For the omnivore, the problem with so many vegan cookbooks is they can be so heavy with specialty vegan ingredients and/or laden with so many other health claims (gluten-free, low cholesterol), that they can read -- and taste -- more like a medical prescription than potential weekend palate entertainment. That is refreshingly not the case with Ann Gentry's new Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone, a cookbook that is aimed as much, or perhaps even more, at the intermittent vegan than the diehard soy cheese advocate.
If her name sounds familiar, you're not having a tofu moment. Gentry is behind L.A.'s Real Food Daily and published another cookbook featuring many of the vegan café's recipes several years ago. But there is something in this cookbook that makes those braised whole onions in miso sauce (p. 203) and curried red lentil soup (p. 89) a more satisfying read. That Gentry admits she occasionally enjoys dairy products and seafood may have something to do with it.
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The "vegan" ingredients are most evident in the "Desserts" chapter, where agar replaces gelatin, arrowroot is used instead of corn starch, and vegan shortening makes an appearance in recipes like chocolate cupcakes.
And sure, there are some now-familiar vegan and vegetarian stand-ins here. Gentry uses tempeh to replace meat in a vegan rendition of her favorite childhood chili recipe (a kidney bean and vegetable-rich version), soy and almond milk are regular stand-ins for their dairy counterpart, and tofu makes appearances both as the feature (tofu omelets with summer squash, leeks and cherry tomatoes) and substitute ingredient (in lieu of milk in a jalapeño corn bread recipe, as a faux chevre cheese in a spring salad with herb-flaxseed vinaigrette). But mostly, those recipes for jicama-carrot slaw, edamame with spinach hummus, and barley risotto with spring peas, asparagus and leeks simply sound good. Vegan or not.
No, that doesn't mean we will be rushing out to buy tempeh to make vegan maple-tempeh bacon (p.25) for "Ann's favorite salad with crumpled maple tempeh bacon and balsamic vinaigrette" (p. 138). But after we crumble a few pieces of smokey-sweet bacon from Sonoma's Black Pig Meat on that salad (a pretty great 12-ounce perk of joining the new Butcher's Guild), we will ladle generous servings of "Yucatan yam picante" soup (yams pureed with coconut milk, coriander and cumin) into our awaiting soup bowls.
And we will imagine the day when professional butchers and vegan chefs hover over the same tempeh and pork-laden dinner table without a single "You're going to eat THAT?" raised eyebrow between them.