Cookbook Review: Simple Recipes for Joy, Sharon Gannon (2014)

March 27th, 2015 12:22 pm by Kelly Garbato

Really Enjoyed the Selection of Soups & Pasta Dishes

four out of five stars

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

Sharon Gannon’s Simple Recipes for Joy: More Than 200 Delicious Vegan Recipes is nothing if not quirky – and I mean that in the best way possible. The cover features a Mad Hatter-style vegan tea party, and the interior of the cookbook has a fun, funky ’70s vibe. The glossy pages include tons of mouth-watering food photos, as well as shots of the author, both at work (Garon co-founded the Jivamuktea Café in NYC) and play (her costumes will leave all the hippie chicks in awe).

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The 200 vegan recipes are divided up into fifteen sections: soups; pasta and sauces; salads; dressings; dips and spreads; grains; beans, tempeh, tofu, and seitan; vegetables; potatoes; toasts; sandwiches; quick bread and crackers; desserts; smoothies; and tea and other hot drinks. Also included are a FAQ; cooking tips; notes on a well-stocked kitchen; 30 sample menus; and 21-day cleansing diets.

Since I first got to know Simple Recipes for Joy during the cold winter months, I veered heavily towards the soups and pasta dishes. At 50 pages, the chapter on soups is easily the largest – and one of my favorites. Save for the Cream of Broccoli Soup – which was tasty enough, but made me all kinds of bloated – every recipe proved a winner.

2014-08-24 - SRJ Red Lentil & Tomato Soup - 0001 [flickr]

The Red Lentil and Tomato Soup was awesome, and helped me to polish off a whopping two pounds of my homegrown tomatoes. It’s a little on the thin side, though; for a heartier soup, I added an extra cup of red lentils toward the end of the cooking cycle. That gave them just enough time to cook, but not dissolve entirely, like the first batch.

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Next up is the Sweet Potato & Corn Bisque, served with a loaf of lightly toasted sourdough bread for dipping! There’s not much else to say about this soup – it warms the belly, tastes delish, and is a cinch to make – and that’s enough for me!

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And then there’s the aforementioned Cream of “Broccoli Hates You” Soup (get it?), which tastes just fine but plays like a horror story on your insides. Or my insides, anyhow. I wonder how it would taste/feel if I replaced half the broccoli with cauliflower instead? I won’t lie, I’m a little scared to find out.

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Luckily, the Country Vegetable Soup was much kinder to my tummy than its predecessor. The broth is surprisingly understated, considering the amount of spices that go into it: two tablespoons of rosemary, and a tablespoon each of cumin and coriander. (Is it just me, or does that sound like a ton of rosemary?) Really tasty though, and excellent for dipping crackers and rolls. The veggies include potatoes, carrots, corn, and peas (which I omitted), for a hearty vegetable soup.

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The Maharini Dal was also a big hit. Packed with red lentils for protein (and hearty, stick-to-yer-ribbedness), this soup is almost as tasty as it is healthy. I say “almost” because it contains cilantro, which I omitted without hesitation. (Ew, soap!) Otherwise I’d say that the recipe’s spot-on, though I did add an extra teaspoon of cumin, coriander, and curry on account of the recommended one tablespoon of each proved a little understated for my palate.

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Last but certainly not least is the Cream of Celery Soup. The fact that I even gave this a try is a minor miracle in itself – I am a giant celery denier. It’s not celery’s taste I dislike, but rather its texture: all those gross, stringy bits remind me of dental floss (yuck!). Happily, the celery is cooked and then pureed here, so that the strings are pulverized into submission. Well, mostly; a few, spice-sized pieces remain, and are most obvious when the leftovers thicken up. But this is easily rectified by adding a little extra water.

Otherwise, the soup is delectable, with celery, potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms, and hints of tarragon, thyme, and coconut (milk).

In addition to the soups, I also loved the pasta selection – which is considerably shorter, but equally inspired in places.

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Exhibit A: The Angel Hair Pasta with Creamy Lemon-Zucchini Sauce. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s a revelation. Containing a full five pounds (FIVE!) of zucchini, it’s just what I need to keep my summer zucchini harvest in check. Even though it’s a hot dish, the light lemony taste is perfect for warm summer nights dining al fresco. It’s also incredible easy to make and super-healthy. Easily my favorite recipe in the whole darn book.

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The Spaghetti and “Meat” Balls were also pretty great. I’ve tried my fair share of DIY meatball recipes, and more often than not end up with a crumbly mess. These actually held together quite well, which is a feat unto itself!

While the directions weren’t my favorite (e.g., I hate it when authors include the post-baking volume of ingredients in the list; I don’t know about you, but I buy my rice dry, not cooked!), and the dough initially came out a little mushy, I was easily able to tweak it to make it work. (Just add some more dry ingredients and mix by hand until you’re able to handle the dough without it sticking to your fingers!) With lentils, brown rice, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, vegan Worcestershire sauce, and tons of other goodies, these balls are crunchy on the outside and a giant flavor explosion on the inside. Don’t let the seemingly endless ingredients list fool you – it’s not that terribly difficult to pull off.

The Tomato Sauce is also a from-scratch recipe; it’s basic and serviceable, but nothing to write home about. (Yeah, I have my own favorite, tested-over-the-years concoction. What do you expect, I’m Italian!)

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If you like mushrooms, the Creamy Mushroom Pasta is a sure bet. Again, this recipe is so easy even a beginner could do it. You cook the mushrooms, you cream the mushrooms, you put ’em on pasta – done and done! (Don’t have mushroom bouillon? Vegetable works just as well!)

The recipe calls for ten ounces of mushrooms, but I used an even sixteen. For a slightly chunkier sauce, go with full pound of ‘shrooms and hold some back prior to pureeing. Then put the sauce back on the stovetop to simmer, and stir the leftover mushrooms back in. SO GOOD!

2014-10-08 - SRJ Potato-Zucchini Salad - 0001 [flickr]

Another dish I fell hard for was the Potato-Zucchini Salad (like potato salad, but half zuke!). I was skeptical at first – I’m a high-carb girl all the way – but when steamed and seasoned, the zucchini chunks have a texture and taste similar to that of the pickles. So really, they blend right in and don’t detract from the awesomeness of the potatoes in any way. It’s a sneaky way to make potato salad a wee bit healthier.

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Finally, there’s the vegan cookbook staple: the tofu scramble. The Deluxe Tofu Scramble, in this case. This is a tofu scramble recipe unlike any I’ve ever tried, though, in that it directs you to add 4-5 tablespoons of water (mixed in with the spices) to the tofu. Like, why bother draining it?

I don’t know about you guys, but I usually have a problem with too much moisture in my scrambles – especially if I add veggies with a high water content, like mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes. Granted, this recipe calls for none of these things (though I did add a little of each, in the interest of cleaning out my fridge), but still. Four tablespoons? That’s a lot of water, yo! I would say try one tops, since the recipe is absent the one tablespoon of soy sauce I usually use. But no more!

Otherwise I really liked Garron’s version. The spices are a mix of cumin, nutritional yeast, tumeric, thyme, paprika, chili powder, salt, parsley, and coriander – which is a new one for me. The taste is a little fresh and different from what I’m used to.

Still, most Level Three Vegans on up could scramble blindfolded, in someone else’s kitchen, while juggling kittens. Almost every vegan cookbook includes a scramble recipe, even though I’d wager that at least half the audience has been there, done that.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and creativity of the recipes I found in Simple Recipes for Joy; the Potato-Zucchini Salad and Angel Hair Pasta with Creamy Lemon-Zucchini Sauce are new favorites of mine, and Red Lentil and Tomato Soup, Country Vegetable Soup, and Maharini Dal are all bound to see a second night in my kitchen, too.

Granted, I often found myself using more spices than directed (sometimes twice as much or more!), but this seems to be pretty standard for me. (Maybe I just have an underdeveloped palate?) For the most part, the directions are simple and easy to follow; you won’t see a whole lot of unusual or hard-to-find ingredients here. A few of the ingredients lists are a little on the lengthy side, but the actual steps are still basic enough that beginning to intermediate cooks should have little or no problems.

There are also some really nifty recipes that I haven’t gotten around to trying yet. This is the first cookbook I’ve seen (at least in memory) that includes both a vegan eggnog and a vegan jello recipe (kanten).

But. It also seems as if Simple Recipes for Joy has more than its fair share of “gimme” recipes. You know the ones: recipes that are nothing more than directions for steaming potatoes or grilling vegetables (both present here). There’s even a recipe for a vegan BLT that calls for store-bought bacon, rather than providing a DIY bacon recipe. This feels like a bit of a ripoff on its own; doubly so when the cookbook’s penned by a restaurateur. Save for especially popular name-brand items (e.g., Daiya cheese), isn’t it generally expected that upscale and all-vegan restaurants make their own plant-based ingredients?

I’ll dock a star for the Grilled Cheese that literally just tells you to butter (margarine) two slices of bread, shove some cheese twixt the two, and then grill on a panini press – but this still doesn’t hamper my joy at finding new and exciting ways to use my summer zucchinis and tomatoes!

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I just like summer squash, okay.

(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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2 Responses to “Cookbook Review: Simple Recipes for Joy, Sharon Gannon (2014)”

  1. Jen Says:

    Thanks for the review. I was wondering if this cookbook has a recipe for spicy tempeh like the one served at the café in NYC. The photos you posted definitely look appetizing. TIA.

  2. Kelly Garbato Says:

    Jen –

    Here are the listings for tempeh in the index:

    tempeh
    Bacon Salad, 146
    Insteada-Tuna Salad, 147
    Spicy Tempeh, 199
    Spicy Tempeh Salad, 145
    Tempeh Croutons, 200

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