19 September 2012

Cookbook Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Low-Fat Vegan Cooking

I was really excited to receive 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Low-Fat Vegan Cooking' for review. I am always on the lookout for innovative ways to cut out fat. Since we all get locked into using what we already know, it’s great to get an infusion from other vegans. But now that I’ve read it and made several of the recipes, I am at a complete loss as to how to review it. This is especially bewildering since I am from Portland and the author, Bo Rinaldi, is the chef/owner at the Blossoming Lotus, one of the greatest vegan restaurants in the U.S., and a place I have eaten many times.

To start, you should know that the recipes are delicious and yes, they’re low fat, and vegan. The Raw Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Sunchoke Slaw is divine and I adored the Coconut –Lime Butternut Soup. The Sunflower Buttered Toast was surprisingly decadent and Lemony Gnocchi was so good I made it two days in a row. Although the cookbook as a whole is a little heavy on the sauces and dressings, the real problem is the title, or rather that the cookbook and the title are wholly mismatched.

The great majority of vegans who’ll be buying this book very likely won’t know that the Blossoming Lotus has a lot of raw food on its menu. So, as you might expect, a great deal of these recipes are for raw preparation. This, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Raw food is delicious and light and altogether more flavorful than cooked foods. I eat a 50% raw diet myself. The problem is that many raw food recipes, including some in this cookbook, use very specialized, and very expensive, ingredients. Which brings me to my next point.

Raw food sounds like it should be easy, right? Make a salad and you’re done. But it’s not. It’s sometimes very, very complicated. From start to finish.

If you want to make the Tart Tahini Sauce in Low Fat Vegan Cooking, first you have to locate and order sumac powder. I couldn’t find it at Whole Foods but it was available on Amazon from several companies. It runs at an average of about $10 a pound but you can get a better price if you buy a 5-lb bag. I don’t know about you, but I doubt I’ll need 5 pounds of sumac anytime soon, so I can’t say this is a bargain. You can also buy a 2 oz jar of the powder for less than $3 but you have to pay shipping as well so it comes out to roughly $38 a pound. Better to spend the $29 plus shipping for the 5-lb bag. While you’re at it, you’ll need food grade chia seeds. Easy enough to find at Whole Foods or Amazon. Similar price structure. So unless you have everything on hand, it’s not like you’ll instantly think to use this recipe when you want a good sauce.

The same challenges await if want to make the Superfruit Hemp Treats. Before reading this recipe I had never heard of Incan berries but have now found them on Amazon (8oz bag $12.42). And several of the recipes use Irish moss (16oz bag, $24). If you regularly use specialty items like this, then it shouldn’t be a problem to work these tasty recipes into your repertoire.

I disagree with the idea that this book should be in the “Complete Idiot’s Guide” library. This designation implies that these are very easy recipes. Don’t get me wrong, many of them are, and to be fair, most of them are, if you already have the right ingredients in your cupboards. But having to wait a week while you have chia seeds and macqui berries delivered makes the recipes decidedly less convenient or easy. It's more like the "Specialty Ingredient Guide to Low-Fat Raw and Vegan Cooking."

Despite the misleading title, this is a marvelous cookbook, as long as you know what you’re getting before you buy it. And if you’re trying to make the switch from vegan to raw, this is the best cookbook I’ve run across so far. My advice is to buy this book, along with sumac powder, macqui berries, Incan berries, chia seeds, virgin coconut oil and hemp seeds. Then make the Fennel, Orange and Black Olive Salad first. You’ll swoon.

Fianna MacGregor | Blog | Blog | Twitter | Email New York City Fianna has been vegan for 36 years. She is currently working on a second M.A. in Human Rights from NYU. When she isn’t veganizing every cookbook she can get her hands on, she’s working her urban farm in New York City. She also writes extensively on veganism, running and green living. Her newest project is to trace everything she buys to find out if it’s cruelty-free (both animal and human) and eco-friendly. Fianna and her fiancĂ© are animal rescuers of dogs, cats and birds.

Photo credit: The Complete Idiot's Guide