When a book with a title like Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking comes out, how can you say no when someone offers you a copy for review?
Written by Annie and Dan Shannon, Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking is a gorgeous hardcover book with rich, full color photos inserted among the recipes. The pages are laid out in a classic style that brings to mind old-fashioned cookbooks-which is no surprise considering that the Shannons are also the brains behind the unique Betty Crocker makeover tome, Betty Goes Vegan (and, of course, the popular Meet the Shannons blog).
What did surprise me was that the book starts out not with an introduction to fancy vegan cookery but a very honest look into the Shannons’ lives. The general gist of it is that they found themselves in a situation that necessitated re-adjusting the way they approached cooking and eating in order to make delicious, quality vegan food possible despite suddenly being on a tight budget.
I found this very apt since I just moved into my first apartment and am finding that frugality is something I’m going to have to get used to. For a lot of years, God has blessed me with the financial ability to buy pretty much whatever food I want, when I want it. Expensive specialty finds haven’t been off-limits in a long time, but now that my expenses have changed, I’m also going to have to start looking at my food budget in a new light.
With this and similar scenarios in mind, Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking starts off with tips on stocking your pantry and your kitchen without emptying your bank account and continues to focus on saving money and reducing waste throughout the book. Recipes include boxes that reference other dishes that can be made with leftover ingredients. For example, if you buy a whole bottle of vegan Worcestershire sauce to make Roasted Red Flannel Hash, the Shannons direct you to Sloppy Joel Pie, Yankee Pot Roast Dinner and four other recipes in the book that also make use of it. Every recipe has a “per serving” cost as well, so if you’re looking for a 9 cent muffin, this book has you covered.
Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding anything among these helpfully frugal recipes that I wanted to make. Although the dishes are both inventive (like Apple-Sage Tempeh Sausage over Savory Polenta) and accessible (hello, PB&J Granola Bars!), many of them rely on packaged vegan meats and baking mixes that I no longer use in my kitchen and am not comfortable with eating. I’ve become very used to whole-food, plant-based cookbooks that include recipes for staples such as seitan, cheese sauce and biscuits/wraps/breads. I suppose you could say that makes me a bit of a food snob, which goes against the spirit of the book, but I’m not personally comfortable going back to foods that I’ve chosen to stop eating.
That said, the inclusion of these ingredients does make it easier and more efficient to whip up what might otherwise be an all-day recipe in under an hour. Even the “fancy” recipes in the Special Occasions section don’t include anything that’s too hard to find outside of a well-stocked grocery store. But you probably will have to visit the store before you get started with this book-which is where the pantry stocking suggestions come in handy.
After flipping through the book a few times, I finally settled on the Hungarian Goulash Stew from the No More Leftovers! section. It’s a neat chapter-every recipe is followed by one or more “leftover recipes” that take the remainder of the original dish and turn it into something completely different with just a few additional ingredients and steps. That way, you don’t have to eat the same thing more than once if you don’t want to, and nothing goes to waste.
I used homemade baked seitan in lieu of packaged vegan beef and substituted regular paprika for some of the astonishing 1/4 cup of smoked paprika called for in the recipe. Other than that, I followed the instructions but was a little frustrated to discover that no concrete cooking times were given. I’ll admit to being a bit OCD about things like that-I like to know beforehand how long something is going to take so that I can have dinner on the table at a specific time.
The vegetables (which include classic stew ingredients like potatoes and carrots) seemed to take a rather long time to cook, but on the flipside that did give me time to whip up some oat flour biscuits. I’m a fan of stew with dumplings, so I wanted something bready to go along with it. I probably should have written down what went into the biscuits because I basically improvised them by cobbling together various recipes from around the Internet. All I remember is that they were a pretty basic drop biscuit, except with oat flour instead of wheat.
The stew has a robust flavor and a fairly classic texture, both of which are very much like goulash. I enjoyed eating it more than I did making it-again, because I’m so hugely OCD about things timing out properly! I’ve since found a few other recipes that I want to try, but this cookbook hasn’t sprouted bookmarks the way some others did when I got them.
I admire the Shannon’s focus on providing healthy, easy, budget-friendly recipes and practical kitchen tips, and I think this book would be quite good for anyone who wants to enjoy classic cuisine without spending a gazillion dollars on groceries or half their lives in the kitchen. (Come to think of it, it’s sort of the budget version of Veganomicon-fancy enough, but not overly complicated.) Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking accomplishes the goal of showing that you can eat really well without a lot of money or hassle, but I don’t feel that it delivers on the promise of its title.
You might feel differently, so go ahead and give this unique burger recipe a try. It hails from the Dinner section of the book and features a rather unusual combination of ingredients. One thing that can be said about this book-you certainly won’t get bored with all of the innovative recipes that the Shannons have put together!
How do you feel about using meat substitutes and other vegan convenience foods?
Simple Korean Kimchi BBQ Burgers
MAKES 4 BURGERS
$2.68 PER SERVING
Years ago, I had a vegan Korean BBQ burrito in Los Angeles. The burrito had jackfruit to replace the steak, and I still think about it when I’m figuring out what to have for lunch. Jackfruit is pretty pricey and hard to come by in Brooklyn, but whenever I get nostalgic for that burrito, I make these spectacular burgers. They combine the signature sweet Korean BBQ sauce with a “beefy” veggie burger and spicy kimchi (a sort of hot Korean sauerkraut usually made with napa cabbage, radishes, and green onions) to create a dinner just as good as those burritos. Plus, you’ll hopefully have some leftover kimchi as a side for lunch the next day.
- 2 cups Lightlife Gimme Lean Burger or Match Vegan Meats Burger (QV note: Upton’s Naturals ground seitan would probably also work!)
- 1 green onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
- ½ teaspoon ginger paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- Dash of vegan liquid smoke
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- Dash of vegan liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha or Thai chili sauce
- ¼ cup applesauce
- 2 teaspoons agave nectar
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- ¼ teaspoon ginger paste
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil (QV note: omit for an oil-free version)
- 4 whole wheat hamburger buns
- 1 cup vegan kimchi (read labels to make sure yours is vegan; some contain fish sauce)
- Make the burger: In a large bowl, use your hands to mix together the vegan beef, green onion, molasses, ginger paste, soy sauce, vegan liquid smoke, onion powder, and garlic until blended. The molasses is really sticky, so this is kind of messy and weird, but it’s totally worth it. Promise.
- Form the mixture into 4 patties about the size of your hand. Place them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the BBQ sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together all the BBQ sauce ingredients. Set aside.
- In a cast-iron skillet or frying pan, heat
- 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil over medium heat. Working in batches, fry the burgers until lightly crispy around the edges, then reduce the heat to low and brush the burgers with
- BBQ sauce. Flip and coat the burgers a few times to get a nice saucy patty, but watch out for the hot oil. Repeat with the remaining burgers, adding the remaining oil after the first batch.
- Toast the burger buns while the burger patties are cooking.
- Serve each burger in a toasted bun with lots of kimchi on top.
Excerpted from the book MASTERING THE ART OF VEGAN COOKING by Annie and Dan Shannon. © 2015 by Annie and Dan Shannon. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Life and Style. All rights reserved.