Cookbook Reviews

The All-New Vegetarian Passport

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Cover photo by Michelle Furbacher, from the The All-New Vegetarian Passport (Whitecap Books)

Recently, I had the great luck to meet Linda Woolven, author of The All-New Vegetarian Passport, (not to be confused with her previous cookbook, The Vegetarian Passport). I was keen to read her book, but had a few reservations as well. Her new cookbook is so filled with information on nutrition, disease prevention, and overall wellness, I felt quite sure something had to give. All this healthy vegetarian food seemed something I really ought to eat in an effort to keep my New Year’s resolution. I didn’t expect to actually like the food as much as I expected to feel annoyingly virtuous. Annoying to other people, I mean.

The minute Linda came into the room I knew I was wrong. Bright, happy, and lively, this woman was too full of joy to want to condemn people to a miserly diet of bean sprouts and plain tofu.

Linda’s 350 new recipes were collected from her travels across the world, and they record her delight in travel and food. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that she charmed perfect strangers into sharing their recipes with her. Not that she needed to. Have you have heard of photographic memory? She has perfect taste recall. I can scarcely imagine such a thing. She can call up any memory of tasting a dish and experience it again. What I would do with THAT gift. I’d constantly be tasting chocolate mousse and pistachio gelato and never gaining an ounce.

So while I wasn’t surprised that the recipes she found are very good indeed, I did wonder if it mightn’t be a little bit tricky travelling the world as a vegetarian. I’ve done it, years ago, and while one can often find a vegetarian option, in many cultures it’s often a forced sort of affair, a tacked-on menu items that is a grudging concession by a reluctant cook forced to tinker with tradition. Certainly in Italy there are many dishes that feature beans and vegetables but have some bit of pork in them, whether in the base or flecked throughout. And I defy you to tell an Italian you’re about pick apart the lovely food he’s so proudly made you. Shudder to think what might happen to your next course in the kitchen.

Linda came home from her travels with an astonishing array of vegetarian dishes. Some are adapted, some are kept in their original form with optional ingredients, and some are entirely her own concoction. All play with the customary flavours of the region that inspired them, and all I’ve tried so far are quite good. The book is divided in North Africa and the Middle East, Europe, India, Asia, Latin American and the Carribean, North America, and Desserts and Beverages, a mish-mash of all of the above.

The health aspect of the book intrigued me, too. Linda very firmly believes that a vegetarian diet, with its emphasis on vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, is the healthiest way to live. And of course she’s right. One doesn’t need a degree in nutrition to know that more of all of these foods ought to be in everybody’s diets. But what’s a girl to do when married to a meat lover? Foods that are meant to be good for him often end up untouched beside his steak.

Linda solves this dilemma by going the traditional route. By using foods that are often found in the same dish, the flavours naturally complement each other. The tomato, bean and artichoke dish we made was gorgeous and did not taste like “health food” at all. If I’m trying to eat meat less often, or in smaller portions, this is a lovely thing to serve alongside. And I feel confident that if I were to make this as a main dish, any vegetarian guest would feel she has been celebrated rather than accommodated.

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Photo by Michelle Furbacher, from the The All-New Vegetarian Passport (Whitecap Books)

Moroccan Black Bean Casserole

Excerpt from The All-New Vegetarian Passport by Linda Woolven (Whitecap Books).

1 can (19 oz/540 mL) black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup (250 mL) dried red lentils, washed

1/4 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 medium-size cooking onions, quartered and thinly sliced

1 can (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes, with juice

1 ½ cups (375 mL) button mushrooms, sliced

1 cup pickled artichokes, quartered

1/3 cup (80 mL) first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

12 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

2 tsp (10 mL) dried oregano

1 tsp (5 ml) dried basil

sea salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Place everything in a clay overproof dish that holds at least 12 cups (3L). Add enough water to cover the ingredients by 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm). You will need about 5 cups (1.25 L) of water. Cover and bake for about 3 hours and 15 minutes until everything is tender.

One last comment: While you do need to be home for this, it fills the air with a lovely scent while it cooks. Dinner and potpourri all in one. If you don’t happen to have 3 hours to hang about while your food cooks, you could put it in a slow cooker on low, but I find they often go to an overly high heat at the end and erode the flavours by boiling them away.

The All-New Vegetarian Passport

  • 350 original recipes from all over the world
  • A complete natural health book.
  • Sections on how to eat healthy: super foods like kale, chard, arugula, blueberries, quinoa, essential fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, raw foods, and foods to avoid.
  • Sections on what to eat and not eat to treat and prevent the most common health conditions: everything from cancer to heart health, memory loss, celiac disease, candida, arthritis, MS, and gout.
  • Recipes are coded with icons that indicate suitability of the recipe for specific health conditions
  • Time charts and tips on how to cook bean and grains
  • Easy to prepare dishes with accurate cooking times
  • Travel stories and introductions to each geographical region
  • Features: sides, starters, salads, soups, stews, mains, vegetarian barbeque, desserts, smoothies, teas, juices

Author Bio:

Linda Woolven is a Master Herbalist, Registered Acupuncturist and Solution-Focused Counselor.

Linda is one of Canada’s leading authors on natural health. She has written several books on vitamins, nutrition and herbs in addition to her two cookbooks. Linda is the author of The All-New Vegetarian PassportThe Vegetarian Passport Cookbook and Smart Woman’s Guide to PMS and Pain-free Periods. Linda is the co-author of Healthy Herbs: Your Everyday Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Their Use, and The Family Naturopathic Encyclopedia and Sex & Fertility: Natural Solutions. Linda is also the co-author of The Natural Path newsletter. Her columns have appeared in several newspapers and magazines, including the Toronto Star.

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I love this first line: “Pies awaken wonderful emotion in me.” That’s so true for everybody. Pie is not just tasty, but a nostalgic emblem of hearth and home, usually tied to a holiday. Sadly, I rarely make pie anymore, because I find it too much work to make a proper flakey piecrust, and too difficult to achieve the right texture. I often opt for crumble or pudding instead. Yet this book has made a pie convert of me. For making, I mean, not just eating.

First, to address the crust issue: Many cookbooks offer recipes for the different types of crusts, but I get confused by the French names and lack of description of what it should look like when I’ve made it. (Thanks for nothing Martha.)

This book not only describes the various types of crusts, it breaks it down for you with step-by-step pictures. Pies explains the taste and texture variations you can expect from different ingredients, so that if you want to use lard instead of butter, or whole wheat pastry flour, you will know what to expect in flavor and consistency. You need never fear crust making again.

Beyond the instructional value for traditional crusts and pies, this book is a testament to the gastronomical imagination. The authors offer recipes for pancake and crepe crusts, poundcake and sponge cake “crusts,” or bases, and a brownie crust that will spread evenly without drying out. The Almond Dacquoise Crust made of almond meal and egg whites looks just heavenly, as does the Pecan and Oatmeal Crust. Ms. Fiset has even conceived of a piecrust made of dried fruits held together with milk chocolate! I’m picturing doing the same with candied orange peel, pistachio and white chocolate. Maybe a few dried cranberries for a more Christmas-y feel.

But never mind my imaginings. We have an aptly named Celestial Spell of Grapefruit and White Chocolate, an insanely promising compilation of Puffed Rice and White Chocolate Crust, White Chocolate Mousse, and Grapefruit Cream. I think I might faint. And I’m dying to ask the authors why the Dark Chocolate Tofu Pie on a Peanut Chocolate Crust uses tofu rather than whipped cream, but I think I’ll try it first myself. Expect a very detailed description of both texture and taste soon, including the honest reaction of my tofu-hating teenaged son (who will perform a forced blind taste test.)

Traditional pie recipes are also well represented in Pies. By traditional pies, I mean the very basics: My Mother’s Homemade Apple Pie, Rustic Strawberry Rhubarb, Lemon Meringue, Clafoutis, and Awfully Good Olden Time Cream Pie.

While this book looks perfect for a Christmas present with its great collection of traditional pies, I think you might want to get it in the hands of the bakers and hostesses in your life well before then. I’m going to try the Ginger Flavoured Sugar Pie, the Apple Raisin Pie and the Maple Syrup Nut Crust Pie for the upcoming holiday season.

While I’m not going to argue that pie is health food, I will back up the author’s claim that all their recipes use fresh, natural ingredients. I detest all the cake mix/marshmallow whip/pre-fab crapola that I see a lot of on Pinterest. (With the sole exception of heavenly Skor bits. Pies hasn’t suggested a use for them as far as I can see, but they would certainly be a great addition to some of the melted chocolate crusts.) Speaking of Pinterest, I plan to have a pinning-fest with this book’s gorgeous and plentiful colour pictures.

I also plan to stop in at the Première Moisson Bakery next time I’m in Montreal. http://www.premieremoisson.com/en In the meantime I’m going to get busy rekindling my pie-making skills.

Pies by Josée Fiset and Dominque Boué

http://www.premieremoisson.com/en

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Cover Photo by Michelle Furbacher (background) and Robin Sharp (inserts), from The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook (Whitecap Books)

THIS book is a delightful surprise. Normally, a book with a mission—in this case, cooking with beer—would seem a gimmicky, forced sort of an exercise, more marketing material than true cookbook. Or at the very least, the author might be so beer obsessed as to have lost sight as to what it tastes good the anyone who does not share his enthrallment with the drink.

I stand corrected, and happily so. I spent the most delightful morning with David Ort last week, author of The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook. He is a self-described “beer geek,” but that does not detract from his dedication to cooking and fine food. He has developed and tested all these recipes himself, and done so with great success.

Each recipe comes with a suggested Canadian beer. Some of them also have an American or European suggestion as well, mostly German, English or Belgian. It came up in conversation that many traditional Belgian recipes use beer instead of wine, because in areas of Europe where hops have always grown more easily than grapes (above the “wine line,” he tells me), beer has traditionally been what was local and available. Of course, locavores everywhere will tell you that marrying local ingredients is the best way to bring out complementary flavours in food. But sometimes beer just works.

For example, when I saw his recipes for Beer-Battered Fish and Onion Rings, I thought, well okay, this is an obvious and traditional use for beer, both as an ingredient and a complementary beverage. But when it was explained to me that the carbonation lightens the batter, I understood more about beer’s ability to work in a recipe. When making Ort’s Wild Fried Chicken Beer, for example, beer is not just an acceptable substitute for buttermilk, but rather a great improvement. Sour beer (a thing I’ve just heard of thanks to David) adds the same tang one expects of buttermilk, but adds a greater complexity of flavor, and makes an excellent companion to crispy, fatty drumsticks. As David points out, while it’s irksome to open a whole bottle of wine to cook if you don’t plan to drink it, that same problem doesn’t seem to occur with a single bottle of beer.

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Photo by Robin Sharp, from The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook (Whitecap Books)

We picked a couple of easy recipes to try: IPA guacamole and Porter Gingerbread. First the guac.

I was horrified by David’s by refusal to put garlic in his guacamole. This just seemed obstinate and contrary to me. Should we tell the sun not to shine as well?

To make matters worse, I confessed to David that I saw no good reason to put beer in guacamole. I mean, wouldn’t it make it runny? And beer goes so well alongside guacamole. Do we need it IN the guacamole as well? Was this some lazy attempt too mash it all together? I pictured guac smoothies with cherry tomato-cilantro garnishes, big straws and people frying themselves on plastic lawn chairs. The new green juice with hoppy twist.

Oh, but I was so very wrong on both accounts. David proved himself a true food lover. The amount of beer used was only a third of a cup, so runny guacamole was not a problem. The beer provided the same level of bitterness one might hope for from raw garlic, but without the harsh bite. The more subtle bitter element introduced by the beer didn’t compete with the onion and allowed the cumin and cayenne to take centre-stage without seeming overwhelming. I could honestly say that this was better than my guac, with more flavor and less kick. Don’t trust me on this, try it yourself.  I am a diehard garlic addict and wouldn’t have believed it myself without tasting it.

Gingerbread seemed a more likely place to use a British style beer. I was skeptical about the ingredient list, since my (former) favourite gingerbread recipe from Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen uses a greater range of spices, blackstrap molasses instead of the more tepid fancy molasses, and a bit of fresh ginger to boot. Boiling beer, however, and adding baking soda seemed like the kind of kitchen fun I hadn’t had since my kids were toddlers. Now that the age of lava volcanoes is over, I thought it time for bubbly gingerbread. Another pleasant surprise.

David’s IPA only uses cinnamon and dried ginger, but the lack of spice was replaced with the flavor of the bitter beer we used, since we were out of porter. (It’s okay to use your next best guess if you can’t find his recommendations in store. Home experimentation is what this book is all about.) The flavor was layered and complex, the texture was dense and moist without being overly damp. It was lighter than the gingerbread I make, both in flavor and texture, but I was once again convinced that this was an excellent adaptation of the recipe and not an imposition on tradition. I might try this one my mother-in-law who does not share my love of Christmasy spices.

Other recipes I look forward to trying:

  • French Onion Soup, because as the author points out, the harmony between beer, cheese, bread and onions is obvious and heavenly.
  • Steak and Ale Pie. Not only does the filling sound fantastic, this pie uses my favourite trick of adding a biscuit topping rather than pie crust. With beer in the biscuits, of course.
  • Braised Smoky Ribs. With smoked beer. Yes, exactly.
  • IPA Mustard. Dead easy, makes great gift and gives you next-level foodie cred.
  • Pickled Onions made with Beer Vinegar. Another great homemade gift.
  • Oak-Aged Old Ale Ice Cream. When I dared to doubt beer’s ability to star in a dessert dish, I read the ingredient list aloud to my husband. Oak-aged ale, cream, sugar, nutmeg… He wanted to know when I’d be making it.
  • Banana Hefeweizen Custard. I learned to love hefeweizen with its strong overtones of banana and cloves at the former Dennison’s where the German-trained brewmaster made it along with his other heritage draft beers. Good banana extract or liqueur is pretty much a contradiction in terms, so I have great hopes for this dish to be a bold departure from plain old vanilla pudding with sliced bananas.

The book defies the expectation that is aimed at the macho-man type. I’m definitely going to buy this for my beer-guzzling, barbequing brother-in-law who loves to cook but typically only when meat in involved (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). But I’ll buy it for female friends as well, and for anyone who likes a good micro-brew or who makes their own beer. David seemed puzzled by the assumption that this is a man’s cookbook, since he loves to cook, as did both his parents, but acknowledges that he encounters it often. ”My hope is that Jill will buy it for Jack, and end up loving to cook with it too,” he told me. I think this a very likely outcome indeed.

The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook by David Ort. Whitecap Books  2013

http://beercookbook.ca

ISBN-13: 978-1770501935