I feel like every cookbook review starts with “Well, Jenny Marie…” and I am doing it again. I kind-of had a thought that I wanted to do more cookbook reviews for the blog again since I had more time in the kitchen now that Wolfie is a little older. But Jenny Marie’s goal of making recipes from ignored cookbooks made me reach deep and grab my very ignored cookbook- Very Vegetarian.
I got this cookbook in my early “vegan” days. I was mostly trying to loose weight and stay healthy, though ethics totally took some importance. I wasn’t strict, and I remember having a hard time when staying with my parents in Saint George Utah. Not much in the town is vegan now, but it was much less vegan friendly at the time. I mostly stayed at my parents home all day, or worked a temp job at a coffee shop. But there were a few glittering mechas of hope. One was soft serve oat-cream at a health food store. Which blows my mind seeing how popular oat milk now is, they were totally ahead of the curve. Then there was a lone vegetarian restaurant owned by an older married couple. I went probably twice, I don’t eat out often. But I remember they had a good burger, and they even had vegan cheese. The day before I left, my Mom bought me a lunch from there, and a cookbook. And the couple asked if I was interested in a job, I laughed and told them that I was leaving to go back to Philadelphia the next day. I think they were just excited to see a young person into veganism.
But the book sat on my shelf, mostly flipped through for the memories. And I thought now would be a great time to finally dive back in. Reflect on how much cookbooks have changed. Pro-tip! Try picking up a digital copy of the The Complete Vegan Kitchen. It appears to be the same book as Very Vegetarian but is updated. Plus the digital copy is $3, so not much of a financial risk.
I am still in shock and awe at how much food photography has changed over the years. I’m not even talking about the crazy posed retro shots of food, in just as short as 10 years ago, photos were very RED. But it is obvious the photographer tried to combat this with blue flatware and other tricks, but there are one or two photos that are just stained with yellow or red. The photos often feature shallow depths of field and have bright colors placed behind the food. And naturally there is a group shot of all the types of soy based foods on a plate, something I swear I’ve seen a million times between vegetarian and asian cookbooks pre-2010.
But it is funny looking at these photos. Some I see and think “I could see this on a blog,” like the one shot of a millet paella sitting on an old brown bag for rice (it’s actually used for the cover of her other book.) Oooh rustic! But then there is this weird shot of a compilation of desserts that I are laid out by a fancy balcony. Where the heck are these people? I guess they wanted to give the appearance of a fancy soiree? Like vegan dessert can compete with fancy French pastry?
Ignoring the merits of the photography (it isn’t the worst, but about fifty percent are dated) they are sandwiched randomly through out the book. Most pages are pages with black text, on rough paper. I largely forget that there a photos in the book since there are such a small amount.
This book is written at a time when veganism was pretty unknown. It is assuming you don’t know what it is, so it gives quite a bit of information about it. Bennett actually gives quite a bit of helpful information on servings (fruit, protein, grains etc) and which nutrients to focus on as a vegan. She even includes zinc which I feel like no one does, but I know I always fall a little short on. I’m a little sad I never read this when I was younger. She does talk quite a lot about something that should of been skipped over. Like she talks a LOT about tofu, when many of the soy products mentioned aren’t even used in these recipes. Don’t want to loose your audience! There is also some quick notes about cooking, like how to cut veggies, etc. As you can see below, Bennett covers a lot in this book- having over 300 recipes, which is a lot. Most cookbooks now only have about 100-120.
There is a list of chapters in the front, but each chapter has sub-categories, and the recipes listed. This is nice except the recipes don’t actually have page numbers. This is a giant pain. I am not really sure what the point of that is. If you are wondering here is the list of sections:
Appetizers & Snacks (Dips and Spreads, Pates and Terrines, Pancake like Appetizers, Filled Appetizers, Bruschetta)
Soups (Stocks, Hot Soups, Chilled Soups)
Salads & Dressings (Salads, Dressings)
Condiments & Sauces (Condiments, Sauces)
Sandwiches (Cold Sandwiches, Burgers, Hot Sandwiches)
Beans & Grains (Beans, Grains)
Pasta (European Pasta, Middle Eastern Pasta, Asian Pasta)
Breads (Quick Breads, Yeast Breads, Flatbreads)
Desserts (Cakes, Frostings, Bars Cookies and Candy, Puddings, Pies and Fruit Crisps, Frozen Desserts)
Beverages (Milks, Smoothies, Ades and Teas)
Treats for Kids
This book has a lot of information in it. I feel like if I wrote a cookbook, it would be very similar in it’s density (I mean look how long this review is?!) Aside from ALL the information from the beginning, each chapter has a few notes by her. This book is clearly written with the mindset to help someone is recently went vegan, and perhaps doesn’t cook often. I feel like MANY early vegan books are like this because of how uncommon it was. Now with blogs and social media people are always bumping into vegan recipes, or non-vegan bloggers are labeling recipes as vegan when they make them. The term vegan and what it means is somewhat in the mainstream.
It is also worth noting that “health” is a huge part of this book. Carl Lewis writes an introduction talking about how a vegan diet helped him feel his best. There is a lot of nutritional information in the book, and generally the recipes are overall pretty healthy. None of the claims are extra-ordinary, but something to keep in mind if too much health talk is a trigger.
Although I like how much information is given in the book, I wish it was organized differently. For example, in the vegetables section Bennett organizes the recipes alphabetically by vegetables. She often gives a description on the vegetable with tips and info on how to prepare and store it. But sometimes the description of the vegetable would be underneath a recipe using a different vegetable, making it look like it is part of the recipe. She needs better graphics to divide the recipes from informative text.
If you are wondering who the heck is Jannequin Bennett, you aren’t alone. I thought it was odd how little comes up when you search her name. Gurl- you gotta build a website! Sure she has a twitter, but it seems that she uses it for a lot of political tweets. It seems, from my quick search is that Jannequin ran quite a few restaurants in her day, first in Manhattan, then moving to Richmond Virginia. She currently isn’t running a restaurant, but is known for her vegan and macrobiotic menus. To make things even more confusing she has two book released- Very Vegetarian and The Complete Vegan Kitchen. It appears that The Complete Vegan Kitchen is just a renamed version of Very Vegetarian, so maybe some of the formatting has been fixed, maybe not. She is supposedly working on a new book of gluten-free recipes, and she has helped with Chefs Move to Schools.
Okay, so that said, should you buy this book? Hmm… it feels like a big “Why Not?!” with the $3 digital copy on Amazon. If there are a few recipes you enjoy from it, sure go for it. But there is a lot of dated info, like she gives some outdated information about shortening and margarine now that US is phasing out transfats. Or that she says there is no current replacement for egg whites. There is now- aquafaba. But there are recipes I would like to try from the book, and things that I’ve learned from it. But knowing what I know now about it, I wouldn’t pay more than $5 for a second hand or digital copy.
What would I love to see the author release? A vegan vegetable bible! My favorite chapter in the book is the vegetables chapter. So much attention to detail is given, but there would only be one, maybe two recipes for each vegetable. Bummer. She gives so much information but tries to cover so many topics, it comes off a little scratter brained. I think she should REALLY focus on one topic, or get a bigger book like the New Basics. The recipes were either really good, or pretty good with some personal tweaks.
I posted reviews of all the recipes I made from the book. I wanted to make a recipe from each chapter, but this did not happen. I usually leave links to recipes but I found zeros recipes online. So, sorry about that. Enjoy the reviews!
I was a little surprised how well these worked out. I picked the recipe, and after buying all the ingredients, it just started to seem like it was going to be a mushy mess. It seemed pretty-hippie-dippy as well. Almond butter, sprouts, broccoli, and wheat germ? It ended up working out wonderfully! These were fast to put together, just chop in the food processor, add the rest, shape, and pan fry.
Wolfie at first ate it pretty happily. Then once I fried it up, he was a little more resistant to it. He ate a LITTLE bit more when I served him leftovers with a little tomato sauce. We ate ours with a bun (like a burger) with Just Mayo and some green dragon hot sauce. It tasted awesome with a sweeter sauce. I loved it, but be warned! The calories are super dense in this because of the nut butter. After eating I felt like I ate WAY too much. Probably 600-700 calories for two patties with the fixins.
Sub-Section: Bars, Cookies, and Candy
These were quick to put together. Super easy overall. The flavor is less a pure brownie, as it has coffee in the mix, making it a mocha brownie. I’m okay with this. I loved the coffee flavor and it has been a REALLY long time since I’ve had a proper brownie with that crispy thin top. BUT these were way too overcooked. It was really hard to get out of the pan, and the corners were crispy. I really want to make these again and simply bake for a shorter amount of time.
Chow Fun with Hot and Smoky Tofu
Sub-Section: Asian Pasta
I’ve never really had Chow Fun before, so I have no idea if this is remotely close to the original. As with the Pad Thai, the cooktimes seemed a little too much for rice noodles, so I soaked the noodles in boiling hot water for 8 minutes. It all came together really well, but overall this is a dish I will happily leave behind. Clearly this lady doesn’t know much about Asian cuisine, which you don’t need to be, but don’t post recipes if it isn’t going to be very good. I think I could get over the so so recipes if the noodle cooktimes weren’t so wrong. Anyone making this will have nasty soggy noodles.
Sub-Section: Quick Breads
I made this recipe after making the brownies, and I can safely say this lady over bakes her breads and desserts. Or maybe her oven is weak? Whatever the case, these turned out dry, which I can assume is from over baking. Aside from that I REALLY liked it! It has been a really long time since I’ve had a cornbread that I liked. Wolfie even liked the bread as well, eating only when I break into pieces (for some reason.) So I WILL be making this again, but I will try and pull it out of the oven a few minutes earlier.
Curried Yellow Split Pea Soup
Sub-Section: Hot Soups
I think this is the first time Wolfie did not like a split pea soup! Shocking! I know! But apparently he didn’t care for it. I am thinking it is the yellow curry powder? He doesn’t seem to like that mix much. Maybe it is just a phase. But don’t let his opinion change yours. I thought this was very tasty.
Unlike most split peas, this one is chunky. The peas are left whole, but tender. All the veggies are chopped but soft to the bite. I am sure you could puree it, but I liked the texture for a change. It doesn’t work well with bread though, since it is kind-of like a chowder. It is a shame Wolfie didn’t like this soup more because I would make it again.
French Potato Salad
Section: Salads & Dressings
I never like the traditional American potato salad made with mayonnaise. Too weird, too creamy, just no thanks. But this is a potato salad that is a oil and vinegar based dressing. I made this one partly because I had all the dressing ingredients. I thought it was really yummy, but I think I would cut the potatoes a little smaller next time and maybe use more than requested. There was just too much dressing, and a lot got wasted in the long run.
Jary (Algerian Vegetable Soup)
Sub-Section: Hot Soups
This recipe was a quick “geez, I’m spending too much on groceries this week, what can I make with what I have?!” sort of thing. The ingredients are cheap, and shelf stable, but if you don’t grow your own herbs you could drop a lot of cash on that. This is a semi-pureed soup, which I wasn’t expecting because of the use of bulgur. I loved how simple the recipe is but is still full of flavor. I would be very happy making this again.
Macaroni and Cheeze
Sub-Section: European Pasta
Oh how far we have come with vegan mac and cheese recipes. This recipe was a little weird to make, it involved toasting flour and nutritional yeast in a pot, then adding milk slowly to the recipe. It was really hard to not have it clump, but it didn’t seem to make a difference once you stirred in the pasta.
I would never serve this mac and cheese to a non-vegan. Yikes. It tastes NOTHING like cheese. It isn’t even yellow-y-orange. This was pretty noochy and creamy. I didn’t tell my husband what this recipe was suppose to be, and he gobbled it up happily. Wolfie went to town with this dish, and I have to say it was pretty yummy. I am unsure if I will make this again, I prefer some more “nooch” in my noochy mac dishes, but it was still a solid dish. Just needs a different name. I’m thinking Carb-n-Mac.
Sub-Section: Asian Pasta
The term Asian Pasta always sounds weird to me. I guess maybe because most Asian pasta I know of, are East Asian noodles. This is a noodle dish, using flat rice noodles. There are a few issues with the recipe. One is that the instructions say to soak the noodles for 15 minutes. This is WAY too long. You will get soggy noodles before you even stir fry it. I also thought there wasn’t enough sauce. It tasted pretty good with it’s very pantry friendly, and short ingredients list.
But I liked her instructions for the veggies. It came together very fast, and quick. The thin carrots cooked fast and mixed with the noodles well. I think in the future I might keep the veggies instructions but use a different sauce. If this was my first pad thai every, I think I would like the dish.
Seven Bean Chili
Section: Beans & Grains
This recipe always popped out to me. It is written by Carl Lewis! Luckily my local MOM’s Organics had most of the beans available in their by weight section. This saved me lots of money from having to buy a whole pound bag for only 1/4 cup. Since you are starting from dried beans this chili recipe takes a REALLY long time to make.
I bunged up the recipe a few times, but nothing huge. I also was nervous that it would be too beany and not enough tomato so I added some tomato paste that I had in the fridge. The end result is… okay. It felt like there wasn’t enough flavors going on. There was too many beans overall, not enough veggies or some sort of other texture like fake meat, bulgur, tempeh, TVP, etc.
This section is packed with information, detailing how to cook vegetables in various ways, and providing recipes on ways to serve a vegetable outside of just cooked. I tried this dish since I needed a side for some leftovers. This was insanely quick and easy to make. And hey, Wolfie enjoyed it too! Amazing! I will definitely try making this again, as I always feel a little lost on what to do with cabbage once I buy it. It lasts so long in the fridge, and it is so cheap. I should use it much more often.
Tomato, Fennel, and White Bean Soup
Sub-Section: Hot Soups
I cooked this recipe purely because I had fennel from my CSA and I had no idea what to do with it. The recipe is pretty simple. Pretty much you saute some celery, onion, and fennel then add tomatoes, stock, and beans and warm up. This was okay. I found the celery wasn’t cooked enough, and I thought there was too much broth. So I simmered the soup, making the broth stronger, and making the vegetables softer. I liked it better this way. I also wasn’t a fan that she just lists salt to taste, as it was easy to forget to add ANY salt to the soup.