September 13, 2013
This has been a challenging review for me to write. No question Plum, by Makini Howell is a beautiful book — well laid out with lovely photos — but the cooking style is so different from mine that, although I don't want to impose my cooking preferences on my reviews, this one challenged me to the max.
Plum Bistro is a very popular Seattle organic, vegan eatery. I'd describe it as an upscale comfort food restaurant, and it often appears on lists of the best vegetarian/vegan restaurants in the country. I've eaten there many times, and sometimes I liked my meal and other times I didn't. Sometimes the food was so over-salted and over-seasoned that I could barely eat it, and the last time I was there (for brunch) my meal was totally bland. Sometimes the taste is good, but I feel like I'm consuming a bottle of oil. It's possible to try too hard to replace animal food in a vegan meal, and Plum may be trying a little harder than necessary. If you've ever dined at Vedge, you'll understand what I mean when I say that Plum is the opposite of Vedge. Vedge glorifies plants, and Plum tries its best to make you forget that you're eating plants.
When I looked through the recipes in the Plum cookbook for dishes to try, I found myself balking at the ingredients. I use fat in cooking, and I use high-fat foods like nuts and avocados, but I find it difficult to add 1-1/4 cups of oil to a sauce, or use 1/4 cup of oil in a dish that serves four. OK. That's my speech. There are plenty of people who will love the Plum cookbook, and I don't want to discourage anyone from giving it a try. Rich foods can be very gratifying on occasion, and you will find lots of options for indulging, here. There are also healthier recipes mixed in among the more extravagant ones, and plenty of interesting cooking ideas to be discovered. And you can always modify recipes to your liking, which I try not to do when I'm reviewing a book.
The first recipe we tried was creamy millet corn chowder — one of the easier, healthier dishes in the book. (It only had two tablespoons of oil for four people.) It was pleasant, but not especially memorable. I enjoyed the combination of millet and corn, and it made a simple, light supper. In addition to the millet and corn, it also contained spinach and potatoes, but I was wishing it had had a lot more spinach. The next day, for lunch, I added a couple of fresh tomatoes, lots more spinach and a few peanuts, and I liked it a much better.
For our next recipe, I asked my husband to make one of Plum's signature dishes, Plum's Smoky Mac.* (see note below) I was afraid I might not be able to deal with the ingredients, and I knew he would follow the directions. I grated the cheese, made an almond flour substitute for the bread crumb topping, and left. Well, after what seemed like forever, I went to the kitchen to see if I could help. I'd been hearing the sounds of a struggle — crashing pans, frantic scurrying, odd muttering — and began to feel guilty about asking him to make the mac. He was running around like a madman, seeming to dart in several directions at once. The kitchen appeared to have been bombed, and he yelled at me to go away and not bother him. He was almost done, he shrieked. Ha.
Some time later I was called to the table where a very large casserole of mac and cheese was placed. I'm not gonna lie and say it was too rich and fatty, and we didn't eat it. It was too rich and fatty but it was insanely delicious, and we gobbled it up like we hadn't eaten in a week. I've even toyed with the idea of making it again sometime for company, but that remains to be seen.
With the mac we had charred broccolini. The photo in the cookbook is much better than mine and makes the dish look very beautiful and appealing, but this was another recipe calling for 1/4 cup of oil to serve four people. If I were to make it again, which I probably won't, I'd reduce the oil to one tablespoon or less.
Everyone is looking for something different in a cookbook, and the Plum cookbook may be perfect for you if you like heartier, richer fare that reminds you of the days before you were vegan, if you just want to add some vegan food to your diet, or cook vegan food for omnivore friends.
You can see some of the recipes on Amazon if you're interested in learning more about the Plum cookbook. There's a recipe for quinoa-millet cherry salad that looks pretty good. I also want to note that gluten-free recipes are clearly marked.
Note: *It's not exactly the same as the mac that people are so crazy about at Plum. That's called Spicy cajun mac 'n' yease. From what I understand, the recipe is secret, and couldn't be shared in the book. However, the Plum's smoky mac is similar.
A free copy of the Plum cookbook was sent to me by the publisher. All opinions are my own, but you can probably tell. The post contains Amazon links.