3.3.19

EAT: vegan cookbook recc's


I don’t buy cookbooks very often as I tend to a) improvise and b) get the bulk of my food ideas from online communities and instagram, but I’ve acquired a few stunners recently so I thought I’d do a little review/recommendation post. These three are all vegan cookbooks written by some brilliant women, but they’re otherwise pretty different both culturally and stylistically, so it’s been interesting for me to run through them one by one.

I got Hot for Food’s ‘Vegan Comfort Classics’ cookbook from my sister for Christmas after I’d been lusting after it for a while, and I was very excited to make the unhealthiest possible stuff from it, lol. This, true to the name, is big style American comfort food - not anything too out there, but like, some recipe names that I swear were designed in a lab to make me drool like one of Pavlov’s dogs. It’s not all everyday food - which it knows - and there’s lots of deep-fried stuff which contributed to my air fryer experiments, but honestly if you’re going to deep fry anything, why would it NOT be a jackfruit stuffed avocado or southern fried cauliflower.



Yes, this is the famous buffalo cauliflower. GOD, this was delicious. I didn’t know cauliflower could be this way. My life is changed. I’m a woman now.

I don’t rely too much on following recipes word for word these days, as I’m a pretty intuitive cook. However what was really valuable for me was the section at the back, where Lauren Toyota gives recipes for all the many components that recur throughout the book - her vegan versions of mozzarella, nacho cheese, sour cream, Parmesan etc. I came across the @hotforfood instagram when I was stalking Lauren’s recipe for runny vegan egg yolk that had been recommended to me - this specific recipe isn’t in the book (though it’s on her website), but there’s a little treasure trove of similar ‘homemade basics’ that let you make all the familiar omnivorous comfort foods as authentically as possible, as well as the more creative ones included here.

One thing that annoys me about this book is the writing style; it’s deliberately chatty and informal and like, THAT’S FINE, I’M ALSO CHATTY AND INFORMAL, and yet somehow this just makes me grit my teeth. The worst example of this is the blurb for the ramen burger:

I ain’t frontin’! This idea belongs right up there with a leaked Kardashian nude, a Bieber break-up, or anything Kanye tweets. It’s a tad stunty, but I had to, ‘cause it’s friggin’ delicious! The ramen burger would fit in at a birthday bash, kegger or potluck, or maybe one of those Friday nights when you just want to impress yourself and your dog. This sandwich is a bit of a messy one, and you will not look good eating it. But I dare you to take a walk where the wild things are, and if you make this please send noods to @hotforfood.

WHO TALKS LIKE THIS. It’s sort of derived from fake AAVE, but I’m a white British kid and this reads as super fake and affected even to me. So I end up showing people the photos and recipes in this book and just saying, ‘skip the writing though’, because I literally get second hand embarrassment from it.

Am I being mean? I feel like I’m being mean, but. Like, Lauren Toyota is SO GOOD at what she does and I’m excited to make my way through this book, but please don’t ever open with ‘I ain’t frontin’!’ again.

There’s also a few print mistakes in the version of the book I received; I’m not sure if this is a different print version for a British audience, but there are a few examples where the metric weights are wildly off. Typos happen, but if in doubt, check the weight written in ounces before you add 450g (yep, that’s 1lb) of cheese instead of 45g (1.5oz) to a recipe the way the Big Brekky would have you do, or 12g of cashews in the bacon mac & cheese instead of the requisite 120g.

STILL, THE FUCKING BUFFALO CAULIFLOWER THOUGH.

chana masala fries

I bought ‘Jackfruit & Blue Ginger’ by Sasha Gill more or less on impulse, if by impulse you mean ‘had a dream about wandering peacefully around an enormous, Beauty & the Beast style library, and then went straight out the next day to spend £50 I didn’t have on books’. BUT this is one of the best cookbook purchases I’ve made in AGES. I wanna hold it to my chest and rock it lovingly like a baby. I want to hold it in the air and shout ‘CHING!’ like Marie Kondo when something sparks joy.

All the recipes in this book are vegan, but this doesn’t feel like a book about ‘how to make vegan food’. Let’s be honest, I know how to make vegan food - or even how to make food vegan. This book is about making spectacular Asian food - with sections for India, Thailand, Singapore & Malaysia, China, and Japan. The photography is unbelievably beautiful and the recipes are varied and authentic; yeah there’s the dishes you’d expect, like Pad Thai, kedgeree, or teriyaki tofu, but there’s also stuff I wasn’t familiar with - cendol or chaw siew polo buns - as well as really creative vegan takes on tradition such as sweet potato ‘belly’ gua bao (instead of pork belly) and Peking jackfruit pancakes instead of duck. It’s such a rare experience for me to be able to look through a cookbook this stunning, and not only WANT to eat pretty much every single recipe, but also be ABLE to, just as written.

Also, every once in a while there is a photo of the writer, Sasha Gill, and she is so excessively beautiful I want to throw myself down a well. This obviously isn’t why I love the book, but I’m an extremely dumb bisexual, so it doesn’t hurt.

fluffy peanut pancakes

The section I expected to get least from personally was ‘Japan’, since that’s the culture and cuisine I’m most familiar with - one of the first things I saw when flipping through was a straightforward recipe for onigiri, which seemed egregiously basic in the context of the book (Okay, I’m sure not to everyone; and I’m sure that if I had lived in, say, China for years and studied/cooked there, there would be things there that seemed to need no explanation but in fact are foreign to most Westerners. So I’m trying to bear that in mind here). However, even so, there were some really great ideas to be found here - Sasha makes a spicy tuna-inspired handroll with blanched and marinated tomatoes, to transform the texture and flavour. Like, that’s the mark of great vegan cooking to me - not being limited by vegetables, or trying to make an exact replica of a meat or fish recipe, but being inspired by vegetables and doing something new to figure out what exactly they’re capable of.

daigaku imo

This is something that ‘Kansha’ also achieves, whether its mackerel-inspired aubergine rolls or asparagus and bamboo aspic. This isn’t a newly published book - it’s been on my wish list for ages, since I began learning more about shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist vegan cuisine) after staying in a temple in Koya-san back in 2016 (yes, I know I sound like a wanker). It’s also the most deeply specialised of the three books I’m discussing here, which is a) why it perhaps wouldn’t suit many and b) why it suits me down to the ground, 100%. It’s not for beginners to Japanese food - although the glossary at the back, with photos, is INVALUABLE since... I’ll admit, even when I lived there I struggled to learn the names of unfamiliar vegetables when I saw them in supermarkets; I’ve eaten cooked gobo (burdock root) so many times in dishes but only just realised when looking at this picture of its raw form that... oh, THAT’S what that brown stick is that I’ve seen a zillion times in the veg aisle.

NOW I FEEL LIKE A DUMBASS, BUT OK.

Honestly, when I first got this, I sat down and read the whole book cover to cover, and every time I saw something like a vegan version of Nagasaki’s special champon (Nagasaki is my second home, so this was particularly nostalgic for me) I would wail with joy. Unlike a lot of Japanese cookbooks - I’m thinking of Kurihara Harumi’s books, which I use all the time - there aren’t a lot of westernised ingredients or substitutions offered here, so a lot of these may be hard to reproduce if you live outside of a big city like London - a few recipes feature goya, or bitter melon, which I’ve eaten in Japan but never found here in the UK, for example. I’m sure that as the seasons change, the big Japan Centre in Soho will have more options, but you’re obviously restricted by that, as well as the marked up price of imported veg.

That said... I don’t really mind that. And again, maybe that’s why this book suits me so well but might not suit others; the emphasis on ‘kansha’, or appreciation, is about appreciating what you have in the moment and using every bit of it. So like, even if you only find daikon available in the shops by you once every blue moon... I don’t know, it feels a very genuine, heartfelt approach to food, which is something I really want to cultivate in myself.

...Oh god, I just got tricked into mindful eating. It’s all meditation and avocados from here.

For me, the real gift of this book is that by having such a strong sense of its own culture, it thinks so far outside of the vegan-internet box. Take omelettes as an example. Almost every vegan omelette recipe out there uses a tofu base, blended with whatever. My own vegan tamagoyaki, which I love, does the same. But that base is nowhere near as multipurpose as a real life egg, and isn’t going to hold its shape for something like chirashi-zushi, where the omelette is shredded into super fine ribbons.

I would have kept adjusting and playing with the same base to figure out how close I could get. Elizabeth Andoh goes completely sideways and introduces us to yuba, which are the sheets of skin that form on top of boiled soy milk - in its dried form it can be simmered in a mix of stock, sake, sugar and soy sauce, then shredded just like the egg ribbons on chirashi-zushi. There’s even a recipe for the fresh version, nama yuba, which I am already fantasising about eating straight out of the pan with chopsticks, while the sun shines through the window and the cat watches from a chair. Also, my kitchen looks like something out of a Ghibli movie, and there are homegrown radishes waiting in the sink to be scrubbed, and ‘40s music is playing very softly from a vintage radio in the next room.

It’s a pretty complex fantasy, is what I’m saying. Also, I’ve forgotten what my point was. I think the point was, I like the book.


© papillon.Maira Gall