Reviewed by Dan Balogh
I find it very heartening that today I can go to Amazon.com, do a book search on the words “vegan” and “cookbook”, and get well over a hundred titles, the vast majority of which were released within the last few years. I remember doing this as recently as five years ago and getting only a dozen or so. This bodes well for veganism which is apparently alive and well. Otherwise why would publishers take the risk?
What I also find heartening is that a good percentage of the most recent releases are from folks who don’t fit into the safe, bland profile of a cookbook author. Since vegan cookbooks are no longer anomalies, the more interesting ones seem to be those that distinguish themselves in some manner from the rest of the pack. Just last month I reviewed “La Dolce Vegan”, the latest book by the lavishly tattooed spunky British Columbian vegan warrior Sarah Kramer. The book is a delight. Before I finished reviewing that book the next one arrived in the mail for my consideration. Life is tough sometimes.
“Vegan With a Vengeance” is the first cookbook by offbeat Brooklyn punk Isa Chandra Moskowitz, seen on the cover dressed in black (and adorned with at least one tattoo) offering the reader a sumptuous platter of grilled tofu, greens, and other sides that my mouth seems to recognize (since I’m drooling) even before my brain does. Isa is also the co-host of the vegan cooking show “The Post Punk Kitchen” which is viewable for free on the web. I stumbled on one episode which began with Isa contemplatively strumming an electric guitar ... while wearing oven mitts. Just moments later, against the program titles, I recognized a tune from the legendary San Pedro punk band The Minutemen. Being a longtime fan of punk rock, I was instantly hooked.
But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, so off to the kitchen I went. Fast forward nearly twenty dishes later and it’s apparent that this cookbook is another winner.
The Tofu Dill Salad Sammiches are amazingly easy to make. Crumble some tofu and then add the rest of the ingredients (minced red onion, fresh dill, mustard, vinegar, etc.). After chilling for 15 minutes, spread it on toast. These are coming along on my next hike. The Chickpea-Hijiki Salad Sammiches are nearly as good, and almost as easy to prepare. Mash some chickpeas (there is something incredibly satisfying about mashing legumes in recipes) and then, once again, add everything else. The Veggie Burgers, on the other hand, require more time and ingredients and aren’t as good as the sammiches. A few other lighter dishes I tried were the The Olive, Tomato, and Millet-Stuffed Zucchini, the Black Bean, Mushroom and Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers and the Chickpea Broccoli Casserole. All do-overs and the last one is particular easy to prepare with nearly all of the time dedicated to baking.
For soups the Potato-Asparagus Soup was a hit. The potatoes are chopped and boiled, the asparagus (cut into ½” pieces) added during the last few minutes. Next, onion and garlic are sautéed in olive oil and spices and then stock is added, followed by the drained potatoes and asparagus. Partial blending preserves some chunkiness in a tasty, creamy soup. The Carrot Bisque, made with three pounds of carrots, curry powder and coconut milk is also delectable, and quite easy to prepare — boiling followed by blending. For something chunkier, the Chipotle, Corn, and Black Bean Stew is quite good and can be easily varied with different combinations of beans and veggies.
One of my two favorites in the book is the Stewed Tofu and Potatoes in Miso Gravy. The tofu is simmered with (among other ingredients) shallots, cremini mushrooms, potatoes, garlic, miso and white wine. The result is one of the best tofu dishes I’ve prepared; the tofu is firm and flavorful and deliciously drowned in tasty gravy. Lovers of tofu will be pleased to learn that several entrees have the word tofu in their title. Likewise, there are several entrees with the word seitan in their title, and my second favorite recipe in the book is Jerk Seitan. Here two cups of seitan strips are marinated in a concoction of pureed onion, garlic, ginger, lime juice, maple syrup, olive oil and a host of spices including cayenne and cinnamon. The seitan is then sauteed with onions and green peppers. It goes great with rice. For a taste of India, I tried the Chickpea and Spinach Curry (which also goes well with rice) and loved it.
For pasta the Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Kalamata Tapenade is a bit watery for my tastes, and next time I may leave out the sliced onions which seem stringy and out of place. But the Fettucine Alfreda, with pine nuts and a cup of nutritional yeast, is excellent.
If you have room for dessert (who doesn’t), the Chocolate Chip Cookies are delectable. However, as Isa herself warns, they are far from healthy. They’re basically flour, sugar and fat (and entire cup of vegan margarine) – all for about three dozen cookies. There’s no denying they’re fabulous, but I’m too scared to compute the calories per cookie. The Raspberry-Chocolate Chip Blondie Bars are also quite tasty but a bit heavy – a tiny cube goes a long way. I also liked the Mocha Chip Muffins made with, among other ingredients, instant coffee powder!
The book is also peppered with ancillary topics from the many different ways to slice tofu to the staples of a Post Punk Pantry. And it even includes color photos of about a dozen of the recipes. How cool is that? So head on over to Amazon and pick yourself up a copy. Before you checkout, though, make sure you throw some Ramones or Minutemen into your shopping basket. Cooking is always more fun when accompanied by appropriate music.
Dan Balogh works full-time as a systems engineer in the telecommunications industry. He and his wife have been vegans since early 2001.