When Alan Roettinger wrote "Speed Vegan," he was not following a vegetarian or vegan diet, but as a gourmet chef, he was charged with creating a book of wonderful vegan dishes that could be prepared within a time frame of 30 minutes. He welcomed the vegan-friendly nature of the recipes as a challenge, not an obstacle. He says in the introduction:
My motive in cooking has always been to create something extraordinary, something that thrills and delights the palate. When I'm working within a set of guidelines — such as low fat, gluten-free, or nondairy — I regard these parameters as challenges, never as any sort of goal. My objective is clear and consistent: to transform something I absolutely must have (food) into something I deeply appreciate (deliciously satisfying food). Part of that goal is to also ensure that the food is at least vaguely healthful, so it doesn't come back to haunt my pleasure with ugly consequences.He also says that he created the recipes to please his own non-vegan palate, and he believes this is a good thing, as the recipes may help to persuade non-vegans who sample the dishes, that vegan food is delicious.* This may be a good thing for new vegans and non-vegans, but long-time vegans whose palates have adjusted to a plant-based diet, may find some of the food over-salted. This is not to say the recipes aren't great — the ones we tried were wonderful — but we had to greatly reduce the salt. Don't let what I've just said dissuade you from buying the book — it's packed with inspired ideas for creating fast, gourmet food that will surprise you with its flavor and beauty. There are so many intriguing recipes in the book that I want to try, I'm sure I'll be cooking from it regularly, but with discretion, as far as the salt content goes. The recipes, though speedy and easy enough for the average cook, are based on whole foods, not packaged stuff, in case you were wondering.
Building an assortment of good cooking tools can seem daunting. The book begins with excellent suggestions for selecting kitchen equipment, from "must have" to "hard to live without" to "makes work more fun if you have," so you can build a workable collection as finances and fancy dictate. Many people in transition to a plant-based diet wonder what to stock in their pantry, and the second chapter addresses the question with a comprehensive list of ingredients, and an interesting descriptive paragraph about each one. The first recipe chapter, called Jump Starts, contains recipes for flavor enhancing condiments to make and have on hand — stuff like garlic oil, chipotle chile purée and balsamic vinaigrette, which will add fast, deep flavor to your cooking.
The first dish we tried was white bean soup with Tuscan kale. My husband made it, and it took him about 30 minutes, though the soup tasted like it had been simmering for hours. It would have been fabulous if it hadn't been so incredibly salty. I could taste the flavors under the salt but I could barely eat one bowl. The recipe serves four to six, but contains three bouillon cubes plus a teaspoon of additional salt. (My husband didn't add the extra salt, or I wouldn't have been able to eat the soup.) To give you some perspective, my husband used Rapunzel vegan vegetable bouillon, which contains 1030mg of sodium per serving (that's 43% of the daily sodium for a 2000 calorie diet). Each cube is considered two servings (2060mg), and the soup contained three cubes, or six servings. One teaspoon of salt contains 2400mg of sodium. That's a big hit of sodium. (More thoughts on sodium, here. Most Americans get too much sodium in their diet, and it's not a bad idea to teach our palates to appreciate the inherent, delicious flavors of whole foods.) It's entirely possible that the author used a lower salt bouillon than we did, but be aware of the sodium content of any bouillon cube you choose. And add extra salt carefully.
The next time I make this soup, I'll either use low-sodium broth, homemade broth, or broth left over from cooking the beans myself, instead of bouillon cubes, or maybe just one cube. (I'll pressure cook the beans to keep with the "speed" theme, but of course it won't be as fast as opening a can.) I'll probably reduce the oil, too, but that's me. I'm posting the original recipe. (We added cooked brown basmati rice to ours.)
The second recipe we tested was red quinoa with zucchini and corn. Once again, we were rewarded with an easy-to-prepare, delicious dish filled with flavor and color. (We left out the bouillon and reduced the salt by more than half. And we used regular quinoa.) There are so many fabulous-sounding recipes in "Speed Vegan," I can't wait to try more of them.
White bean soup with Tuscan kale (Reprinted with permission. Please do not re-post.) four to six servings
- 6 cups water
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
- 7 cloves peeled garlic
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch Tuscan kale (or any kale) stems removed, coarsely chopped
- 3 vegetable bouillon cubes (see above story)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (see above story)
- 2 15-ounce cans cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar, if needed
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- Pour the water into a medium pot and bring to a boil.
- Pulse the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food processor until very finely chopped.
- Put the oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion mixture, stirring well. Cook, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning, for about three minutes.
- Add the kale and stir until wilted.
- Add the boiling water, bouillon cubes and salt. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the kale is tender.
- Add the beans and simmer until heated through.
- Taste and adjust seasonings. If you detect a bitter edge, add the agave nectar.
- Remove from the heat and stir in parsley. Serve at once.
Red quinoa with zucchini and corn (Reprinted with permission. Please do not re-post.) four to six servings
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 zucchini, diced
- 7 cloves peeled garlic, minced
- 2 cups frozen corn
- 1 cup red quinoa, rinsed and drained (you can substitute regular quinoa)
- 2 cups carrot juice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (we used less than 1/2 teaspoon)
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube (we left this out)
- 1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
- Heat the oil in a medium pot.
- Add the onion and cook and stir until it begins to soften.
- Add the zucchini and garlic, and cook and stir for two minutes.
- Add the corn and quinoa, and stir to mix thoroughly.
- Add the carrot juice, salt and bouillon cube, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until quinoa is tender.
- Stir in the cilantro and serve at once.
Visit the Book Publishing Company Web site for a chance to win a copy of "Speed Vegan" and other vegan cookbooks.
Full disclosure: Speed Vegan was sent to me without cost by Book Publishing Company. They did not try to influence my review.
UPDATE, 3-27-11: I just attended a cooking demo at Vegfest with Alan Roettinger and, coincidentally, he made red quinoa with zucchini and corn. When he added the bouillon, he said he was using Rapunzel brand NO SALT bouillon cubes. That would make for a much less salty result than we had!
If you're anywhere near the Seattle area this weekend be sure to visit Vegfest at the Seattle Center exhibition Hall. It just so happens that Alan Roettinger, author of "Speed Vegan," will be doing cooking demos on both days. I'll be volunteering as a food demonstrator on Sunday from 10 to 2, so if you think you recognize me (:D) be sure to say hello.
By now, most people have probably heard about the Web-based companies like Groupon, that send you daily deals for half-price entertainment, meals and services. The intrepid Vegan Backpackers are busy establishing a vegan deal program, and looking to sign people up to receive bargains on products and services of particular interest to vegans. Check it out by clicking on the heart!
Here's a blog post with links to the blog author's "top 25 blogs to help you go vegan." (No, this blog isn't on the list.)