spent a good five minutes searching for a specific dish because I couldn’t recall the exact name of the recipe. And cooking from my pantry? Fahgettaboudit! (Obviously this is moot if you’re working with an electronic copy.)

     

    Even though I’m done reviewing it, there are so many other recipes I’m looking forward to trying! Expect the Peruvian Leftovers Pie to make an appearance on my Parks & Rec inspired VeganMoFo menu in August, along with the Lemon Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce (maybe!). Also on my list are the infamous Nacho Pizza from Blackbird Pizzeria; Buddha Burgers’ Buddha Lentil Burger (with home sprouts!); Lentil Curry Stew from Evolution (though I’ll probably save that one for autumn!); and the Canelones de Seitan or Tempeh from Mi Vida. And oh, Kelly and Erinn’s Carrot Cake! Dare I?

    The final verdict: 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Amazon because NACHO PIZZA! It could use some improvement, but The HappyCow Cookbook is a welcome addition to my cookbook pile.

     

    2014-05-18 - The HappyCow Cookbook - 0006 [flickr]

     

    * Perhaps second only to Barnivore.

    ** Could The Barnivore Cookbook: Boozy Recipes for Bawdy Vegans be far behind?

    *** One reviewer complained that some of the items aren’t on the restaurants’ menus. Just for fun, I decided to see which of the dishes I tried are actually off the menu. Out of nine dishes, all of them are either currently on the restaurants’ menus or have been in the past (as evidenced by Yelp reviews and old blog posts).

    (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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  • One Response to “Cookbook Review: The HappyCow Cookbook, Eric Brent & Glen Merzer, eds. (2014)”

    1. Review: The HappyCow Cookbook - Cadry's Kitchen Says:

      […] to see more? Kelly at easyvegan.info has made quite a bit from the HappyCow Cookbook and wrote a lengthy and helpful post with pictures […]

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