“We made this cookbook so that people could experience plant-based food the way it should be: big, bold, flavourful, noteworthy, celebration-worthy and myth-dispelling.”
Let me get one thing out of the way up front: I am not a vegan. I love food in all shapes, sizes, colors and sources, and up until about a month ago, I was fairly certain I would never willingly be in the kitchen willingly cooking vegan meals for fun. What’s more, I was also pretty convinced that even if I did cook vegan meals, I wouldn’t actively look forward to them.
Well, jokes on me, folks, courtesy of Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse, the brilliant minds behind the cookbook, “Smith & Daughters: A Cookbook (That Happens To Be Vegan).’
Here’s the thing: when omnivores hear the word “vegan,” we get scared and defensive. We assume we’ll be getting a pile of greens with one curl of carrot on top. Or a plate of bland tofu. Or something that looks — and tastes — a lot like dirt. But I’d like to apologize on behalf of all omnivores for being so close-minded for so long. Vegan and plant-based food is, if done like Martinez and Wyse, incredible and inventive and surprising and filling and nourishing and, dare I say it, more enjoyable to eat than what I usually do.
In my week of cooking from “Eat Vegan,” I was never bored with my meals…not once. I never craved meat or cheese or eggs, all staples of my typical diet. I never missed a flavor I was used to because these dishes have ALL. THE. FLAVORS. I didn’t have to run to the health food store for a random ingredient I’d never use again because almost everything you need to make this food is stuff you already have in your kitchen. I was never hungry or bored or disappointed.
What’s more, they don’t hit you over the head with the fact that this food is vegan by saying stuff like, “vegan butter” or “vegan cheese” or “vegan chorizo.” They simply cally it “butter” or “cheese” or “chorizo” and trust that their readers who have picked up a book called VEGAN EATS know that it’s vegan. Perhaps it’s because Martinez, the chef half of the duo, isn’t vegan herself, so her approach to this type of food is basically that of someone who doesn’t need to eat vegan, but chooses to because it tastes so damn good.
I was, to put it bluntly, stunned and humbled by the creativity contained in these flavors. (The book itself is also gorgeous, full of beautiful typography, hand-lettered elements, moody colors and mouth-watering photography.) This is a cookbook for everyone, not just vegans and they say so right there in the introduction: “We made this cookbook so that people could experience plant-based food the way it should be: big, bold, flavourful, noteworthy, celebration-worthy and myth-dispelling.”
Alright, I’ve rambled enough. Let’s talk food. I cook a lot but I would not say I’m particularly skilled in the kitchen. I can chop and dice and sauté, but ask me to “brunoise” something and I’ll stare at you blankly. (For the record, Google tells me “brunoise” means to “finely diced vegetables that are cooked in butter and used to flavor soups and sauces.” So there’s that.) But Martinez and Wyse don’t believe in complicating things that don’t need to be complicated: “These recipes are for regular cooks. This isn’t fancy shit.”
Of the recipes that I tried out, not one disappointed and I fully plan to cook my way through this whole book, cover to cover. In the meantime, here are a few standouts that I urge anyone and everyone to try, vegan or not. You won’t miss the animal products, promise.
Jalapeño & Corn Fritters:
These are the pre-meal table snacks of your dreams, except that you won’t want to share. And don’t be afraid of frying; that extra-crispy “fritterness” of the whole thing will more than make up for having to clean your stove top.
Far and away the most interesting, surprising recipe I tried from the book. The photo makes it look like something Italian — pasta bolognese or the like — but this Peruvian pasta dish was totally unexpected.
I’ve never seen so many colors on a single plate: corn, green apples, carrots, red onions, olives, purple cabbage… you can pretty much check off every color of the rainbow with a single dish. Eat it as a side or keep it all to yourself for a gorgeous, filling, textured salad.
White Truffle Forest Mushroom Pâté:
By far the most ambitious, inventive and totally-worth-it recipe I tried. This stuff is pure magic and the epitome of what this cookbook is trying to do, especially after you take your first bite and realize it’s better than the “real” stuff that’s made entirely of animal products. You’ll never look at mushrooms the same way again.