by Robin Asbell A review by Jill Owens
I was a vegetarian for many years, and though I'm not any more, I still cook meatless meals most of the time. Robin Asbell's fabulous new cookbook, Big Vegan, is my latest go-to cookbook and hands-down one of the best vegan cookbooks I've ever used. It contains the most comprehensive, varied, and flat-out tasty recipes since Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Veganomicon; if you're a fan of that cookbook, this will be a tie or at least a close second. (It actually boasts over a third more recipes, as well.)
At an initial glance, I thought that Big Vegan might be a little too simplistic -- recipes like Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Basil, Edamame Hummus, or Hot and Sour Broccoli Salad sounded tasty but not terribly exciting -- and then I actually made the broccoli salad. Though it took less than 10 minutes to put together, with a minimum of ingredients, it's absolutely fantastic. Asbell melds flavors in a way that makes them fresh, new, and utterly arresting. I had also overlooked the very first section, entitled "Pantry Staples," which includes much more thorough (though still fairly easy) recipes for things like Mock Duck, Mock Beef, Tempeh Chorizo, and Veggie "Butter" -- which are the true tests of a vegan cookbook. I'm happy to report that Asbell's seitan (which contains chickpea flour, a nice touch) is one of the best seitans, homemade or store-bought, I've tried.
There are a lot of Asian recipes in Big Vegan, but it actually ranges world-wide, from African, Italian, Jamaican, and Middle Eastern recipes to vegan takes on standard American comfort food. Many of the recipes are wonderfully inventive, too, like Chilled Minted Peach and Prosecco Soup, Wild Rice and Blueberry Salad, and Avocado Cupcakes with Avocado-Lime Frosting. Whole sections are devoted to sauces, breads, desserts, and snacks along with the main courses, sides, soups, and salads. Fair warning: there are not that many pictures (though the ones that are included are beautiful). If you want to incorporate more meatless cooking, or more ideas for including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet, you can't go wrong with this cookbook.