Every once in a while a medical trial uncovers something so positive that the trial is halted prematurely so that the findings can be made public for the benefit of humankind. Continuing to withhold such findings until the trial is completed is thought unconscionable.
Where am I going with this? I am forcing myself out of my kitchen, turning off the stove, putting away the food processor, hanging up my oven mittens. I have taste-tested enough recipes from this particular cookbook that it’s time to announce my findings – for the benefit of humankind.
Jo Stepaniak has been involved with vegetarian and vegan issues for decades. And she has written many cookbooks. I like to think of Jo as the un-cheese lady because of her amazing ability to concoct faux cheeses using only vegan ingredients. Jo first wrote “Vegan Vittles” over ten years ago. It was a coy little book of just over 170 pages. This second “helping”, released in late February of this year is widely expanded to over 250 pages worth of amazing recipes.
To prepare for this review, I tried twenty recipes from the book over the past month. My wife and I then traded thoughts as we ate them. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. (In case you’re wondering – yes, my wife loves when I review cookbooks.)
Where to start? How about breakfast? In the chapter “Bread and Breakfast” (get it?) the Phenomenal French Toast really is phenomenal, and so easy – soy milk, flour, nutritional yeast. That’s it. I was only able to get three slices coated with the mixture (the book said it was enough for four) so I’ll just double up next time. The Banana Flapjacks were also wonderful, especially with a side of soy breakfast sausage. That recipe only has four ingredients! And both my wife and I thought the Pumpkin Pecan Bread was one of the best we’ve ever tried.
Need something for lunch? Try anything in the chapter “Sandwiches”. I made more from this chapter than any other, mostly because of the simplicity of the recipes. But simple doesn’t mean bland. Everything here is very tasty. The Gyro recipe is easily one of the tastiest vegan sandwiches I’ve ever made. This brilliant recipe, a good enough reason alone for buying this book, includes the easy steps for making the seasoned “meat”, the cucumber sauce topping, and the sandwich fixings. Absolutely amazing! This recipe goes on my list of Top Ten vegan recipes of all time. And I’ve made hundreds. If you prefer Mexican to Greek, the Fajitas (also in this chapter) use seasoned seitan in very much the same way.
The Messy Mikes (with tempeh) and Sloppy Lenny’s (with lentils, get it?) are both very easy Sloppy Joe knock-offs, and quite good. The Welsh Rarebit is a delicious open face with fake Canadian bacon smothered with a yummy, gooey, beer-based tomato gravy. (Excuse me for a moment while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.)
For soups and stews, the Hungarian Mushroom Soup, reddened with paprika, spiced with dill weed, and made creamy by a quarter cup of flour, is a standout. The Stick-to-Your-Ribs Chili with bulgur and beans, and a handful of spices, is given a wonderful hint of sweetness by a single tablespoon of sugar. No rice needed with this one.
The more complex recipes can be found in the “Main Dishes” chapter. But the extra effort is worth it. The Lasange Roll-ups are wonderful. They’re stuffed with tofu, spinach and nutritional yeast after being spiced with oregano, basil, dill and black pepper. Drown them with tomato sauce and pop in the oven with some garlic bread and you’re set. The Hearty Cabbage Casserole is like stuffed cabbage that’s been detonated. It’s ideal for those short on time. What is it? A layer of shredded cabbage, then a layer of wonderfully spiced vegan ground beef and cooked rice, another layer of shredded cabbage, all topped with tomato sauce. Now isn’t that easier than all of that steaming, stuffing and rolling?
Two other entrees are worth mentioning. Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf requires a bit more time to prepare but it yields enough food for several meals. We had the leftovers as cold sandwiches. Finally, the Seitan and Mushroom Stroganoff is a delicious dish where onions, mushrooms and seitan are topped with a creamy gravy of vegetable broth, garlic powder and tahihi. I served it on wide pasta noodles. A side of crusty bread was the finishing touch.
So what’s for dessert? At least 25 recipes by my count, including a vegan cheesecake that I still need to try. One thing I did try was the World’s Best (and Easiest) Chocolate Pudding. I can’t argue with that. It really is the easiest. Tofu, sugar, cocoa and vanilla extract in a food processor. Now why didn’t I think of that? And it’s amazingly good!
There are entire chapters of the book that I still haven’t explored. There are chapters on Homemade Veggie Meats, Beverages, Uncheeses, Dips and Pates, Vegetable and Side Dishes, Sauces and Gravies, Salads and Salad Dressings. Thankfully, my research can continue.
By the way, if you’re still reading this review right now it means that you haven’t run out to buy a copy. What are you waiting for? Even if you have the original “Vegan Vittles”, get this book. It’s a comprehensive update and I can’t recommend it enough.
Now, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to continue this research project of mine. So back into the kitchen I go. We’re having Chili Bean Macaroni for dinner tonight. For some reason I think it’s going to be delicious.
Dan Balogh works full-time as a systems engineer in the telecommunications industry. He and his wife have been vegans since early 2001.
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