"So what do you eat?"
Ever heard that one before? If you're vegan, of course you have. In fact, I would say it lands in part of the top three questions vegans get. I do not speak for all vegans, but I hear it too often for it to be an anomaly. If you are lucky enough to have never been asked this question, or you are not a vegan, let me set the scene for you:
The person, who you just told you were vegan, looks at you with total confusion and perhaps a little horror, as they envision a life full of grass, tomatoes, and celery.
If you are not vegan, but you are open-minded, this sounds like an exaggeration or a joke. While the misconception is a bit laughable, people think that vegan often means: deprivation, starvation, and the "blandest" vegetable diet. I am occasionally surprised at how deep the lack of exposure to vegan cuisine goes. For example, I brought a fresh made juice into work one morning, and someone asked, "Is that vegan juice." I replied yes, and his/her response was, "Wait, so is all juice vegan?"
When these situations arise, my response is to politely smile and list some "normal" foods that I eat and correct false information. This reassurance only puts people at ease about 50% of the time. It is sort of like telling your five-year-old that there is no monster under the bed. She wants to believe you, but there is still that nagging doubt that says you are totally wrong. Of course, veganism and vegan cuisine are far from the scary monster lurking beneath the bed frame. But to a lot of people, they might as well be the same.
This is where Vegan Cooking for Carnivores by Roberto Martin comes in. The cookbook does an AMAZING job at demonstrating cooking that anyone, especially the non-vegans, can get behind.
This book is a proclamation that you do not have to live on the sad and "protein deficient" diet of stewed chickweed and wheat grass. Thus, we can be compassionate AND eat the foods that we love and grew up with. For example, Vegan Cooking for Carnivores contains recipes like Tofu Crab Cakes, and Southern Fried Chick'n. These are the kinds of recipes that erase the notion of waifish vegans pining and secretly lusting after a bucket of fried chicken.
It is official, we can have our cake and eat it too! (An expression that I always thought was silly. Who would have a cake and not eat it. That is a terrible waste of cake.) In addition to its inclusive philosophy, the cookbook is supported and promoted by two notable celebrities: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. Both are big name celebrities and are vegan. They hired Roberto Martin as their personal chef and charged him to create the recipes they loved in ways that matched their ideals and stomachs.
If you read the back of the book, Portia's quote sums it up well, "and because Ellen and I can eat everything we want with the help of our carnivorous vegan chef, we discovered that going vegan is easy."
I really appreciate the wide variety of recipes in this book. It is really a multicultural catchall, and there does seem to be something for everyone.
The book consists of these parts. Under each part is a delicious example!
~Pantry essentials and Basic Cooking Techniques
-- Tofu Benedict with Chipotle Cream
-- Grilled Cheese for Grown-Ups
~Appetizers and Snacks
-- Cranberry-Apple Bread (pictured above)
-- Tofu Crab Cakes with Simple Slaw and Crab Cake Sauce (pictured below)
--Rosemary White Bean Soup with Garlicky Croutons
-- Blackened-Tofu Caesar Salad (pictured above)
~Pizza, Pasta, and Pasta Sauces
--Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter
--Southern Fried Chick'n (pictured above)
--Grilled Polenta Cakes
--The Perfect Scratch Margarita
--Vegan La Bête Noire The Black Beast
~Condiments, Sauces, and Dressings:
--Dark Red Mole Sauce
The welcoming and nostalgic nature of this book is both it greatest triumph and its biggest flaw. If you are a new vegan trying to make the transition, having a resource like this is vital. This book offers easy tweaks to your old favorites. But, those easy tweaks often involve highly processed meat and dairy substitutions. Most new vegans or veg-curious people start with these, but I find that most vegans migrate to cleaner and whole foods diets over time.
For example, after we made the Southern Fried Chick'n, which I thoroughly enjoyed, both Cameron and I felt heavy and weighed down by our food. They tasted amazing, but we were not used to food that made us want to nap after. So, if you want the occasional treat that recreates a meaty dish, then this book is incredible. However, if you are focusing on minimally processed foods, most of the recipes rely heavily on a substitution, such as tofu, Gardein Chick"n Scallopini, and cheese alternatives. Is every recipe like this? No, but enough are that I found myself wishing for cleaner alternatives.
Overall, this is a beautiful book with incredible color photography for almost every recipe. But, I think the true treasure of the book lies within its accessibility and educational potential. For a little over 20 dollars, a vegan can reclaim their old favorite foods, and non-vegans can see that we do not just get our nutrition from kale fumes. While, I no longer cook from this book regularly, because of the processed ingredients, I do recommend this book for newbies to the vegan world. So the next time some one asks you, "So, what do you eat?" You can say, with a polite smile on your face, "Southern Fried Chick'n and Grilled Cheese." And you will have the delicious pictures to prove it!