Cookbook Review: Vegan Eats World, Terry Hope Romero (2013)

November 13th, 2014 2:30 pm by Kelly Garbato

“What if the world was vegan?”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this cookbook for review from the publisher.)

Wherever it’s eaten, meat basically remains the same – it’s plant foods that transport our senses. Apply those flavors to vegan staples such as seitan or tofu and even straight-up vegetables, and the possibilities? If not endless, pretty darned expansive.

As a semi-reformed fussy eater, I was both nervous and excited when Da Capo Press offered me a copy of Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Eats World: 300 International Recipes for Savoring the Planet for review. (Waaaay back in May, to celebrate the book’s release in paperback. I’m SO SORRY it took as long as it did, you guys!) Nervous because I knew that many of the recipes contained therein would fall outside my comfort zone and challenge me to try new things – and excited for the same.

The recipes in Vegan Eats World run the gamut: there’s everything from soups and sammies to spring rolls, dumplings, and pierogies. Crepes, breads, and pies, of both the sweet and savory persuasions. Tofu scrambles, gyros, curries, and noodles. French tarts, Greek lasagna, Ethiopian tortes, and Egyptian soup. Romero traverses the globe in search of traditional dishes to veganize and otherwise “hack,” combining different ingredients and foodstuffs in exciting and unconventional ways. The result is a hodgepodge of recipes which hail from South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and are as mouth-watering as they are varied. There’s literally something for everyone here!

Since I did the majority of my review-cooking in the early autumn, just as the leaves were starting to fall – and the temperatures, descending with them – I zeroed in on the soups and stews pretty quickly: Greek Creamy Lemon Rice Soup (“No” Govlemano), served with Yogurt Naan Griddle Bread (yum!);

2014-10-04 - VEW No Govlemano & Naan Bread - 0003 [flickr]

2014-10-04 - VEW No Govlemano & Naan Bread - 0012 [flickr]

White Bean Farro Soup with Chickpea Parmigiana (Italian, with a Tuscan flair);

2014-10-15 - VEW White Bean Farro Soup - 0002 [flickr]

Like An Egyptian Lentil Soup (holy onions, Batman!);

2014-10-12 - VEW Egyptian Lentil Soup - 0009 [flickr]

and Beer-Bathed Seitan Stew and Oven Pommes Frites (“a vegan riff on Belgian carbonnade à la flamande”).

2014-10-14 - VEW Seitan Stew & Frites - 0001 [flickr]

If you asked me to, I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite; the Greek Creamy Lemon Rice Soup, White Bean Farro Soup, and Like An Egyptian Lentil Soup were all amazing – even if I did make a slight adjustment to that last one. The lentil soup calls for a whopping four onions, three of them caramelized in a skillet. Even my largest pan couldn’t fit that many, so I reduced it to two red onions instead. The result is mega oniony, but quite good. Maybe four isn’t as out there as I first thought?

The seitan stew was tasty too, though I haven’t yet gotten used to the mouth feel of seitan when used in stew, where meat-eating me used to enjoy stringy, beefy things. (Think: Dinty Moore Beef Stew.) What can I say? Fussy eating habits die hard.

The husband, aka the resident seitan-maker, made both the Seitan Coriander Cutlets required for the stew,

2014-10-12 - VEW Seitan Coriander Cutlets - 0001 [flickr]

as well as a batch of 5-Spice Seitan for himself.

2014-10-12 - VEW 5-Spice Seitan - 0002 [flickr]

The former is baked; the latter, steamed. While relatively non-fussy, both require copious use of aluminum foil, which we didn’t love. (Aluminum foil is pretty much a single-use dealio, and I hate throwing things out!) Usually he sticks with stove top recipes (boil the dough and then reuse the broth in rice; so good! and thrifty!), but I guess these recipes were specifically designed to free up valuable stove top real estate. Seeing as we usually make seitan a day or two in advance of when it’s needed (the extras freeze well, and the husband keeps a small stash in the fridge for impromptu burritos), this isn’t really a concern, so we’ll probably try to adapt these recipes for the stove top, or mash ’em up with some of our go-to boiled seitan recipes.

But let’s return to that Naan bread for a second! It was so tasty, y’all! It’s baked in a cast-iron skillet on the stove top, which is easier than it sounds but also hella smoky. I’m kind of surprised my smoke detectors didn’t go off, now that I think about it. But the result is so good: fresh, warm, comforting carbohydrate goodness. It was excellent with the Greek Lemon Soup, but even better for making quickie single-serving pizzas

2014-10-06 - Naan Bread Pizza - 0001 [flickr]

and hummus sammie wraps. Since the naan bread is so thin and pliable, it’s even better than my usual base of pita bread!

2014-10-08 - Naan Hummus Sammie - 0001 [flickr]

Another favorite was the Turkish Zucchini Pancakes (“Mucver”; shown here with leftover White Bean Farro Soup).

2014-10-18 - VEW Turkish Zucchini Pancakes - 0005 [flickr]

2014-10-18 - VEW Turkish Zucchini Pancakes - 0001 [flickr]

I’ve made pancakes with zucchini from my garden a million and one times now, but this proved to be my most successful attempt at veggie pancakes ever. Perhaps it was because I actually took the time to wring the zucchini shreds instead of just throwing them in a colander and trusting gravity to do all the work? (Pro tip: a nut milk bag is aces for this.) Who knows! All I can say is that these were some delicious – and stable! – pancakes.

For dessert, I went with the Tenacious Tart Tatin (French Caramelized Apple Tart), on account of I’m swimming in apples every fall. (Five apple trees will do that to a girl.)

2014-10-10 - VEW Tenacious Tart Tatin - 0004 [flickr]

2014-10-10 - VEW Tenacious Tart Tatin - 0002 [flickr]

The tart was fairly easy (though time-intensive) to make, but very sweet. Even for me. And I LOVE sweet things!

Also, I’m not sure my “caramel” got as thick as it was supposed to – even after cooling, it remained the consistency of a thin maple syrup. After a day it had mostly been absorbed by the crust for a slightly less messy meal, but it was no less sweet. Ah, well. The poached apples were stellar, at least!

But my most favorite dish by far just so happened to be the first one I tried. (Hey, I know what I like!) Surprise, surprise: it involves pasta.

2014-05-22 - VEW Pastichio Vegani - 0003 [flickr]

The Pastichio Vegani – also known as Greek Eggplant Lasagna – is just amazing. AH-MAY-ZING. “Worth the purchase price of this book alone” amazing. Seriously, I cannot talk this recipe up enough.

It’s kind of a mashup between spaghetti pie and lasagna, but with a tubular pasta at the base – so no laboring over a giant, steaming hot cauldron, gently stirring giant lasagna noodles while whispering a prayer to the great Spaghetti Monster in the sky that they’ll come out with minimal rippage.

2014-05-22 - VEW Pastichio Vegani - 0005 [flickr]

The top, cheesy, crispy layer is what Romero calls an “almost-Bechamel topping.” It’s a tofu and cashew-based cheese that’s cooked until it’s firm and crispy brown on top. You guys! I could seriously just eat the cheese by itself.

Then there are two layers of pasta slathered in a roux sauce (again, the roux is so surprisingly tasty that I could eat it as is) separated by a layer of chunky veggie sauce with mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. The sauce has a special surprise: a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon, complemented by the nutmeg in the almost-Bechamel topping. I have to admit, I was a wee bit nervous putting these two spices in pasta; it’s not my usual way of doing things. But the end result was pretty awesome: the cinnamon gives the sauce an extra kick that’s spicy, but not hot; and the nutmeg just rounds the cinnamon out. Hella good.

My favorite part, of course, are the corners:

2014-05-22 - VEW Pastichio Vegani - 0011 [flickr]

Next time I’m totally gonna make this in a brownie pan. THEY’RE ALL CORNERS!

While some of the recipes appear daunting at first glance (with medium-long ingredients lists, some of which are heavy on less- or unfamiliar ingredients), for the most part I found Romero’s directions straight-forward and easy to follow. I groaned inwardly every time a recipe directed me to a second recipe for one of the ingredients, but ultimately none of the dishes were as difficult as I’d feared. Those that were a little more labor-intensive, such as the Greek Eggplant Lasagna, were 100% worth it, and then some. And you can always lighten your load by buying some items (such as the seitan) premade.

Given that this is an international cookbook, many of the recipes include ingredients that will require a trip to a specialty (“ethnic”) foods store and/or some searching online. If you live in a moderately large city, this won’t prove an insurmountable obstacle; those in rural areas might have more of a challenge, though.

Take me, for example: I really wanted to try some of the Asian dishes, but since I live a one-hour drive outside of Kansas City (and thus an Asian market), these menus will take an extra bit of planning. I remember when I reviewed Donna Klein’s The Chinese Vegan Kitchen a few years back: Shane drove two hours into the city just to visit its Asian food store, and returned with enough items to stuff our fridge to overflowing – which we had to speed-eat in all of ten days, before some of the perishables began to expire. A tasty chore, but exhausting.

In this vein, I also appreciate that Romero includes recipes for spice blends, sauces, and (especially!) vegan meats – this is super-handy for those who don’t have ready access to a vegan-friendly market, or who just want to save a little cash monies by making these items from scratch. (Pro tip: buy wheat gluten in bulk. You can store the excess in a freezer to keep it fresh!)

In order to make meal planning easier, Romero offers a list of suggested menus at the back of the book. Additionally, the recipes all bear various icons which designate the following: dishes that take less than 45 minutes to prepare; dishes that need not be babysat; dishes with inexpensive ingredients; dishes that are suitable for novices; dishes that are low on oil; dishes that are gluten-free; and dishes that are soy-free.

For those who enjoy gorgeous gourmet food photography, Vegan Eats World features some full-color photos, though the majority of the recipes are not accompanied by pictures. (This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but I know that some people simply must have a photo for every recipe.) I love the new montage cover on the paperback edition, but the hardcover edition is probably the wiser investment – it’s more likely to stand up to all the use and abuse it’s sure to see. Already the cover on my copy is starting to bend around the edges. (I usually avoid hardcover books, cookbooks being the sole exception.)

Overall, I quite enjoyed Vegan Eats World and suspect that my copy will see a lot of use. Some of the dishes are a little on the spicy side for me (I’m a giant, woman-sized baby when it comes to hot spices), but it’s easy enough to adjust or eliminate certain seasonings to taste. (Jalapeños, I’m looking at you!)

My only complaint? The index is kind of so-so. Oftentimes I found it difficult to locate a certain recipe, whether searching by title or ingredient. For example, there’s no entry for “zucchini,” and the Turkish Zucchini Pancakes are only listed under “pancakes” and “Mucver.” The categorization isn’t very intuitive, and had I wanted to cook from my pantry – which I often do – I would have missed the zucchini pancakes entirely. I’m really fussy when it comes to the index, though, so grain of salt.

Vegan Eats World is probably most suitable for moderately experienced cooks; I suspect that newbies might be intimidated by the many unfamiliar and occasionally hard-to-find ingredients. Buy it for: adventurous cooks, vegan or non; vegans who yearn for more than just pizza and veggie burgers; and European, Asian, Indian, and Latina vegans who’d love to veganize the comfort foods of their childhoods.

(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: Vegan Eats World, Terry Hope Romero (2013)”

  1. Jojo Says:

    WEW is one of my very fave’s, I made a riff off of the Takeout Stir fry earlier and it was super good. I need to make that pastichio before I go & live without cookbooks and an oven for a while, it looks like pasta erfection! Also I’m a huge fan of that tart tatin but I did find that I needed to cook the caramel for a really, really long time before it thickened up. Like, way longer than the recipe suggested but it definitely didn’t end up runny.

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