Most helpful positive review
73 of 76 people found the following review helpful
fun and yummy resource
on October 30, 2009
I love this cookbook! Since I follow her blog, I wasn't sure whether this cookbook would be worth my time, but it's been wonderful. Lots of recipes and lots of information are packed into this book. I own a lot of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, and this one offers truly different and exciting recipes, as well as serving as a resource for basics (like pancakes) and standbys (like a new take on the tofu scramble).
My favorite recipes in this book: blueberry waffles with lemon icing; stuffed banana berry french toast; aloo matar; caramelized leek and spaghetti squash polenta with white sauce; dal makhni; delicata squash stuffed with cherry-almond couscous; chana samosas; sesame ginger seitan dumplings; crispy sesame kale; black bean soup; spicy tomato chickpea soup; baked mac and cheeze; hurry up alfredo; lime peanut noodles with seitan, kale, and carrots; pad see ew; blueberry grunts; and sheera. As you can see, I had quite a lot of favorites!
One of the things I really appreciate about this book is the variety of recipes and ingredients. Ulm has a CSA, and says that a lot of her recipes were created based on what she got from it on a given week. I have one too, so I'm able to enjoy her recipes that involve lots of seasonal vegetables, farm-exclusive delights like delicata squash, and the experience of having so many leftover veggies and clippings that vegetable stock is the best use of resources. Then there are plenty of recipes with more basic ingredients, that can be found at any grocery store, even in my small college town. The more hard-to-get ingredients I can find a little ways out of my way at natural food stores.
It's true that some of the ingredients are unusual -- my closest grocery store seldom carries bok choy or kale, let alone Chinese broccoli and whole Indian spices -- but these recipes all include helpful substitution suggestions and I find cookbooks like Veganomicon to be much worse in this regard, especially when it comes to prices and explaining their function/necessity in the recipe. (And as I said above, I get plenty of kale from my CSA!)
Rather, my biggest problem with this book is that I'm lacking a lot of the equipment that she has, and there is not much in the book itself to help. What's the use of "readily available and budget-friendly ingredients" if I can't make the recipes without investing in specialty equipment? While I have a well-stocked kitchen (lots of pots and pans, mixing bowls, good knives, a blender, a food processor, a chopping bowl, a mortar and pestle, a pastry knife, various baking and loaf pans) most of my cooking equipment is basic and on the low end. But according to this book, I can't make a number of her recipes and drinks because the motor on my blender isn't fast enough. In fact, she says that only a Vita-Mix, a piece of equipment that would cost me as much as a month's rent, may be the only blender good enough. And there's nothing suggesting she tried it on other blenders. I don't appreciate being told that a recipe "may" require a Vita-Mix. Didn't she have testers who couldn't afford one? Couldn't she have tried it with a food processor? Can I have a hint of whether trying to blend these ingredients would be a waste of my time and money? Couldn't she include suggestions on what to do if you don't have a microplaner, a spice grinder, or a mandoline?
My only other complaint is minor, which is that I love reading cookbooks, and while this one was essentially well-written, it was a lot like a blog. Not a big surprise, but I like a bit more formality and editing from my recipes. Not that I'm demanding a formal paper, just that a consistent voice, structure, and confidence on the part of the author likewise instills confidence in me about the recipes. The background was usually interesting, and the alternatives and suggestions were helpful, but sometimes felt like I wasn't reading a completed recipe. I don't want the author's casual assurance that "this will taste great, I promise": I would hope you would think everything in your recipe book tastes great! And it certainly does, so don't be wishy-washy about it.
I don't understand the 1 star review ragging on the photos. It's not true that a good camera is all anyone needs. The beautiful photographs also show her understanding of composition, presentation, lighting, and photography generally. I like this in a cookbook and personally it instills further confidence for me in the book's author! Yes, it's true that beautiful photos don't make a cookbook inherently good as some reviews certainly seem to be suggesting, but the recipes in this book are amazing enough that the photos are a wonderful bonus and a treat to have hard copy!
Like other reviewers, I appreciated her casual attitude when it came to veganism. I am a vegan myself, but that doesn't mean I enjoy being condescended to about what a horrible thing it is to eat animal products. This is a book of delicious animal-free recipes, and that's that.
Essentially, all of my problems with it were anticipated from reading her blog. And all my excitement about it too! I'm so glad that this book is finally in print. If you have any trepidation about buying this book, look over her blog and decide whether you would like having a lot of these recipes and a lot of recipes in a similar style in print to keep in your kitchen. I for one love it!