La Dolce Vegan! Vegan Livin’ Made Easy

Reviewed by Dan Balogh

Some people eat to live, while others live to eat. Vegans fall into the latter category in very large numbers. Most vegans seem absolutely obsessed with food, myself included. This isn’t surprising when one considers that a vegan diet embraces life, instead of slaughtering it. Personally, cooking became fun when I stopped being a carnivore, where the bulk of kitchen time was spent worrying about animal-borne diseases all over the kitchen counter and utensils. Since becoming vegan I have prepared more than a half thousand recipes from dozens of cookbooks (as a carnivore I could barely toast bread). Long ago I had already identified enough fantastic vegan recipes to keep me happy until the end of eternity. And yet I keep wanting to try more and more … because it’s just so much fun. (And, ironically, as I type these words there’s a breaking news story about an Alabama cow that has tested positive for Mad Cow Disease.)

Sarah Kramer, that spunky funky vegan warrior from British Columbia is one of the reasons vegan cooking is so much fun. Along with co-author Tanya Barnard, Sarah wrote two of the most popular vegan cookbooks of all-time, “How It All Vegan” and “The Garden of Vegan”. If you’re a vegan and you haven’t heard of these two books, you have either been unconscious for the past 6 or 7 years or sitting in a giant sequoia tree. No doubt those two books distinguished themselves from all of the others because they were thoroughly infused with the personalities of the two authors – filled with their photos and thoughts, in their own unconventional words. No stuffy recipe collections were these.

With “La Dolce Vegan”, you get more of the same. Much more. One thing you first notice about this book is that its thicker than the previous two – by at least 100 pages. Another thing you notice is that this time it’s only Sarah on the cover. That’s right, with “La Dolce Vegan” Sarah is going it alone (Tanya is busy pursuing a career in nursing). Not to worry. Sarah has enough infectious energy for a dozen people, and this third book is the best one yet.

As was done in preparation for “The Garden of Vegan”, Sarah once again followed a simple formula which guaranteed that the results would be optimal. She polled the online vegan community for their favorite recipes. After extensive taste testing (tough job, huh), the best of the bunch were compiled into this book. In theory, what “La Dolce Vegan” gives you is not merely one person’s idea of good food, but rather a collection of some of the best vegan recipes from the entire world! Isn’t the Internet great?

Out of the twenty or so dishes I prepared in preparation for this review, nearly all are keepers, recipes I would surely redo. And there isn’t a single stinker, those I would caution against trying. For soups, there’s the Mocked Clam Chowder with its browned fried tofu cubes and faux bacon bits. Yum. And the Cauliflower Red Lentil Soup where the soft lentils puree themselves and the bite-sized cauliflower chunks add crunchy texture. For lunch, I tried the Curry Almond Burgers and while they seemed a bit dry in the pan, they held together better after frying – the curry adds a very tasty dimension. The Eeny Meeny Chili Bean on Toast, a very simple beans-on-bread recipe, is loaded with spices and is great for lunch or even breakfast.

For dinner, lovers of Mexican food will be very pleased. The Pinto Bean Casserole with Tortilla Chip Crust is layered with mashed pinto beans, an onion and bell pepper mixture, topped with mashed tortilla chips and faux cheese (Monterey Jack works great). The Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos works much better than I anticipated with the slight sweetness of the potatoes contrasting nicely with the bite of the chili powder and salsa. Another great Mexican dish is Karen’s Mexican Burrito Pie, one of my two favorite recipes in the book. Here, in a pie plate, you layer a tortilla, mashed bean mixture, a tortilla, homemade guacamole, a tortilla, more bean mixture, a tortilla, more guacamole, some faux cheese and a final tortilla. Then, before it’s done baking, you throw a bit more cheese on top and bake some more. This pie is awesome! And if you don’t care for Mexican food (you can’t be serious), there are plenty of other entrees from which to choose – the Vegetable Biryani and Claire’s Macaroni & Cheeze are both delectable (I”m about to run out of adjectives here).

Another favorite entree is Wolffie’s BLT Brunch Casserole. I had reservations about this one because it sounded like a cross between a BLT and a tornado. Was I wrong! You toast bread, spread the slices with vegan mayo, cube them, and place them at the bottom of a baking dish. Over that you pour half of a cheeze mixture that is very easy to prepare. Top that with faux bacon bits. Top that with some crumbled and browned tofu spiced with turmeric, onion powder, salt and pepper. Layer with tomato slices, then the rest of the cheeze, more faux bacon bits and some green onions. You bake that, and then serve it over chopped lettuce! I’m not making this up. Skeptical? Try it anyway. In fact, try any recipe submitted by Shirley Wolff (aka Wolffie) whom Sarah rightfully identifies as the contributor of many of the best recipes in the book. I’m still wondering how Wolffie came up with this BLT concoction. Kitchen accident?

What’s left? Dessert, of course. 70 pages worth! The book isn’t called “La Dolce Vegan” for nothing. One of my favorites is Wolffie’s Pumpkin Pie, which uses a sugar-walnut-cinnamon topping that is literally frosting on the cake. And then there’s the Apricot Walnut Coffee Cake. Prior to this, the best coffee cake recipe I had was Maureen’s Coffee Cake from “The Garden of Vegan”. Amazingly, this one is just as good, with a half cup of apricot preserves spread between two layers of batter.

In addition to loads of recipes, most of which are very easy to make (something Sarah insisted on after spending so much time testing recipes for the last two books), the book contains lots of kitchen tips, personal anecdotes and photos sprinkled throughout its pages. In conclusion, this is one of the best vegan cookbooks I’ve seen, and one of the most joyous and spirited. Whether or not you have Sarah’s previous two cookbooks, this third one is a must.

Dan Balogh works full-time as a systems engineer in the telecommunications industry. He and his wife have been vegans since early 2001.