Cookbook authors make their recipes accessible

Wednesday, June 4, 2003


Sarah Kramer takes seriously her job as a self-described "vegan warrior."

Her mission? To dispel myths about meatless living and inspire people to crave the sort of mirthful, easy-to-make meals she and friend Tanya Barnard write about in their cookbooks.

To that end the duo's recent release, "The Garden of Vegan" (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2003), starts with an offbeat section of advice on living as a vegan (including whether sex passes muster), before meandering into 220 enticing, if sometimes oddly named, recipes.

Though its aim is the same, this is not the bland brand of veganism that sprouted during the 1960s and 1970s, producing weighty and often taste-challenged tomes on everything brown rice and tofu.

This book, filled with funky photos of the authors where most contemporary cookbooks have lavish spreads, is irreverent, sometimes off-topic (the book includes "recipes" for catnip toys and a fungus foot rub) and usually entertaining.

That's all part of the plan, Kramer said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Victoria, Canada.

She said that as with their first book, "How It All Vegan!" (Arsenal, 1999), she and Barnard wanted to make animal-free eating and living accessible to everyone.

"It's really important to me that this book is approachable and understandable," she said. "A lot of books are really fancy with pretty pictures and I think, 'Oh, I could make that.' But I don't. Any Joe Schmo could make our recipes."

She's right; these are not complicated recipes. Some (such as sauteed shiitake mushrooms and red peppers) are decidedly simple. Others coax more complex flavors from common ingredients (a hummus that uses sundried tomatoes).

Many of the recipes didn't originate with the authors, but were submitted by friends and fans of their first book. That means readers of the new book have been given a chance to try Miller's magnificent 5-layer dip, Sonia's falafels and Zoe's grandma's roasted new potatoes.

The result is a broad swath of dishes that adhere to no particular culinary style or ethnicity (recipes for tomato basil bruschetta and "not pigs" in a blanket appear side-by-side).

Yet (aside from odd personal hygiene "recipes") it works, in part because Kramer and Barnard capture how the modern vegan eats -- selecting meat-free meals from a world of cuisines, and meshing them with solid veg-head know-how.

"I think some people who don't know about the food, they think of that 1970s lentil casserole with ketchup on it," Kramer said. "But it's not like that anymore. It's really evolved."

Asked which recipe from "Garden of Vegan" is a must-try, Kramer didn't hesitate -- Sarah and Tanya's you-must-make-this dressing. She said it is equally good as a salad dressing, sandwich spread, and chip and vegetable dip.

While assembling the ingredients to test the dressing, I was dubious. Scallions, raw garlic, maple syrup, mustard, 1/2 cup of oil and a host of herbs seemed a sketchy mix.

Truth be told, the dressing's brilliant green color is off-putting. Despite that, it was surprisingly good. The raw garlic can be a bit much, but if that concerns you, roast the garlic in a bit of olive oil before adding to the dressing.

Next up for testing was the pair's sundried tomato and chickpea soup. Made as directed, this dish has a nice flavor, but was lacking when it came to looks.

The recipe calls for pureeing half of the soup just before serving. This turned a previously appealing hearty tomato stew into a red mess that looked and acted more Sloppy Joe than soup. That said, the taste was nice.

If I made that soup again, I would either add a 12-ounce package of ground "beef" substitute, follow the recipe as written and go with the Sloppy Joe flow; or skip the tahini and pureeing part entirely, and serve the soup with crusty bread.

Sarah and Tanya's You-Must-Make-This Dressing

(Preparation 10 minutes)

1 scallion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons maple syrup

4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

Makes 3/4 cup.

Sensational Sundried Tomato & Chickpea Soup

(Preparation 45 minutes)

1 medium Spanish onion, chopped

2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 large carrot, cut into thin rounds

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

5 to 6 sundried tomatoes (packed in oil), chopped

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon dry yellow mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons tahini

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Combine the onions, garlic, carrots and sesame oil in a medium stockpot over a medium flame. Saute until the onions are translucent. Add the chickpeas, crushed tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, cumin, mustard powder, cayenne, black pepper, vinegar, soy sauce and vegetable stock.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

Transfer half the soup, in batches if necessary, to a blender or food processor. Add the tahini and puree until smooth and thick. Return to the pot and mix well to blend with remaining soup. Stir in parsley and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

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