“You always hurt the one you love,” or so goes the pervasive pop music refrain, but truer words were never spoken- Especially when it comes to cookbooks. Tidal waves of new books continue to sweep in across the foundation of vegan cooking, which is great for exposure and variety, but not always such a positive thing for quality, or true staying power. When a new cookbook finally comes along that gets me genuinely excited, I cling to it, for fear of it being washed away with the rest of the overflowing texts. Perhaps its a subconscious means of saving the best for last, but it’s those books that I want most to dive into that get neglected the most. Wanting to do them “proper justice” means cooking from them with abandon, picking out just the right recipes, and analyzing them to the fullest, but that eventually becomes an impossibly complex task. Thus, World Vegan Feast by Bryanna Clark Grogan has been sitting on my overburdened bookshelves since at least November, bookmarks sticking out of almost every crevasse, but completely unexplored. Rather than striving for the “perfect,” complete, full-on feasting review, let’s just go with a little taster.
Immediately appealing for its sheer diversity in flavors and techniques, cultures collide in this all-inclusive compendium of veganized world cuisine. Best of all, no stone is left unturned, and homemade solutions to faux meats, seasoning mixtures, dairy-free cheeses, and any other staple you can dream of are provided as well. Bryanna has gone out of her way to educate the cook, not just provide a few isolated recipes, so they might learn to create their own dishes through her examples. Menus are even suggested for all sorts of engagements, both big and small, to please any guest. It’s not all good news though; recipes don’t get their own individual pages, so it can often feel like one big run-on sentence as ingredient list and preparations collide. Pictures are provided in a central insert, but aren’t exactly plentiful. Luckily, a quick check of Bryanna’s blog can oven be enlightening since many of the images (and even full recipes) are shared there.
Dipping in a toe to test the waters, the Potato and Mushroom Miso Soup (page 74) sounded like a quick, easy, and comforting dish to kick start the cookbook test drive. Easily slapped together at the last minute, surprisingly complex flavors came from such a deceptively simple soup. Deeply satisfying due to the triple whammy umami punch of mushrooms, miso, and kombu, sliced potatoes give this starter much more staying power than the typical wan broth. Not too salty, packed full of goodies surrounded by just the right amount of broth, it’s Bryanna’s finesse here that makes this combination extraordinary.
Another one to file under the “quick, easy, delicious” category are the Shwarma Wraps (page 60). Stuffed with highly spiced and toothsome seitan, it’s clear that the “meat” is absolutely the star of this show. Incredibly flavorful but only mildly hot, the combination of Middle Eastern spices is spot-on. Delightfully tangy, it’s powerfully acidic but not too sharp thanks to a quick trip through the oven. Though I served my “yogurt” on the side as a dip to prevent my lavash from becoming too soggy, it’s absolutely imperative to include, as it tames the burn of pickled peppers strewn amongst the milder fresh veggies. Once the seitan is prepared, you could throw this little number together in minutes and have a lunch to go or quick-fix dinner just like that.
Tempting readers with two separate dessert sections, clearly, there was no way I could end this review without a little sweet investigation. Although the Lemon-Strawberry Tiramisu (page 203) is related to a traditional coffee-flavored tiramisu only in basic construction, that doesn’t matter one bit considering the bright, fresh flavor it provides. Opting to make a half batch in individual servings, it was the perfect treat for an impromptu picnic- Even if that excursion only took me as far as the backyard. These creamy layered verrines were delightful, brightly spiked with citrus and lightened with fresh, ripe strawberries. Sliced almonds tucked between layers and sprinkled over the top are a nice additional touch, adding a bit of crunch to contrast the smooth creme filling. The Sponge Cake (page 177), though a bit player here, tasted remarkably like a dense, chewier version of angel food cake. Fluffy but still quite sturdy enough to withstand a soak in lemon syrup, this unassuming component clearly has great potential for other applications as well. All told, it’s the kind of dessert that no one with a sweet tooth could refuse.
That’s barely even scratching the surface on all the recipes I have bookmarked in World Vegan Feast. Think fish-free “salmon” loaves, vegan souffle omelets, and walnut-based Georgian-style matzo ball soup, just to name a few on my list. There’s a great big world out there to explore, and as demonstrated by this inviting cookbook, the kitchen is the best place to start.