Cookbook Series: Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry

 

The collection.

As promised, here’s the first installment of my series of reviews of the cookbooks I own. First up: Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. It’s fitting that this is the first cookbook I will review, as it’s my favourite (or at least in my top three – don’t make me choose!). Why? So many reasons…

  • The recipes are unique and creative, and fulfill a unique niche not filled by my other cookbooks. He doesn’t just recreate soul food. He puts new twists on old recipes, and encourages you to create your own twists on family classics. There’s even a space to write and re-create your own family recipe.
  • Terry is a man after my own heart, as he has a recommended song to accompany each recipe. Food and music! Together! As they should be.
  • The recipes are, in general, perfectly balanced between healthy and decadent. While his recipes are often healthier twists on many soul food classics, he’s not afraid to use the ingredients required to replicate the richness of these dishes.
  • There is a recipe for black-eyed pea fritters that are amazing. Although I’ve just linked to the recipe, I assure you that the creation of this recipe, all by itself, is reason enough to buy this cookbook and support this chef. (And don’t wimp out and bake them. Fry them. Trust me.)
  • His recipes are generally foolproof. Some chefs are more scientist than artist, but Terry is definitely an artist. I have a feeling that he sees his recipe as a template that can be played with, and every time I have played with the template it has worked out well. For people that don’t like to follow recipes, that’s great news. Of course it’s also worth noting that his recipes are brilliant as written as well.
  • The ingredients lists and the recipes are short. Not too much detail, nor too little.
  • He has a whole chapter dedicated to ‘zero waste watermelon’ in which he uses every part of the fruit. Brilliant, and I know some other bloggers would agree that there’s a certain genius about finding a way to use every part of this fruit.

Another thing I love is that he tends to consistently use a core group of ingredients, so if you want to make his recipes, you’re not left with orphan ingredients. So many cookbooks send you hunting for random ingredients that you’ll never use again, even if you do like them. With this cookbook, expect ingredients like greens, black-eyed peas, cornmeal, root veggies,¬† thyme, cayenne and coconut oil to make repeat appearances, along with many other staples of most vegan kitchens like tofu, brown rice, quinoa and tempeh. He also made me fall in love with some ingredients (celeriac) and bemoan our limited selection of produce with a few recipes (why don’t we have plantains…why only ‘cooking bananas’, which are not plantains at all???).

A list of my favourite recipes from this book, to get you interested in checking it out:

  • Blackeyed pea fritters with hot pepper sauce (as previously mentioned – I’ve m
    Blackened Tofu with Succotash Salsa, Christmas 2009. Not winning any awards for photography, but it was delicious.

    ade these more times than I can count).

  • Quinoa cornbread (a twist on traditional cornbread with whole quinoa and a bit of quinoa flour)
  • Roasted plantain pieces with garlic-lime dipping sauce
  • Crispy okra strips with Lime-Thyme Vinaigrette
  • Celeriac sauce (with everything – or the coconut tempeh in the book)
  • Roasted red potato salad with parsley-pine nut pesto (and I don’t even like potatoes all that much!)
  • Sweet Sweetback Salad with Roasted Beet Vinaigrette
  • Grits (all of his recipes for grits are amazing, but my favourite are the creamy grits with cajun-spiced tempeh)
  • Black. Brown. Green. Granola.
  • Blackened tofu slabs with succotash salsa (I convinced James we should have this on Christmas along with the requested hot, stodgy meal. Who wants to eat roasted potatoes and gravy when it’s over 100 F/40C outside???)
  • Baked BBQ blackeyed peas (by far my favourite baked beans recipe – quite different than traditional baked beans).

Honorable mention goes to the tempeh, shitake mushroom and cornmeal dumpling stew because James loved it. Dumplings can even make James – a tempeh hater – eat tempeh. And he would probably add the roasted potato and mixed greens gratin, which was pretty tasty even to me, who is lukewarm on the subject of potatoes. One thing to note, though, is that for those of you who prefer photo-heavy books, don’t look to this book for ‘food porn’. It’s a simple book in terms of its graphic design, and I personally like that. Buy this book for the content, not the aesthetics. Also, if you are afraid of spice (are you crazy??) note that his recipes would be delicious even with the hot spices omitted. Just don’t tell me about it.

For more on Bryant Terry, listen to this great interview from 2009 on Animal Voices, check out his webpage, or even read about his own favourite cookbooks here on 101 Cookbooks.

Work has been crazy lately and will be for the next few months, so expect more posts like these, which are quick and easy to write and don’t require much brain power after a day of exercising the mind at work.

Cookbook Series: Organisation

I love cookbooks.

The collection.

From Left: Veganomicon, Vegan Deli, Ani’s Raw Kitchen, Raw Food Revolution Diet, The Complete Soy Cookbook, A Vegan Taste of East Africa, Vegan Soul Kitchen, La Dolce Vegan, The Joy of Vegan Baking, Vegan with a Vengeance, The Vegan Table, Breadmaker’s Guide, 30 Minute Vegan, Vegan Fire and Spice, Peas and Thank You, Vegan Brunch, The World in your Kitchen, Vegan Cooking for One, Squeezed and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
However, until recently I was more a collector of cookbooks than someone who used them to cook. I love cooking without cookbooks; however, I admittedly found myself in a lot of food ruts. Let’s just say that I was making things like palak channa, dhal, Thai green curry, curried split peas (are we sensing a curry theme?), stir fries, and the same couple of tofu and Mexican dishes over and over and over again. I could probably still happily eat those dishes most nights, but since I’ve been meatless since I was 12, I kind of felt it was time for me to re-invigorate my cooking repertoire. It wasn’t because I didn’t have lots of other things that I loved to eat…it was really just because making the same things again and again meant I was guaranteed to like my food and to always have what I needed on hand.

About a year ago, I decided that I needed to stop buying new cookbooks for a while until I committed to making most of the ones from the books I already had. I figured it would not only let me cash in on my investment, but it would be fun trying to work my way through and lead me to some new favourites in the process.

I am so happy with my decision.

I’d say that in the past year I make a new dish at least 3 times per week, but often 6 or 7 new dishes. And I am STILL probably only 25% of the way through this collection. Now, I will always leave at least 25% of it untapped because I don’t really eat or make desserts (sugar makes me feel ill), and there are others that I simply have no interest in (or aren’t actually things I need recipes for). Even so, I would say I have about 40-50% to go! Overwhelming, but kind of neat at the same time.

To keep my sanity in this process, I have come up with a system to ensure that I remember what was good, what was bad and what was just okay. I will share that in this post, and then over the next several months (or probably the next year!) I will review all the cookbooks. I plant to be quite thorough because I am a firm believer that you should only review a cookbook once you’ve made quite a few recipes from it. However, I find a lot of reviews fall short of my expectations when I am looking at a new cookbook purchases, so I hope to at least provide a little clarity to the 2 or 3 people who actually read the reviews.

Onto the organisation. Here’s what I do:

  • I have gone through all of my cookbooks and made a list of the things I want to make. I have done this twice so far: once for warm weather and once for cool weather. If you arein a place that has more definitive seasons than Perth, it’d be even better to make one for Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. However, here we have only two basic seasons in my opinion, and even those are a bit screwy when it comes to produce. I mean, things like strawberries are in season most of the year! I’ve given up on figuring out why certain things are in season when they are, and just roll with it. I’m getting sidetracked here, but my point is that different things appeal in different weather, so I found that I needed to go through the books again when winter started.
  • The night before grocery shopping, I make a list of the recipes I’ll make for the
    Example of a recipe I've marked up.

    week. That way I can add everything I need to the list. I didn’t do this at first, so I ended up going to the store mid-week. I hate that and it can get expensive (hello, impulse purchases!).

  • When I make the recipes, I note the changes I made. I often also note the weight of ingredients I used for certain things, as I find this provides a more accurate way of making things. I know that sounds pretty pedantic, but basically I do this so that if I love something I can make it the same way again. I am not a very structured cook, but when something works really well, who am I to mess with it? Good cookbooks have groups of recipe testers for a reason: they want to get a consistently excellent result. I want that too, and sometimes that means deviating based on what I have, my dodgy kitchen appliances, and the lack of many vegan products that are available in the US. Noting all of this also helps me know what changes work and what doesn’t.¬†
  • After I make each recipe, I have a rudimentary rating system: a check (or a ‘tick’ as Aussies would call it) for those things that were good but not great, a check+ for things that are excellent, and a check- for things that are not so great. A few things have even got a big fat X which means never again, but that’s very rare. Luckily, most things I’ve made either have received a check or a check+. I also note anything I want to remember for next time. For most things, James and I agree, but there have been a few things I have just thought were ‘meh’ but he really liked. So I note that, too.
This was a vegetable soup with dumplings. Of course James loved it - it's bread floating in soup!
I normally use about one-quarter of the sweetener called for in a recipe, but sometimes it's still too much. This salad had sweet potatoes, so I should have known not to add any sweetener at all!

So that’s pretty much my system for keeping all this organised. In the end, it’s likely that only those recipes getting a check+ will be made again and again, but there are things that I re-visit that I like better the second time around.

A quick note to those of you that don’t like writing in books: stop being silly! To be honest I don’t understand why people won’t write in any books, but as far as cookbooks are concerned I think it’s incredibly silly. Cookbooks are meant to have worn pages, notes, stains and a range of other blemishes. It’s how you know they’re loved.

Raw Vegetable Stack from 30 Minute Vegan

Not sure if any of that was interesting to anyone, but I hadn’t posted in ages and wanted to write something simple. I know there are a lot of people like me out there that love cookbooks but find they don’t use them enough. I encourage you to put them to use! If nothing else, it will inspire you to get more creative in the kitchen and get out of a food rut. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and I know most people aren’t interested in making as many new recipes as I have made over the past year, so do what works for you. I happen to find cooking the most relaxing thing after a long day of work, which requires a lot of my brainpower, and a workout, which requires a lot of my physical energy. My favourite way to unwind is to make and eat something new. I find chopping vegetables to be oddly therapeutic, and especially rewarding when it results in something interesting and delicious that I have never made before.

Don’t Fear the Phyllo

Just a quick, somewhat pointless, post about food on an unfortunate day that I can’t eat any. Think of this as a public service announcement, to encourage people to make things at home that they might normally reserve only for restaurants and parties: phyllo.

Phyllo (or filo or fillo) is something that I have cooked with a few times, and each time I’ve been amazed at how well it stands up to my carelessness in the kitchen. As anyone who has lived with me can attest, I am a messy cook. The kind that preps as I go and can’t be bothered with specifics. I love cooking more than baking in part because I can get away with this imprecision.

Spanakopita from Vegan with a Vengeance, braised figs with arugula (aka 'rocket') from Vegan Table.

Before I cooked with phyllo for the first time, I had often heard people talk about how afraid they are to cook with it. Every time I went to Greektown in Detroit for my beloved spanakopita, I heard people say this. Many cookbooks, such as Vegan with a Vengeance, have long tutorials on how to work with phyllo. I noticed that the tone is normally like that of a pep talk, and I can understand why. Apparently, this little roll of dough you can buy in the supermarket can cause a lot of anxiety.

So it was with some trepidation that I made a dish with phyllo for the first time, but it turned out brilliantly (see right). It wasn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. The beauty of any pastry, including phyllo, is that it’s really easy to cover up your mistakes, especially if you choose the triangle shape like I did here.

The other day when I was making phyllo, it occurred to me that there were a few places where things could go wrong and really ruin things, but that there were many more places where you could do the wrong thing with little consequence. For example:

  • Don’t fear the oil. This is not a time to make a low fat dish. Layer the olive oil on every sheet (a thin layer, but a layer nonetheless). In the true spirit of the dough’s origins, don’t be afraid of the olive oil if you want the phyllo to be flaky and delicious.
  • Cover the dough with a damp cloth or towel. I have put too much water on the towel before, only to end up ruining the top sheet. This last time, I even accidentally got every corner of my dough soaking wet due to my small counter space and a pool of water. It ruined that corner, but I simply tucked that bit in as I was making my triangles. Problem solved!
  • Don’t overstuff, but you can get away with more than you think. One of the reasons things like homemade ravioli annoy me is that you have to put so little stuffing in to ensure the edges stick together. As someone who is more interested in filling than bread, I find this irritating. Phyllo is very forgiving in this sense. I overstuff them, but because I am folding it over so many times, I can cover up any areas where it tries to escape.

That’s it. As I said, a rather pointless post, but I hate to see people fear using certain ingredients or making certain dishes. Maybe one of these days I’ll write a post on bread, as it’s yet another dish that I find so incredibly easy and forgiving. I just can’t understand why people would bother with a bread machine when your own two hands make better bread than any appliance ever could.

I will leave you with my latest phyllo creation: Moroccan Phyllo with Curried Tomato Sauce from The Vegan Table. They aren’t perfect and the lighting is terrible, but I think you get the idea. These were the batch where I ruined one corner of the entire stack!

Moroccan Phyllo with Curried Tomato Sauce from The Vegan Table with Sweet Sweetback Salad from Vegan Soul Kitchen

 

One Year (Paper)

I don’t plan to post about nothing all that often, but in the spirit of promising I would post on a semi-regular basis, I want to say a few words about an important milestone.

This past Sunday, I had my one year wedding anniversary.

Our 'winter' wedding.

We could have two anniversaries, since we had a second wedding (technically, a ‘renewal of vows’) ceremony in England. We did this my family could afford to take the trip (obviously, plane ticket to England < plane ticket to Australia), and so that James’ family in England could celebrate with us.

Our 'summer' wedding in England.

No matter when you start counting, it’s been a very good year. We celebrated with a dinner at my favourite vegetarian restaurant in Perth, Genesis in the Hills. (Admittedly not my favourite restaurant in Perth, I am afraid. That title goes to a Thai restaurant called Saowanees in North Perth.)

Yes, it is 21 C (70F) and we are wearing scarves and hat. 'Tis winter in Perth.
I didn't take pictures of the food this time, but James had the veggie burger and it looks like this. it's on New Norcia sourdough bread with a homemade patty, and it is delicious. They don't skimp on the delicious local olive oil either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t have much to say about the meal, especially since I wrote about Genesis already over at vegaroo! here. The menu changes regularly, according to the seasons and what is in their garden. We don’t have many completely vegetarian restaurants in Perth, but this is by far the best vegetarian restaurant we do have, and always worth the money. Even better – and well-suited to our personalities – this meal was free because we had a gift certificate. The staff at Genesis is friendly, they remember me and they were even showing a photography exhibition of a friend. Plus, it’s in the hills (i.e. the Darling Scarp), which is always a little greener than the rest of Perth.

Afterwards, we went on a walk in the beautiful ‘winter’ weather (read: cool and pleasant, rather than baking in the intense Australian sun). From the earliest days of dating, James and I have taken walks together. It’s one of the few forms of exercise on which we can both agree. As people who both enjoy a good introspective walk alone more than a romantic stroll, there’s something to be said for the fact that some of our most pleasant afternoons and evenings involve a walk. Perhaps we are just old at heart.

I also gave James a letter. The first year is, after all, the paper anniversary. I had to celebrate somehow, and we’re not much for excessive gift-giving in this house.

This wasn't actually the letter. This was Christmas 2008, and he was reading an ancestry book from his mum, but this is the face. Happy, but emotional.

Probably the most important part of the day for me was writing the letter. I wrote it early in the morning, when my brain works best, and it helped me reflect on the last year. Obviously, the marriage has played a huge role in shaping the last 12 months. From a relationship perspective, it has been exactly how I thought it would be when we got married on 12 June 2010, and that is to say: it’s been excellent. As someone who was skeptical of marriage – and pretty opposed to it for myself only a few years ago – this in itself a big deal.

However, in many ways, this past year has been quite uneventful for me. I am continuing to work, as I have been doing for about 7 years. I am still learning every day, but I am feeling confident in what I do. I am living abroad, sure, but I have been doing that for nearly four years. This is my home now, and the ‘newness’ has indeed faded a bit. On the whole, this year has been filled with the typical ups and downs of life, but it has not been full of monumental events. I traveled to a few places I loved, either again (England and Wales) or for the first time (Scotland and Norfolk Island).

At the same time, I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself because of the lack of major milestones in my life. I am still in limbo in many ways, in part because of the typical struggles of being an ex-pat and making plans to return to study for a PhD. There are other ongoing struggles that are little, but important to me, like struggling to find fulfilling volunteer work at the right organisation for me. I will avoid delving too deep into the navel-gazing, but suffice it to say this year has brought more moments of feeling sorry for myself than I am used to. In part, it’s a product of more free time and a brain that does not cope with that well.

Writing the letter, however, helped me to realise that I have no reason to be sorry. This was a ‘big year’ because I got married, but also because I found myself in a place where I finally had the time to reflect on what I am doing, what I want to do next, and how I am going to get there. Years past have always been filled with school or a new job, moving to a new country, or falling in love. Despite the feeling of limbo (or perhaps as a result?) this year was probably the most stable year of my adult life. Not coincidentally, it was also the year that I realised how different reflection on my life can feel amidst this new-found stability. I would say it is that I have finally become an adult, but that’s not it. Not one to dwell on the romanticism of adolescence or young adulthood, I’ve been an adult for a while.

Whilst writing the letter, the conclusion I finally came to is this: I thought marriage would teach me how to better look toward the future. To my surprise, it taught me how important it is to be in the present. If I don’t, I just might find myself feeling misinterpreting a very good year for a mediocre one, simply because it wasn’t a series of achievements. Life doesn’t always have to be able creating a better resume or experiencing new things. Sometimes it’s simply about appreciating what you have, right here and now.

And on our wedding day.
At the Bakery (a music venue) in Perth. We'd been dating two months at this point.