Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: The Cheesy Vegan

The Cheesy Vegan: More than 125 Plant-Based Recipes for Indulging in the World’s Ultimate Comfort Food
John Schlimm
Photographs by Amy Beadle Roth
Da Capo Press
Lifelong Books
ISBN-13: 978-0-7382-1679-9
244 pages

The typical American vegan lives in a world where his lifestyle is continually faced with an onslaught from the “normal” American diet. The choice to eat only plant-foods means being continually faced with formerly-loved foods that one must now diligently and ethically avoid. Cheese is one of the most luxurious foods in the human diet; how is the committed vegan going to live without it?

The Cheesy Vegan seems designed to remedy this situation. The book begins with an introduction, a description and list of what should be in a vegan’s pantry, a chapter called the DIY vegan cheese kitchen which features descriptions on how to make different kinds of vegan “cheese.” Then the chapters with recipes follow, with chapters entitled: Breakfast and Brunch, Soups and Salads, Sides, Sandwiches, Appetizers and Snacks, Suppers, Mac ‘n Cheese, Cheesecake, Vegan Cheese Pairings (Wine, Cheese, and Cocktails), Metric Conversions, Store-bought vegan cheese resource guide, resource guide for cheese tools, acknowledgments, and an index.

The most important section, on which all the other chapters rest, is the chapter on the DIY Vegan Cheese Kitchen. This is the chapter where the would-be-cheesemaker will hone her craft, and this is where the reader is introduced to the many ingredients that will create vegan cheese: canola oil, nutritional yeast, agar, soy milk, miso etc. It’s also the chapter where the reader might say, “Is he serious?” It’s not as if cheese-making is so labor-intensive but unless one loves one’s kitchen, it might be best to become expert at specific cheeses then buy the rest at the store. There is also the matter of storing and keeping one’s creations. They’re more ephemeral than the typical cheeses one finds in supermarkets. Yet there is something weirdly invitingly adventurous and creative about these cheeses.

The food recipes seem easy enough -- especially after one has made the cheese. Each recipe is presented on a page with a description worthy of a foodie magazine. The ingredients for the recipe are listed in a column near the edges of the page. The directions for the recipes are extensive and easy, but the font seems a bit too light and might be difficult for some to read. The glossy photos are mouth-melting.

Some people who might hastily read the title of this book might assume this is a collection of recipes that contain cheese made from dairy. But Cheesy Vegan is stridently vegan. There is no dairy-made cheese in this book; only store-bought and home-made “cheese.” As it is written, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Thus the only proof of how well the substitute cheese in this book work is how well the cheese tastes. Are they really good or are they close-but-no-sugar?  It’s about taste. Of course just because a cheddar-cheese substitute doesn’t taste like “real” cheddar, doesn’t mean the new created taste is a bad thing.      

A committed vegan will probably have no trouble making these cheese-substitutes -- although the author does warn would-be vegan-cheesemakers that some of these cheeses do take a while to set. But the author has listed store-bought substitutes.

This book is recommended for vegans, for vegetarians who don’t mind eating cheese, for those who might be allergic to real cheese (and not to yeast, soy, canola, etc.) It can also be used by anyone seeking good recipes with cheese, whether or not they use real cheese or cheese-substitutes.

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