September 24, 2012

Bravo! by Ramses Bravo: cookbook review

There are so many versions of "healthy diets" it can make your head spin. Most people, no matter what they eat, will probably say they eat a healthy diet. Whether omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, or whatever combination you can come up with, there are dozens of variations on every kind of diet, each of which is considered "healthy" by a devoted group of followers. For example, in my neighborhood's online newsletter, in response to a new resident's inquiry about finding healthy eating choices in the 'hood, someone suggested a restaurant where he could find a barbecued pork sandwich served on a bed of coleslaw instead of bread. Another suggested a bakery where all the pies are vegan and raw. Both people considered their recommendations healthy, though they are worlds apart. (I was a little miffed, however, by the respondent who said that local restaurants shouldn't be providing healthy food, they should be offering food that people liked!)

I've tried out quite a few diet variations myself, and was always convinced the new one was healthier than the last. I've been vegan for a long time, and there have been many incarnations of my vegan diet, as well. I'm not vegan primarily for health reasons, but I still try to eat what I consider a healthy, well-balanced diet. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, sea vegetables. I eat a mix of raw and cooked food, the proportions of which vary by season, and I eat a diet that tends to be low in added fat, salt and sugar, but still includes those things. I've always believed that some added fat and salt can be part of a healthy diet, though sometimes I cook without adding them. Most desserts I eat tend to fall into the fresh or dried fruit variety, but that doesn't mean I won't bake a cake or cookies with fat and sugar.

When I was asked to review a copy of Bravo!, the cookbook by Ramses Bravo from the TrueNorth Health Center, I was interested but wary. The recipes contain no animal products, which fits with my dietary preferences, but none of the recipes contain added oils, refined carbohydrates, salt or sugar (known as the SOS diet). Oils are supplied by avocados, nuts and seeds, and sweetness is supplied by fruit. I know a lot of people are avoiding salt, sugar and oil, and if you are interested in the ideas put forth by T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and others who advocate a diet free of sugar, salt and oil for optimal health, read on. Many people consider the SOS diet to be transformative for health.

Yellow corn chowder, page 53
After a forward by T. Colin Campbell and an explanation of the TrueNorth Health Center philosophy, (which you can read on Amazon), the book starts with a chapter on how to be an organized cook, that includes tips, lists of tools and two weeks of daily menus. The next chapter contains recipes for basic preparations for foods that are used in other recipes in the book. The main recipes follow, with chapters for breakfast, soups, salads, dressings, vegetable dishes, bean and grain dishes, entrées, sauces and dips, and desserts. The recipes seem very creative and attractive, as well as healthy, and there are lots that I'd like to try, like Bravo pizza with polenta crust, red lentil loaf with bell pepper coulis, apple-pecan cobbler and mango-banana pie. I do think I'd have trouble with the daily menus because there are so many dishes that rely on other recipes being made first. For example, I'd need gargantuan quantities of home-made vegetable broth, and previously made coconut-vanilla granola to make some of the recipes. (In fact, vegetable broth plays prominently in many of the recipes, which makes sense as a flavor enhancer.) Perhaps if my diet were more consistently based on recipes such as these, I'd develop an organized way to have the necessary items on hand.

We tried two of the soups, yellow corn chowder and tortilla soup, and were pleasantly surprised each time by the satisfying results. The soups looked and tasted great, and we didn't miss the oil or salt. We cheated a little on prep time by using very-low-sodium prepared stock instead of making our own, though I'm sure the home-made version would have been even better.

I'm pleased to be able to share the recipe for tortilla soup with you, with permission from the publisher. We used sweet potatoes instead of white because that's what we had, and it worked out really well. We also added kale, which we have growing in our garden. The second night we added brown rice and butter beans for a more complete dinner soup.

Tortilla soup - 6 servings (page 52)
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • kernals sliced from 2 ears of fresh corn or two cups of thawed frozen corn or drained canned corn
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, scrubbed and diced
  • 3 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 5 roma tomatoes
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 12 cups vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 10 fresh epazote leaves, sliced into strips (optional)
  • 2 ripe avocados, sliced, for garnish
  • 10 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
  • 1 lime, sliced into 6 wedges, for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Slice the tortillas into small strips. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes until crispy.
  3. Put the corn, celery, carrot, shallots and garlic in a large dry pot and cook over medium heat fot 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the oregano, granulated garlic and granulated onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. 
  4. Put the tomatoes in a blender and process on high speed until smooth. Add the tomatoes and potatoes to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. 
  5. Stir in the broth and increase the heat to medium high. Simmer for 15 minutes. 
  6. Stir in the epazote and simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with the avocado, cilantro, and lime. Serve immediately.

NOTE: This recipe results in a brothlike soup. For a thick and creamy soup, put the soup and baked tortilla strips in a blender and process on high until smooth. Serve immediately garnished with avocado, cilantro and lime.

Per serving: calories: 269, protein: 6.7 g, carbohydrates: 47.2 g, fat: 8.3 g. calcium: 99.5 mg, sodium: 147.9 mg, omega-3: 0.1g

Full disclosure: The book was provided to me free of charge. All opinions are my own. The recipe is reprinted with permission.


  1. That's a really good point about the many definitions of "healthy." Almost everyone thinks they eat a healthy diet. In fact, even over the course of my life I've always thought I was a pretty healthy eater. When I look back now on what I was eating then, I was far from it by any definition!

    Beautiful pictures of the soups you made! Not an easy thing to photograph well! Especially with the cooler temperatures, soup sounds so inviting.

    1. There are SO many definitions of healthy, it's hard to keep up! A lot of them make a great deal of sense to me while others ... not so much.:) It's a continuum.

      Thanks for mentioning the photos. It does seem hard to photograph soup — especially in low light.

  2. Sounds like a good book but I would probably add salt to everything. I have low blood pressure so it's dangerous for me to leave it out. Certain "healthy" diets are subjective, what might be healthy for one person isn't for another.

    I have to say I LOVE homemade veggie stock. I will probably get back into making it now that the weather has cooled. Although it takes awhile to gather up enough veggie scraps and it goes quickly, so I can't imagine trying to keep up a huge supply as this book calls for.

    1. I find I tweak most recipes to my liking — often reducing salt, oil and sugar, though in the case of this book, that wouldn't be necessary. :) If the recipes are good, it's easy to make them meet your preferences, since they are sometimes more for inspiration than literal usage.

      I agree with you about homemade stock, it's so good, and pretty easy to make if you save veggie trimmings. But I'd be making stock day and night to keep up with the cookbook.

  3. I hadn't heard of Bravo before your blog review and one other I read, and now I kind of want the cookbook, lol! You think it would be worth the investment? The library doesn't have a copy...


    1. Can you locate it in a bookstore so you can look at the recipes? Or even look on Amazon where a lot of the pages are displayed. It seems like a good collection of recipes with a lot of flavor, but I wouldn't say the recipes are "quick" to make.

    2. Good idea--thanks! This looks/sounds a lot like the way I eat, so it would be interesting to see it before having to buy it...

  4. so true about everyones definition of healthy.. i usually stay away from health arguments while discussing with non vegan friends, its just a lose lose situation.

    i love the color of the soup. i have the starch solution form dr mcdougall with similar principles though he uses salt and quite a few processed foods. Its so hard to decide about salt and sugar. thanks for the great review.

    1. I don't even like to talk about health with vegan friends, since there are so many opinions for what makes a "healthy" diet. And research to support most of them!

      The soup was a gorgeous color, and really delicious, too. I was supposed to receive a review copy of Dr. McDougall's book but it never arrived so I don't know much about it. I'm surprised to hear about the processed foods, though.

  5. Hi Andrea,
    Your Tortilla soup looks tasty
    You can submit your Tortilla soup pics on It is a food photography site where members can submit all food pictures that make readers hungry :)
    I am already hungry to see these photos btw, LOL

  6. It is interesting how everyone has a different definition of "healthy." Like Richa, I've learned to avoid having discussions about healthy eating with my family as everyone has such different views.

    I like your review too, and I completely agree with you- for people who define the SOS diet as being their version of healthy, then this book is perfect for them. For me, I like the ideas, but I would likely tweak the recipes to be more my style. :-)

    1. I hardly ever discuss "healthy" diets unless I'm asked directly, and then I try to refer people to reading materials if I can. But if they really seem interested, I'll talk about my version of healthy eating.

      It's nice to have a cookbook that starts with SOS. You can always tweak it if you want. We were surprised at how good the soups were even without adding any of the ingredients we might normally add, like olive oil or salt.

  7. So many people that Mike & I know tell us that we have a healthy diet because they assume everything vegan = healthy. While we do try to eat a mostly whole foods diet with minimal fat, sugar & salt, we don't fret about some things that are outside of our norm (especially when eating out).

    This cookbook looks like one we could enjoy, although like you said, we hate when there are recipes we have to make to make another recipe. The soup looks fantastic, though, and I'll have to see if our library has a copy of this.

  8. I wouldn't eat a deep-fried Twinkie, but I'm not as strict when we eat out, either, though I am strict about the vegan part of my diet.

    I think you might really like this cookbook — especially if you like Happy Herbivore, though she mostly worries about fat. This one is a little more complicated because it eliminates fat, sugar, salt and empty carbs. If you like to eat interesting, super clean dishes, it can take a little more effort to coax out the flavors. Both soups we made were delicious and energizing.


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