Nadine Fiedler is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is eating a vegan diet for two weeks and reviewing the book ‘Veganomicon,’ by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.

Days 4 to 7 eating ‘Veganomicon’

Hits and misses

February 8, 2008

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a three-part review of Veganomicon. The first installment is available here; the final here.

The pot pie lasts forever. Monday night I sauté rainbow chard with olive oil and garlic for a side dish, mixing in some of the fig dressing I made Sunday. It’s nice. Eating vegan for breakfast and lunch is easy, and seems to be what I usually do anyway (soy-milk smoothies, cereal with soy milk, vegetable salads for lunch dressed only with balsamic vinegar). I feel fine in general.

Tuesday night is a repeat of Monday’s dinner, but I long to cook something else from Veganomicon. Many of the Amazon reviewers loved the Chickpea Cutlets, so I try them, using fresh thyme and sage. I double the recipe to use up one whole can of chickpeas. I think I forgot to double the liquid, though, so I’ll try it again to see.

The method is ingenious: Wheat gluten is mixed with mashed garbanzos, which is then kneaded to make a sturdy mass you can pat into cutlet shapes. I chose to bake them instead of frying to reduce the fat load. They’re crispy and pretty satisfying, although a wee bit boring. I eat one with mustard and think about how they might be nice smothered in an oniony tomato sauce.

Muffin fun.

On Wednesday, it finally snows hard enough for my job at a school to be delayed a couple of hours. I seize the opportunity to bake the Applesauce-Oat Bran Muffins again, this time using agave syrup instead of sugar to get the muffins lower on the glycemic index, thus preventing our blood-sugar levels from spiking.

I do a Web search to see how the substitution could work, and the consensus seems to be to reduce the measurement of sugar and liquid by 25 percent each, and lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees. I use dried cherries for glamour instead of raisins. The muffins turn out delicious with the agave, not much different from the sugar recipe. This one’s a real keeper.

On Wednesday night I meet with four old friends in the session we call “knitting” because we all used to knit together, starting about 25 years ago. Now we eat and gossip and kvetch. They must have drugged me, because I can’t at all recall what we had for dinner . . .

I don’t cook again till Friday. The recipe for Leek and Bean Cassoulet with Biscuits looks good, so that’s it for tonight. The recipe is basically a stew of vegetables and beans, topped by biscuit dough and cooked in the oven. I would change only one thing in the recipe: They ask you to add cornstarch to a lot of liquid, and I think it’s better to stir some liquid into the cornstarch first to dissolve it, then add that to the main liquid.

Anyway, it’s really lovely to look at, but the vegetables — leeks, onions, peas, carrots, and garlic — are not exciting. I think it would be more fun with maybe greens and yams or something more full-flavored. It’s a satisfying dish to eat, as they say, because you can eat a bite of biscuits and veggies together. This in no way feels like deprivation food.

Looks can be deceiving.

The real disappointment of the dinner, though, are the Cornmeal Masala Roasted Brussels Sprouts. They sounded so enticing in the book! The trouble with them is that the spices (especially the cinnamon) overpower the sprouts, and the cornmeal crust stays too undercooked and hurtfully crunchy. (Brad hates this dish, too.)

The technique as written is not quite right, either. After your Brussels sprouts are washed and cut and sitting in a nice big bowl, you make the crust out of dry ingredients and oil in a small bowl. Well, then they say to add the Brussels sprouts. To the small bowl? I don’t think so. I dump the crust goo into the big bowl of sprouts to mix it in.

Another thing: the crust uses six tablespoons of oil. That’s much too much fat and calories. I hardly ever throw food away, but this dish is a candidate for going down the drain.

Even though it’s sexy-looking.

There are 8 comments on this item
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1. by anonymous on Feb 9, 2008 at 6:42 AM PST

I can’t really comment on your discussion of the sprouts (which I haven’t made), but I certainly can talk about the chickpea cutlets (which are a real staple in this house). You said:
“They’re crispy and pretty satisfying, although a wee bit boring. I eat one with mustard and think about how they might be nice smothered in an oniony tomato sauce.”

Funny comment, that ‘boring’ - as written, the recipe suggests that readers accompany the cutlet with a mustard sauce. But the cutlets are a base for a whole lot of different treatments - just like the use of chicken breasts as a blank palette for culinary creativity.

I can recommend Veganomicon (and Isa & Terry’s other books) to nonvegans as well, because I know that many people are changing the focus of meals away from meat, meat, meat as the center of the meal, and toward more creative, healthy, vegetable-based foods.

2. by Dawn on Feb 9, 2008 at 7:38 AM PST

The cutlets are fabulous with barbecue sauce too. And I think I’m going to try strips or nuggets soon too and use a buffalo sauce. I agree with the commenter above - you’d probably think a plain chicken breast was “boring” too. Just a suggestion for another fantastic dish from Veganomicon - the Sweet Potato Pear Tzimmes are a favorite at my house with people of all dietary choices.

3. by anonymous on Feb 11, 2008 at 9:35 AM PST

Plain chicken breast will only taste boring if you’re using factory farmed chicken.

4. by anonymous on Feb 11, 2008 at 11:19 AM PST

I find it troubling that many of the comments left by vegetarians and vegans are confrontational and defensive (on this particular post and comments on earlier posts). I think that the author is giving this test a genuine try and she’s reporting back her honest opinions and feelings. I don’t think that she is attacking or putting down vegans or vegan cooking, but from the tone of many reader’s comments, it’s coming off like vegans have something to prove (or defend).

5. by anonymous on Feb 11, 2008 at 12:26 PM PST

To commenter 4 (from commenter 1) - No, my intent was neither confrontational nor defensive. Instead, it was giving my own honest opinion as a former epicurean non-vegan cook and now a vegan one. It’s all about good food and how we get there, and everyone’s tastebuds are different.

To Nadine, I’d like to suggest that the amounts of oil added to recipes are quite flexible. I very often cut the oil at least in half with no noticeable loss in taste. Veganomicon is no exception.

6. by Dawn on Feb 11, 2008 at 12:32 PM PST

Hee Hee commenter 1, I was just getting ready to say something similar. My comment wasn’t meant as defensive either. Just suggestions of how I enjoy the cutlets. I love it when people give me suggestions like that. As far as the boring chicken - when I ate chicken, I thought it was boring if it was plain. From seeing Nadine’s blog, I assumed the same about her.

7. by hknapp on Feb 13, 2008 at 8:38 AM PST

Interesting post and comments! I haven’t found the vegans’ remarks to be particularly confrontational. The chickpea cutlet / chicken breast analogy was actually really helpful in that it reminds us that we all bring a certain degree of cooking experience (and thus creativity and flexibility) to any recipe we try. Recognizing that a cutlet can be the base for a variety of preparations is critical outside of the book (ha). But I also find it helpful to remember that Nadine is reviewing a cookbook, not (explicitly) a way of life. There are lots of fantastic vegan recipes, but if the dishes she’s making from this book are too bland, dry, or oily, the cookbook authors need to know that so they can make adjustments for the next edition. It’s actually to the non-vegan’s benefit to know that an ‘ugh’ dish is the result of a carelessly-written recipe, rather than from a fundamental tastebud difference between vegans and non-vegans. :) We all have cookbooks that we mostly love but don’t completely trust (Jamie Oliver’s earlier books come to mind). It sounds to me that Veganomican might be one of these.

8. by a. on Mar 11, 2008 at 5:23 AM PDT

I’m a bit confused as to how Nadine can be properly reviewing the recipes found in the book when she seems to have modified each one. How can you properly judge the recipe when you didn’t follow it? I understand wanting to lower the oil or use agave but deciding the sprout instructions are wrong? Your decisions to wander off the path and should not reflect on the review of the original recipes or book. It would have been a more appropriate to have tried them in their original form and then in a modified form. If a true review of the recipes listed is what you’re after.

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