Wholesome Ethnic Fast Food
When a prolific, well-seasoned, and revered cookbook author like Jo Stepaniak produces a new work, you just know it's going to be great. Vegan Deli captures a special nostalgia for many who grew up in the delicatessen cultures that flourished in New York City, Chicago, the Los Angeles Fairfax area, and many smaller cities that simply couldn't survive the Twentieth Century without a delicatessen.
The recipes featured are drawn largely from Jewish and Eastern European favorites as well as several standards from the Middle East that have become so familiar in today's delis. In addition, the deli foods of today are well represented with appealing salads, grain and bean dishes.
Jo's version of the deli foods that gave our parents an unhealthy dose of saturated fat and cholesterol are far easier on our arteries and GI tracts. Equally important is that the recipes have wide appeal and familiarity, dishes like Hummus, in five different versions, and Mushroom and Barley Soup, Lokshen Kugel, and Goulash.
Jo tells us that the delicatessen originated in New York during the mid to late eighteen hundreds. In the early nineteen hundreds, when large numbers of Jews immigrated to New York with their families, and sometimes, even their entire village, the streets became the social hub. Pushcarts and street vendors were an integral part of the scene where deli foods were hawked, and people who worked long hours could "grab a quick bite." With a tone of sadness Jo admits that the delis of the past no longer exist. In their stead, delis have come to mean "fast food" and often "mayonnaise saturated salads, fatty cured meats, salt-laden spreads, greasy fried foods . . ."
There are no dramatic color photos to tempt the cookbook browser. The book is simply designed with some appealing line drawings that border the lower half of each page. Clearly, the emphasis is on the author's exceptional knack for turning the spoon with her tasty vegan versions of meat, chicken, fish, and dairy dishes, such as Hungarian Cauliflower Paprikash and Potato Kugel. She's reached into the past and brought forth a cultural heritage with whole foods that are nutritionally sound. The flavors and textures are amazingly similar to the real thing. Perhaps the hard-core carnivore won't agree, but those attuned to the vegan lifestyle have trimmed the fat from their taste buds and truly appreciate the environmentally friendly versions, even finding them exciting.
The author offers six different versions of potato salad, from the traditional Deli Potato Salad to the unique Potato Salad with Sesame-Tarragon Dressing. If you fancy eggplant, your choices number nine different dishes including Baba Ghanoush, a deli standard.
We chose some dishes to put her creations to the test. Because eggplant happens to be one of our favorite vegetables, we prepared two versions: Pickled Eggplant "Herring" and Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Salad. The tempeh we had on hand became Tempeh Pecan Salad, the lentils in the pantry were transformed into Mujaddra and Bulgur, and our sweet potatoes evolved into a melt-in-your mouth Tzimmes. We're testing our patience while some Garlic Dill Pickles marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 days. For now we settled on a universal favorite, Vinaigrette Coleslaw, to round out our meal.
The recipes were a snap and came together quickly. We reveled in a touch of nostalgia as we munched, enjoyed some memories of dishes our mothers used to prepare, and shared nods of approval as we reached for second helpings. We're still awaiting those pickles, though.
Jo Stepaniak didn't overlook a thing and stayed true to her deli food focus. Everything from pickled and marinated vegetables, to cold and hot soups, cold salads, grain and bean salads, hot entree dishes, dressings and spreads is included and merely awaits the cook's approach. We should mention the excellent index that has recipes listed by name as well as main ingredient. If you've forgotten the name of a particular bean recipe, for instance, just look up the word "beans," to find all the bean recipes listed.
The simplicity of the preparations and easy-to-follow directions make Jo's books a must for everyone from the busy stay-at-home mom to those in the working world. For newcomers to the vegetarian regimen, Jo has shown how familiar, traditional deli foods can be transformed into wholesome comfort foods. Those just learning to cook will find Vegan Deli a great starting point because of its readily available ingredients and uncomplicated directions. Those who have not experienced Jo Stepaniak's cookbooks might enjoy The Uncheese Cookbook, Vegan Vittles, Table for Two, Ecological Cooking, The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook, Delicious Food for a Healthy Heart, and The Saucy Vegetarian.
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