June 06, 2016

Protein Ninja by Terry Hope Romero: cookbook review

I own and love all of Terry Hope Romero's cookbooks, so I didn't hesitate for a moment when offered her newest, Protein Ninja, to review. I didn't spend much time pondering what the title meant — just casually assumed it was a humorous reference to the "so, where do you get your protein?" question vegans are always fielding. I was wrong. The book is a serious guide for athletes and others trying to add protein to their diets to improve performance and health. Not being much of an athlete myself, I've never worried about my protein intake. In fact, I prefer to get my protein from foods that naturally contain it, rather than by adding protein powders and such to my food, and while adding protein powders like pea, rice and   hemp protein is a theme in the cookbook, there are still plenty of recipes that use beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, nuts and seeds as protein sources. Those are the recipes of most interest to me, though if you want to add an extra punch of protein to your diet, you will find plenty of delicious ways to do it with Protein Ninja.

The first recipe I attempted was the baked veggie pan omelet. The protein punch came from the tofu plus garbanzo bean flour. I like tofu and garbanzo flour, and the photo in the book was so enticing I couldn't resist. I followed the omelet part of the recipe exactly, though for the roasted vegetable part, I substituted asparagus for green beans and added sprinkle of peas and mushrooms. One thing I noticed was when I followed the quantities in the ingredients list, I had so many veggies I couldn't fit them all on. For example, the recipe called for a pint of cherry tomatoes, but even a half pint was too much, as I was trying to approximate the appearance of the recipe photo.

The omelet was pretty, and over the course of several days we ate it all, but it wasn't a favorite of my mine. The main reason I didn't love it, though, may be the very reason you do — the texture was too much like a soft, moist (dare I say "wet") omelet of the undercooked style that I remember from before I was vegan. I only ate dry-cooked eggs, the dryer the better, but I might be in the minority there. I baked the omelet much longer than the recipe directions indicated, and still it wouldn't firm up enough for me.

Next I was going to make Korean tofu taco salad, but just the kimchi tofu part since I didn't have some of the ingredients for the rest of the recipe. However, the tofu was delicious, and I still intend to make the whole gorgeous dish sometime soon. A good recipe might give you opportunities to borrow and use just one component, and that's okay. Terry's recipes are comprised of various components that you can switch around if you like — lots of potential here.

I had to smoosh the patties into shape in order to take a photo.

Next up, my husband took a turn trying a recipe. I probably shouldn't even include the recipe for vegetable korma tofu patties in my review, since my husband made an unfortunate mistake, but we can learn from mistakes as well as successes, can we not? First, I want to say that it took him about two hours to get the patties on the table even though the cooking time listed was one hour. (If you think cooking the rice took part of the time, think again. He had a packet of instant rice up his sleeve for that part of the meal.) There are many ingredients and steps in the recipes, and though some cooks may be organized, nimble and quick in the kitchen, my husband is not. Anyway, part way into the cooking marathon, the house was smelling fantastic, and I was getting so hungry, I ventured into the kitchen to see if he needed help, but he sent me away. Too bad. The recipe lists tend to be long, and many continue onto the next page — a fact he didn't notice as he got to work. By the time he realized he needed pea protein powder, he couldn't think what to do, so he left it out. Had he asked, I could have provided him with lots of sample protein packets that I've never used. Needless to say, the patties were not extremely cohesive. He also made too many so they were less substantial than they should have been. The patties tasted good, but not great enough that I would want to make them again, though I'm tempted to see what they would be like if done correctly.

The next day I buzzed the leftovers briefly in the food processor, added some hemp, reformed the patties and cooked them on my griddle. The texture improved, but we were still not overwhelmed.

I saved the best for last. My husband wanted another chance to make something for the review, and he chose five spice chickpea peanut noodle bowl. We both love noodle bowls, and this one was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I think I'm going to make it for a pot luck next weekend. There was still a long list of ingredients (the peanut sauce alone has nine), and multiple steps (you have to roast the chickpeas, make the sauce and make the noodles and the salad) but the results were worth the effort — noodles, fresh,  crispy raw shredded cabbage and radishes, a little bite from arugula, fragrant and deeply flavorful roasted chickpeas, and a spectacular peanut sauce. We both loved it so much — can't wait to have it again.

The photos that appear in Protein Ninja are voluptuous, and of course I wish there were more since they add so much to the book. The recipe ingredients and directions  are easy to read, though you might need a magnifying glass for the index! Sometimes the directions may be unclear for less experienced cooks. For example, listing whole peeled garlic and a cube of fresh ginger without saying what to do with them before adding to a sauce. If you're on the hunt for stealthy protein additions to your diet, or even if you just want to add clever, intensely flavorful food combinations to spice up your dining, I recommend you take a look at Protein Ninja by Terry Hope Romero.

Update: Here's a link to an addition to my review.


  1. Interesting review - do you think you'd recommend the book? It seems like it was a bit hit and miss, though I guess you never know if the rest of the recipes were good. I'd love to read a second review, if you were fancying cooking more recipes from the book!

    1. I think I'd recommend it if you were into adding extra protein to your meals, and also if you enjoy food with intense flavors. I personally don't add protein powders, preferring to get my protein from whole foods. Most people don't have trouble eating enough protein. I just attended a great class with Dr. Michael Klapper, and he recommended not using protein powder supplements. In addition to the supplemented recipes, there are a great many that don't use protein powders. The recipes are imaginative and beautiful, and though it's not, in my opinion, a book for everyday cooking, it would be great for weekends and special events. Yes, I will try more recipes.

  2. I'm working on my own review of that cookbook but I made different recipes than you. Although I was eyeing some of the same recipes - the Korean tofu taco salad and the veg korma tofu patties. And the omelet one too since that looked so pretty. :-)

    1. I'm looking forward to your review. Joey makes me think I sounded too negative so I re-read my review, and it doesn't seem negative to me. Terry is a master of complex flavors, and she demonstrates that in her newest book, but it's not for someone who prefers simple, unadorned food. I loved the 5-spice chickpea salad, and I'm sure I'll find more favorites.


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