Cookbook Review: Nava Atlas’s Vegan Express
March 11, 2008
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“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]
As you may know, I was a startled and very delighted recipient of Nava Atlas’s latest cookbook, Vegan Express, as a result of Susan’s contest a while back on Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen. A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to receive the book in the mail, and set about making a whack of recipes from it. I thought I’d write a bona fide book review so you can all get your own taste of express cooking, vegan style!
Vegan Express by Nava Atlas
Vegan Express is the most recent addition to the long line of popular publications by veteran cookbook author Nava Atlas, already well known for her previous classics such as Vegetariana or The Vegetarian Family Cookbook and website, In A Vegetarian Kitchen. A vegan herself, in this book Atlas addresses one of the foremost hurdles for vegan eaters, both established and newly inclined: prepping veggies can take up lots of time!
Vegan Express provides an antidote for the kitchen weary by proving the truism untrue after all: turns out you can prepare fresh, healthy, vegetable-rich dishes in less time than it takes to watch the evening newscast! Every recipe in the book, from appetizer to dessert, takes between 30 and 45 minutes from assembling the ingredients to digging your fork into that first steaming mouthful (and many take even less time).
In order to write an objective assessment of the book, I decided it would only be fair to test as broad a range of recipes as I could manage in a week. As a result, I prepared seven of the book’s recipes, attempting to sample dishes from many different courses (though, given my natural inclination, I did lean rather heavily on the desserts).
The book begins with Atlas’s own story of how she converted from vegetarianism to a vegan diet. She actually found the transition fairly easy, as nowadays, substitutions for eggs, cheese, and milk abound, even outside the larger cities.
The book also discusses vegans’ nutritional needs and how to achieve them, debunking some common myths about acquiring sufficient protein or vitamin B12. And while Atlas does include some convenience foods (this is a book about cooking shortcuts, after all!), I had no problem using the recipes even though I don’t consume products such as soy cheeses or meat alternatives (as you’ll see when I discuss the pizza, below).
The book also contains a variety of ease-of-use features to help home cooks prepare their meals in a flash. For instance, following each recipe is a “Menu Selections” sidebar that provides possible partners for the dish or other ways to serve it. Many recipes include variations for flexibility and to accommodate different tastes. There is also a fair number of “recipe-free” quick options, as well as further suggestions for some basic ingredients (such as “Speedy Ways to Prepare Tofu”).
The book’s design is aesthetically pleasing, with clean, simple lines and two-color print (and how could we miss those luscious, color-suffused photos by Susan Voisin of Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen?). Many of her readers may not be aware that Atlas herself is an artist with several solo and group exhibitions to her credit. Her cheery line drawings adorn the pages as backdrops that highlight individual dishes and ingredients.
And the recipes? They do, indeed, deliver as promised! All the dishes I attempted were quick to prepare, with straightforward, easy directions. Atlas also includes some nifty tips with certain recipes (such as cutting your pizza into slices before adding the toppings, as it’s so much easier that way).
Finally, here’s what was cooking in the DDD kitchen last week:
Soup and Entrees:
Nearly Instant Thai Coconut Corn Soup
This is listed as one of Atlas’s favorite recipes, and a “must-try” for those who buy the book. As its title suggests, the soup cooks up in no time, and was truly delicious–light yet creamy, with a subtle spiciness interspersed with sweet, chewy corn kernels. Fast, simple, easy…perfect.
I’ve was a huge fan of Singapore noodles in restaurants back in the day, but could never figure out how to make them. Who knew it could be so simple? The HH and I both love spicy foods, so if I had any suggestions for this one, it would be to add more of the spice mixture (I used the maximum amount suggested and would have liked still more kick in this dish). The original recipe called for peas, but since we didn’t have any, I subbed edamame. Still worked beautifully.
Rich Peanut Sauce
This sauce, suggested as an accompaniment to Golden Tofu Triangles, was ready in a snap. Still in a noodle frame of mind, I poured it over some cooked kamut-soba noodles, tossed in an assortment of chopped and sliced veggies, and enjoyed a terrific cold noodle salad. Great the next day, too!
Very Green Veggie Pesto Pizza
This dish was by far the biggest hit of the savories–the HH ate half the pizza all by himself, and I must admit it was my own favorite as well. My photo doesn’t do it justice, as the subtle variance in shades of green comes across here as rather monochromatic, but this combination of pesto underlying oven-roasted veggies is a perfect melding of flavors and textures.
One change I made, however, was to omit the “cheese” originally called for (to be melted over the pesto, and under the veggies). Since I avoid processed soy, I simply omitted that ingredient and sprinkled a little nutritional yeast over the top instead. Both the HH and I agreed that the pizza didn’t even need the cheese, which, I think, would have actually detracted from the disarming flavors of the pesto and veggies. For the crust, I used my own trusty spelt pizza crust recipe, and baked it about 15 minutes at 425F before adding the remaining ingredients.
While Atlas’s recipes are already healthy, I did make some minor adjustments to accommodate my own dietary restrictions. In general, I used spelt flour instead of wheat, and Sucanat for sugar. It didn’t seem to matter—everything still came out terrific.
Dense and Fruity Banana Bread
This is a moist, not-too-sweet loaf with chopped dates and walnuts nestled in a banana-cocoa base. As you can see from the photo, I was so anxious to try this one that I sliced it while still a bit too warm. When I first tasted the bread, the cocoa was extremely understated. By the next day, however, the flavors had matured, yielding a lovely balance between the chocolate and fruit. I thoroughly enjoyed this with some almond butter.
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cake
This cake reminded me of treats my mother used to make when my sisters and I were kids. Baked in a 9” square pan and cut into squares, this is the perfect after-school snack (lucky for me, I’m still in school!). Peanut butter whispers its presence rather than bellows in this surprisingly light and tender cake. As you can see, I cut this one while still warm, too, when the chips were still melty. Cut your slices small, because you’ll want more than one.
Butterscotch Mousse Pie
I had really, really wanted to try out the Caramel Pudding, but since I couldn’t find vegan caramel syrup and didn’t think my homemade caramel would work, I made this pie instead. I’m so glad I did! Although I’m not usually a “pie person,” this was truly delicious. In fact, I’m going to post an entire entry about this one (including the recipe!!) in the next day or two—so stay tuned.
I had enormous fun trying out the recipes from this useful and enjoyable book, and definitely look forward to sampling more. Thanks again, Nava and Susan, for this wonderful opportunity–and for adding another treasure to my cookbook collection.