by Jas Faulkner
A quick note here, since I have received some questions about this: It’s no accident that many of the books on these lists are older. My purpose is twofold. I want to point readers to books they might have missed and booksellers, especially resellers, to books that might move off the display table . The genres I’ve chosen are those I read, enjoy and refer to fairly frequently.
Before we take a look at this week’s list, let’s consider the supposed audience for vegan and vegetarian cookbooks. People who choose to live exclusively on plant-based nutrition have gotten a bad rap over the last half-century. They are the target of ridicule by celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsey and in day to day life they have to dodge and weave around the stereotypes.
The stereotypes. Do we even want to go there? Alas, they do exist, those mental images of underfed, pasty, testy, self-righteous types who glare the plates containing a cut of something that once mooed, baahed, oinked, or clucked. Those Birkenstock and hemp sock wearing culinary pharisees are enough to scare anyone away from the vegetarian shelves in the cookbook section. This is a pity, especially when so many otherwise good general cookbooks tend to go light on the sides and veggie main courses unless they’re heavy on the starch, fat, and salt.
Is that reason enough to invest in or at the very least recommend vegan or vegetarian cookbooks? Good question. People tend to buy cookbooks for three reasons:
- Health issues or a scare has led them to change the way they eat. They may be acting on the advice of a professional or simply doing some research to prevent further problems.
- They are “foodies” who have either heard of a specific book or author or they are curious, adventurous cooks looking for new techniques and taste profiles to try.
- They love books -especially cookbooks- and have shelves of them in or near their kitchen.
What’s to love about a cookbook? The older books are documents of how we lived or wanted to live. Newer cookbooks go beyond snippets of information. Some of them are works of cultural preservation, labours of love that provide culinary and epistlolary journeys between their pages. Some are simply works of art in their own right. The list contains a bit of all of the above. Like every other list I am presenting this month, it is by no stretch of the imagination all-conclusive, but a cross section of some of the best authors and titles out there.
The Moosewood Collective
The first Moosewood Cookbook was authored by Mollie Katzen with assistance from members of the Moosewood collective. Katzen has gone on to write a number of classic vegetarian titles of her own while the collective has written twelve books over the past three, almost four decades. Ten Speed Press’ original title is still in print in although much of it has been revised to make the recipes a little healthier and accessible to today’s cooks.
Of the twelve titles that are claimed by the collective, the best starting places are Simple Suppers, Moosewood Celebrates and Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home. As with all ofthe later Moosewood titles, the faux-handwritten, voluminous instructions and narrative detours (charming as they are) have been replaced by easy to read and follow recipes. More adventurous cooks might enjoy Sundays At The Moosewood Restaurant. This collection of personal stories and favourite recipes from the kitchens where the various members of the collective grew up is one of their prettiest and one of their best written. It’s a little more challenging for beginning cooks, but the end results could be worth it for those who discover they not only like to eat, but know more about that they’re eating.
Anyone who has ever set foot in an organic/natural foods grocery store in the last thirty years has seen at least one copy of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest on the store’s shelves. The majority of Ms. Katzen’s books have the same handmade feel as the first Moosewood book. The Enchanted Broccoli Forest is a collection of refits of familiar favourites. Hummus gets a spicy, citrusy makeover and various soups, breads and main dishes are presented with the basics in place and then some. Katzen takes some time to teach a little bit about each ingredient. Along with the recipes are pages of instructions on techniques that revamp old skills and add a few new ones to most readers’ repertoire.
If her first book leaves you with an appetite for more of her writing, try Still Life With Menu and Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe. Still Life’s collection of recipes and art are a feast for the eyes before you’ve prepped for cooking. Sunlight Cafe is a collection of breakfast favourites that you’ll be tempted to try at any time of the day.
Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette
Brother Victor-Antoine’s books are deceptively simple affairs. His recipes are classics that pull heavily from French country cooking. The combination of vegetables and fruit that can be procured in season from a kitchen garden or a local green grocer presents living well and simply at its best. All of his titles offer a wealth of information and recipes that will keep the most inexperienced cook going back to try another dish. No matter how basic all of his recipes seem. the results are elegant, tasty and healthier than anything you could buy already prepared.
His books are often snapped up as soon as they hit the shelves. The most likely titles you’ll find are Fresh From A Monastery Garden and Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, both of which are still in print and have been revised and repackages in the past few years. Garden is an encyclopaedic volume of vegetarian recipes and history. You may find yourself spending as much time browsing as you do cooking with this book in your hands. The soup book is a collection of traditional and contemporary soups that are arranged by the seasons and monastic holiday observances.
The Tassajara Kitchen
The San Francsico Zen Center’s Tassajara Kitchen presented young seeker and eventual food writer Edward Espe’ Brown with more than a few challenges. The original titles were printed in brown ink on tan stock with plain brown covers. Brown’s spare text and the hand drawn illustrations throughout the first three volumes and the bread/baking text that would follow reflected the peaceful nature of the Zen Center, even when the kitchen was bustling with activity.
Shambala has combined the first three Tassajara books into a single volume and released an expanded version of the bread book. The redux of the books is sturdy and beautifully put together and while there is a wealth of new material, those who came of age with the small brown books in their kitchens might be a little nostalgic for the rustic feel of those rough covers. Still, all of the updates are a boon to meat and potatoes types who are stepping out of their usual groove and even those of us who sometimes wish for a box of Love Burger will find the new material entertaining.
While some of the granola crunchiness of the original volumes has changed, there is still a lot of West Coast cafe/comfort food to be found. Some of the recipes seem to take little time while others will require a degree of patience. This is as much a learner’s book as it is a touchstone to a different way to view life in the kitchen.
Author, activist, and Victoria, BC shop owner Sarah Kramer is responsible for some of the happiest, most charming vegan titles on the shelves today. La Dolce Vegan!, How It All Vegan, and The Garden of Vegan. Unlike many vegan authors who seem to be all about decreasing options for your pantry and palate, Kramer steams ahead with vegan versions of staples and standards that are not near-misses and tasteless imitations, but delights in their own right.
Her books are kitschy fun, with retro mid-Twentieth Century motifs and a light-hearted take on animal-free eating. At the heart of this fun and funky presentation is a very serious message about the ethos of veganism. While even some vegetarians might find the complete shutoff of animal products tough going, the fare here is varied and uses enough familiar ingredients to avoid scaring off less adventurous eaters.