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Back in December I entered a book giveaway on a blog, and won. A few weeks later I got a copy of But I Could Never Go Vegan directly from the publishers. Before the book, I wasn’t really familiar with the blog Keepin It Kind. I might of stumbled on the page once or twice, but never really read the website in depth. So I read this book from the point of view of an established vegan who had never heard of the author before. I read the book with any knowing the author’s preference of foods, styles, and writing.

Photos

There are photos for, I think, every recipe in the book. If the photo isn’t next to the recipe there is a reference number to where you could find the photo, usually found on the chapter dividers. This gives the reader plenty of visual inspiration, and a good look at the food to figure out if you totally fudged up a recipe. I think this is great since this is a book for new vegans. If you haven’t done lots of cooking with vegan foods, it can be hard to imagine what the end result will be, and might discourage people from making a recipe (I know it did when I first started going vegan).

There are also a few step by step photos for slightly more complicated recipes. For example for the tofu cheese log, there are a few step by step photos showing how to form the log. This is a really helpful visual since I find reading reading steps confusing if you don’t already have some knowledge on how to do it.

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Set-up

The book starts with a brief introduction. Although this is a book targeted to new vegans or flexatarians, there is little information about actual veganism. I don’t think this is a bad thing. If you are picking up this book, you probably know the basics. What Turner does is talk about the lesser known vegan foods, like for example she covers why sugar isn’t vegan.

Each chapter is organized by a common excuse for not being vegan, but I could never give up cheese, substitutes are too expensive, etc. Now this idea is fun and novel, but I was worried how well it would “work.” When picking out recipes I am usually concerned with using up a certain ingredient before it goes bad, or trying to find a soup to balance out the menu for the week. Surely how helpful will this new organization system be?

It wasn’t until I hit the chapter called “But Nobody Will Come Over to Eat!” that’s when it all clicked. This book in some ways is more helpful this way. I found myself thinking “next family get together I should make all these recipes.” As a new or veteran vegan you might hit a bump in the road thinking about what to make for brunch, to serve for a family get together, or have a longing for cheese, and you just need to open to those chapters. That said some of these chapters would be made this way regardless in a normal cookbook, they just have a witty name. And I am still a little annoyed to find a smoothie randomly placed in a chapter mostly filled with dinner dishes. But this system sets a new vegan up for random experimentation rather than meal planning, which can be pretty fun for the reader.

Writing

What I like about books by bloggers is that the writing style is informal and feels like they are talking to you personally. Without knowing the Keepin It Kind blog, I could easily recognize a specific voice in the book. In fact, once I started to follow the blog after picking up the book, I can say I think the book reads better than the blog.

Errors seem to be non-existant, or hard to find. The only one I know about Kristy addresses on her blog. For the Jackfruit Nacho Supreme the published recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of agar-agar when it should call for 2 tablespoons. I would assume there will be a correction in the second pressing. Otherwise, everything seems pretty solid.

Overview

This book is great, I find it great for days where you want to cook or bake to enjoy yourself. Some recipes work well during a busy weekday, but most recipes call for a little planning or a little extra time. The book still needs the reader to flip through with an open mind. It might be a little hard to “choose” things if you are looking for just a pasta dish, or something that uses chickpeas. This is a cookbook for someone who is adventurous, or doesn’t mind a spur of the moment trip to the grocery store.

There is only two complaint about this book, one is an odd odor. This is pretty silly to point out, but it is rather odd and off putting when flipping through a book full of food. I have never picked up a book with this odd odor before, and I think I am more curious about what that smell is more than anything. Anyone have a clue?

My second complaint is more a worry. I think the people who will benefit the most from this book are flexitarians, or family and friends who are trying to understand their vegan friend. Mothers who are trying to tailor dinner time for vegans and omnivores might find this book handy. My biggest worry is if this book will sell to these people. Sure it is fun to pick it up as a vegan, but the chapters are just something fun rather than helpful. I think this book has a lot of potential to reach and convert a lot people, and I hope it does. So my “problem” with this book is more about if it was properly marketed and is reaching people who want to eat more plant based foods.

Recipes

As with most cookbooks, I tried my best to try a recipe from as many sections as possible. This will hopefully give an idea of any particular strengths in the recipe selection. But there were so many sections in this book that I could only cover some  of the recipes. If there was any recipes posted online to promote the book, I left a link.
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I received this book as a Christmas gift. It seemed like a well thought out gift since I love Asian cuisine and I am a vegan. I was pretty excited about the book since it featured recipes outside of popular regions. Hema Parekh reaches out further than India, Japan, and China and puts recipes from Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, and South Korea. Parekh writes about how she got married and moved out of India to Japan, where she learned to cook. The book is a mixed bag of emotions for me, as I feel like there could of been so much potential for it.

Photos

All the photos are clustered in the middle of the book. I hate this sort of set up, especially since the book is divided by country instead of food “types.” The style of photography is very outdated, all the dishes have clay-red hue. I don’t think there was a photo that I saw and thought- that’s what I want to try and make. 

I wish there were more photos as most cookbooks featuring specific regions of cooking have recipes for dishes I’ve never heard of. So having a photo would help me visualize what the end result should look like. This particularly important for dishes where presentation is very important like dumplings and Japanese cuisine.

Set-up

I can’t help but compare this book to Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero. Terry features cuisine from a larger range of countries, and organizes all the recipes by styles, soups, salads, curries/stews, etc, etc. Parekh on the other hand groups all the recipes by nations, then divides them up by style. So there would be a chapter from India, then listed in that chapter would be soups, desserts, curries, rice, etc. In some ways it is an easier for planning dinners, in other ways it is hard to search around. Especially since many dishes overlap each other. Dumplings are eaten outside of China, so if I was planning a meal I could include them as a side for most dinners.

The book has an introduction but only as a way for the author to say hello. She jumps into the recipes, which would be find if the purpose of the book was not to teach a new cuisine. It would of been nice to have an overview of the ingredients, subtle differences between noodles, and rice types over the countries. There is an ingredients reference at the end of the book, but I didn’t find it till I got towards the end. If anything she could of put page numbers next to ingredients to help guide readers.

The visual representations of the recipes is okay. Since the photos aren’t set up next to the recipes it can be a little frustrating and demanding of the imagination of the reader. The text for the ingredients are small, making it harder to try and piece together the end result.

Writing

There is a lot of confusion in the book, much of it is cultural. Parekh is writing as an Indian living in Japan, which makes the translated names of the dishes confusing. She lists the dish as an English translation, then puts the original name in small text next to it. For example samosas are listed as Crispy Pumpkin Turnovers (the recipe mentions how they normally made with potatoes, not pumpkin) This translation problem continues with ingredients and dishes as she mentions the japanese translation over the English. The most obvious example is that she gives a recipe for Chinese dumplings, but lists them as “gyoza.” This isn’t a problem if you know some Japanese cuisine, but most American’s would recognize dumpling over gyoza.

Aside from the cultural issues, I’ve spotted several spelling/typing errors. There are even issues with recipes, as she leaves out when to add ingredients to recipes. These are not issues that only happened once, but several times. Clearly this was a rushed publication.

Overview

Parekh’s life story seems to shape the outcome of the book. There is a large bias for Indian and Japanese food. Those two chapters make up at least half of the recipes, pushing the other nations into weak collections. This bias extends to the ingredients, listing them under their Japanese names. For example many of the noodle listed for China are of Japanese styled noodles. Yes, there is style overlapping, and some differences. But the point is that if you are making a Chinese sesame noodle, it probably doesn’t call for udon noodles.

This naturally creates confusion for the book. This is a book written by a woman in Japan, for people who probably don’t live in Asia. Some ingredients are going to be easy to find, some will not be. Because of this reason it would be extremely helpful to have a very detailed ingredients guide. Going into detail about common ingredients, and what would be good replacements. Some recipes already do this, some don’t. It also worth mentioning that I live in a culturally diverse area, I live near a Korean, South East Asian, and Indian market. I am sure there are more ethnic markets, I just never found them yet. Some ingredients are hard to find, or are very seasonal.

My other problem with the book is that is wavers back and forth from super authentic to completely not. I have no problem from straying away from tradition and giving a fun twist to a recipe. But in some ways it seems that Parekh doesn’t change things in ways that could honestly make them better. There isn’t ANY innovations to try and add more flavors. Many of us know that Asian cooking use fish and meat by products (think oyster sauce). Parekh seems to take a recipe, remove the offending ingredients, like maybe fish sauce, and calls it quits. This leaves many bland recipes. Nor does Parekh seem fully educated about vegan products, listing one recipes with worcestershire sauce, which contains anchovies. Yes there are vegan versions, but they aren’t common.

I have to say I am sorely disappointed with this cookbook. It was rushed, and I am unsure of who the audience is. Is it for people who live in Asia with easy access to the ingredients? Or is it for anyone, anywhere in the world? I can say there I found some inspiration in the recipes, but mostly because I wanted to make them taste better. All dishes seemed pretty bland and relied heavily on fats, which I am not particularly fond of. 

Recipes

This cookbook I tried my best to pick at least on recipe from each country spotlighted in the book. Since there were a lot of recipes featured from Japan and India, there is naturally more recipes tested from those countries.

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Isa Chandra Moskowitz is known for her decadent vegan recipes from Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance. Here recipes, although delicious, sometimes would be very complicated. I would hesitate to cook anything from her books since the amount of dishes seemed intimidating. Most recipes were set up by veggies sides, a grain, and a protein. Sure the tofu would be manageable, but making the rice and the veggie side? It’s all just seemed too much for two adults on a weeknight.

But then came Isa Does It. The book focuses on weeknight cooking for people who are cooking for themselves, or for two. It always felt like Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance was cooking for a large family setting, or perhaps for a pot luck dinner. Isa Does It is quick and most importantly cheap. Yes, the focus on cheaper ingredients really helped me take a dive into the cookbook. 

Photos

There are lots of photos in this book. I am so glad that the publishers ditched the grouped photos that appear in Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance. I always find it hard to associate the recipe with the photo that way. Although there isn’t a photo for each recipe, majority of the recipes are covered. It is always nice to see what Isa got compared to what I got. Nothing is more frustrating than when you find out your snickerdoodle looks totally different than your friends, even with the same recipe.

The photos are beautiful, each photo is more of a scene than just the cooked meal. Each photo has a story set up, making the reader feel like they are viewing a window into the kitchen. Ingredients line up against the wall, flour spreads out on the counter, and utensils are waiting to be picked up. Some plates are plopped in a bowl for your weeknight dinner, some are plated as if you are going to a four star restaurant.

There are even a few instructional photos of how to cut tofu and tempeh. Sure it is a pretty simple task, but it is always a good idea to try and have your food as close to the recipe as possible. You know, for consistent results. Plus, when you first start out on a vegan diet, tofu is REALLY intimidating. I mean scary.

Set-up

The book is set up to be read from beginning to end. She gives basics about how to cook, what to have, chopping your tofu, etc. It is pretty simple, not overwhelming for a newbie, but not too simplified to bore a seasoned chef. Then Isa moves to Soups, stating they are the best recipe to start when learning how to cook. They are hard to mess up, according to Isa. I would probably have to agree. Then she moves to salads, which are still pretty simple. Handheld foods are next, things like burgers and tacos, then moving to the other common dinner categories (stews, pastas, sautes, etc).

It wasn’t until the last few chapters I felt a little weird. She put a chapter for Sunday Night Suppers, which to me defeat the purpose of the whole book. These recipes are more complicated, time consuming meals that are suggested for nights that you have more time to kill. Then she moves to Breakfast and Brunch which is a big carb-fest. Considering most of the book centers around dinner, it felt a little out of place, and the recipes didn’t personally speak to me. Then she has a chapter for desserts, which isn’t the worst. I just feel like there isn’t many new recipes brought to the table since she has three different books devoted to dessert.

Writing

I was getting a little fed up, my husband kept complaining about dinner. He meant well, he would get a little bored with the dinners I picked out, and I get that. I was picking what I wanted, not what he wanted. I remember eating with his parents and getting tired of not choosing my dinners. So I handed him Isa Does It, and asked him to pick out some recipes. He read a little and came back saying how he could understand why I like Isa Chandra Moskowitz so much. He thought her writing was honest, fun, and non-judgmental.

Isa continues with her signature writing style with this book. She takes all the romanticism typically associated with food writing and pokes fun at it. My favorite example? Isa proclaimes that she created the perfect dish to eat outside on a porch, or maybe your fire escape, don’t have either, just open a window and stick your head of it. Pop culture and jewish references are still overflowing out of the book.

As for errors? I think I might of read one recipe that might of skipped what to do with the salt, but nothing that would make or break a recipe.

Overview

I have to say when my husband said his one co-worker picked up this book to try and eat less meat and dairy, I couldn’t think of anything better to start with. I think this out of all Isa’s cookbooks give a great collection of easy to make recipes with realistic ingredients. Sure the seitan and tofu might be a little intimidating, but she provides recipes on how to make you own seitan which saves lots of cash. And even if you stay away from all seitan, tofu, and tempeh recipes you can easily find recipes to make throughout the book. Recipes that are filling, and don’t need “vegan specific” foods like soy milk or faux butters.

I can safely say that this cookbook will be one I will be using over and over and over again. These recipes are perfect for everyday cooking since they are fast and use cheap ingredients. One average I don’t think I would spend more than $10 overall per dish, which divides up as being fairly cheap per serving. Ingredients are flexible so it is easy to switch out ingredients (if you own a CSA) and Isa tells you how.

This is a cookbook for vegans, omnivores, beginners, or advanced chefs that are just trying to give weeknights more flavor. I would recommend people pick up this book over Veganomicon, as you will find more recipes to make in this.

Recipes

I always test some recipes from a book to give personal reviews on it. This book, I have a ton. I could blame my husband (who I told to pick things that he wanted to eat, they were almost always soup) or I could blame how relevant this book is to my life. Ingredients are cheap and recipes are fast, which made weeknight menus revolve around this book.

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I start this review on a sad note- my book fell apart. No I didn’t love the book to death, though I do really love it. What did the book in was the binding was crappy construction. This makes me sad since this has NEVER happened to me before. Sure once or twice I might of had a 10 year old cookbook fall apart on me. But never a new one. What makes it more frustrating is that the publishing company has always made solid cookbooks.

And when I say the book was falling apart, I mean the pages were falling out of the glue binding. This usually happens over years, when the glue dries up. So I bought a binder and put each page into protector sleeves. I never really liked the covers so in the end I have the plus of having a sparkly and teal new book.

Am I saying YOUR future copy will fall apart? No. Probably not. As I mentioned before, I have gotten many books from the same publishing company that are very sturdy. But I probably will recommend investing in the hard cover version of the book. In the end it will last you longer anyways. With that gripe out of the way, please read all the GREAT and WONDERFUL things I have to say about Terry Hope Romero’s book.

Spoiler Alert: I think it is staple in a vegan bookshelf

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