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!