Picture this. A hot summer sun blazes down upon an elegant green garden. In it sit two prim and proper ladies, in colorful summer dresses, engaged in a sumptuous picnic. Partially shaded by a lovely parasol, a cornucopia of wonderful fruits and vegetables, wraps, breads and sandwiches is spread across their blanket. It's a scene straight from Manet. But wait a second! These ladies aren't your typical Victorian gentlewomen. Check out that newfangled device behind them ... they came to this picnic on a motor scooter! Perhaps after visiting their favorite tattoo and piercing parlor!
The cover of The Garden of Vegan, the follow-up to the popular How It All Vegan of 1999, is a perfect microcosm of what you'll find inside its 250 pages. Within seconds the reader is drawn into the playful iconoclastic world of authors Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard - two self-proclaimed vegan warriors from Victoria, Canada on a mission to teach the world at least two things: that being a vegan can be loads of fun and that vegan food is to die for. Because of its incredibly engaging nature, The Garden of Vegan could become one of your favorite cookbooks before you even prepare a single one of its recipes! That's because Sarah and Tanya are risky enough to color an entire cookbook with their unbridled ebullience and its enthusiasm is contagious. The book makes you feel good to be vegan, and reminds you that veganism is certainly not based on sacrifice or denial but is instead a celebration of life.
In preparation for this book, our intrepid vegan warriors invited fans of their first book to send in their favorite recipes, and the best of the lot was chosen for inclusion. And it shows! Take, for instance, Joel's Calzones (Joel is just some guy from Guelph, Ontario) an awesome recipe that describes very easily how to make calzones from scratch. It guides you step-by-step, from the flour and yeast stage, to the rising of the dough, to the preparation of the delicious filling (tofu, garlic, onions, soy mozzarella, spinach, mushrooms, assorted spices), to the assembly, finally baking them to a delicious brown crispiness. Your kitchen will smell like a fragrant pizzeria for hours.
The Curried Vegetable Pie with Chickpea Crust comes from Becky of the Portland Scooter Club. Like Joel's Calzones, a potentially difficult recipe is described in easy steps from the flour and yeast stage up to the final baking. This delicious concoction contains carrots, onions, celery, bell pepper, cauliflower, peas, chickpeas, garlic, tomatoes, all spiced with curry powder, and baked in wonderful chickpea crust. (Just a second, I need to wipe the dribble from my keyboard.) While on the topic of pies the Tofu Quiche is another winner. Here mushrooms, tofu, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and soy cheese, among other ingredients, are baked in the crust, while turmeric imbues it with all with a striking yellow color.
For breakfast, the Yummy Breakfast Quesadillas are already a staple in our house. Onions, mushrooms, bell peppers and tofu (soy cheese optional) are fried in a spicy mixture of garlic, basil, black pepper and dill. The mixture is then baked in a folded tortilla shell until hot and crisp. The pungent dill permeates the entire mixture. This one's too good to limit to breakfast! For lunch Auntie Bonnie's Bean & Olive Soup is a winner. This concoction contains not just beans and olives, but celery, onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini and more! Garlic lovers will want to test their meddle with Glorious Roasted Garlic Soup which contains 3 heads of roasted garlic! While I love garlic, this one was a bit too garlicky for me, but let that stop you from trying it (unless you're a vampire).
Some of the desserts are also outstanding. Maureen's Coffee Cake is amazingly easy to make, and incredibly tasty. At least eight of my friends tried this and loved it - and none of them could believe it was vegan. Warns Sarah "My husband is going to leave me one day for my friend Maureen, all because of her coffee cake." I can see why. The Carrot Ginger Muffins are very nice - as the description says, they're moist, tender and taste a bit like carrot cake. Yummy!
Most of the other recipes are definitely do-overs. The Vegetable Jumble with Cornmeal Crust is a very easy casserole containing mock beef, tomato sauce, several spices (including chili powder), baked with a top layer of corn meal, flour, soy milk and green chiles. The cornmeal partially sinks through to the bottom layer resulting in a firm mixture that can be sharply sliced into individual portions and topped with salsa. Two of the chilis Wendy's Black Bean Chili and Christine's Black Bean and Tomato Chili are somewhat similar but both very good. And on and on. There's even a chapter that includes a handful of recipes for bread. Making French Baguettes was a snap, just another example of a recipe that may initially appear intimidating to a beginner, but which is described in such easy-to-follow steps that kitchen disasters are impossible. I look forward to trying recipes from the many sections that I didn't even touch, including Microwave Meals, Salads & Dressings, Dips & Spreads, Odds & Sods!
And this book goes beyond recipes by adding lots of other fun and informative material. There's a section that enumerates hints on salvaging kitchen disasters entitled "WHOOOPS!" which begins "Did you futz something up?" There are 'recipes' for parties, including what movies to show, music to play, food (of course) to prepare for a Dress-Up Picture-Taking Party, a Pity Party, and a Stitch & Bitch Party! (In case you're wondering, that's a party that combines craft making with friendly banter!)
In summary, this book is more fun than any other vegan cookbook I've seen - and the food is excellent! This is the perfect book to give not only to yourself, but also to anyone you know who has shied away from the vegan lifestyle because of a prejudiced view that all vegans are humorless and spend their miserable lives in utter denial. To be sure, there are a few of those around, but Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard are not two of them. Nor should you be. Now get on your motor scooter and head for the bookstore and don't forget to pick up copies for all your friends at the tattoo parlor!
Dan Balogh is a member of EarthSave® New York City and works full-time as a systems engineer in the telecommunications industry. Two years ago, he and his wife Laura pledged to become vegans if they could find a dozen recipes that they could live with. Unable to prepare toast without burning it, Dan decided to learn as much about vegan cooking as was humanly possible. Since then he has amassed a huge collection of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks and has tried well over 300 different recipes - and most they can live with! But he's having so much fun he keeps on searching! Today he can make a mean toast.