Cookbook review by Julie L., a proofreader here at Swanson Health Products.
The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay S. Nixon is a low-fat, vegan cookbook. I’d like to clarify that vegan is different from vegetarian in that vegans consume no animal products whatsoever. Not even honey. If you’ve ever eaten pita, hummus and veggies for a meal, you’ve actually already eaten vegan.
I should also clarify that I do not currently follow a strict vegan lifestyle. Many people pursue vegan foods as a political choice or an environmental choice. Some end up eating vegan the same way that I did a few years back, trying to figure out potential food allergies through what’s called an elimination diet.
That said, like any good cookbook, The Happy Herbivore has an introduction that includes how to approach using the book and an outline of basics needed to know before you begin to cook. Nixon highlights items you should have on hand in your refrigerator, pantry and spice rack. Plus, there are many brightly-colored photos that make me hungry. Always a good sign!
Nixon points out a number of good reasons to go vegan: environmental sustainability, food that is low in dietary cholesterol and high in fiber, and to help save both animals and money—which also happen to be the goals of her blog and this cookbook.
Most of the recipes follow classic categories like casseroles or breakfast foods, but world cuisine from India and Ethiopia are woven throughout. She even includes recipes for making vegan versions of milk (from brown rice) and mayonnaise (from tofu).
While there’s a heavy reliance on soy-based products, corn, wheat and yeast that will limit the book’s accessibility for readers with allergies or sensitivities, these ingredients can easily be substituted for other foods.
The first recipe I tried was Chana Palak Masala, one of my favorite Indian dishes to eat when dining out, which gets expensive faster than you can say Aloo Gobi. The ingredients were, as author intended, easy to find and inexpensive. Most were already in my cupboard. The dish took very little time to prepare; it mostly needed to cook and meld flavors.
Wait, is my house supposed to smell like the savory streets of New Delhi? It did. The flavor was good, but needed something… salt, which is completely vegan, and is a fantastic source of minerals, depending on what kind you purchase. Then it was… wow, it was really good! For lunch the next day, it was even better.
Because my first foray into Nixon’s book was so easy, I thought I’d turn to something more complex: black bean burgers and, wait for it—potato salad. Ok, so they’re not that complex. Most of the dishes seemed impossibly simple to create.
While a blender is sometimes necessary for cooking, I used a blender twice making this meal. So, keep in mind you might do a bit of cleanup as you go. But overall the preparation was super easy and fast, so I’ll skip right to the end: flavor, consistency, fulfilling, etc. The flavor was, again, surprisingly delicious, and I’m happy to report I was full when finished.
However, this is where my über-praise falters. The black bean burgers were dry. While Nixon’s recipe called to drain and rinse the beans, which I did, I would not have even been able to blend the bean mixture had I not added about a quarter cup of olive oil. Not very low fat. The more I thought about it, the more I thought just adding an egg would have made that bean burger perfect. Not very vegan of me, I admit.
On to the potato salad, which was tasty... but also pasty. Tofu, the main component of the mayonnaise, simply is thicker than egg-and-oil mayonnaise is. While the bite began great, it ended with a thickness that just wouldn’t leave my mouth.
That being said, I’m not a vegan, but if I were, I’d definitely love this food all the way around, start to finish. Having tried many vegan alternatives like vegan cheese or vegan meat products, I can attest that some of them really lack flavor. As for the consistency, maybe it’s something I could get used to. In the meantime, I may just take seriously Nixon’s advice to “not hold recipes captive” while trying to remain inspired to make more of my meals vegan.
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