Pacific Northwest | July 20, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJuly 20, home
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Vegetarian Revisited
A cookbook is supper salvation when a son goes vegan
Food for those who don't eat flesh needn't be dull or heavy anymore, thanks to recipes that include fresh ingredients and flavors such as those in Lemon Risotto with Peas and Scallions from "Vegan Planet."
I've been a vegetarian for nearly 25 years, starting out with the revolutionary nutritional ethics of "Diet For A Small Planet" and following the early "Moosewood Cookbook" recipes. At that time, vegetarian fare was virtuously dull and heavy. (It took all my limited math skills to figure out complementary proteins at every meal. It was soy nuts, soy flour, flax seed and wheat germ — who really wants to eat that stuff, no matter how healthful it may be?

That long ago, people thought you were weird, especially when you tried to explain the idea of not eating any creature with eyelashes, or one that would escape from you if it could. After I stuck to a vegetarian regime while pregnant with my son, who weighed in at 10½ pounds, I figured I must be getting plenty of protein. I relaxed into enjoying grains, fruits and vegetables garnished with cheese, eggs and nuts. But when that same son decided 16 years later to become a vegan, I was once again trying to figure out how to cook anything tasty that had enough protein for a rapidly growing kid — especially when my husband has remained resolutely meat-eating.

So it was back to the cookbooks. But now I'm less tolerant of obscure ingredients and techniques. I'd rather be out gardening than puzzling over how to cook specific consistencies of tofu. I'm not interested in any food that looks a bit like meat. If you choose not to eat animals, why in the world would you eat something that resembles their dead flesh? I realized I needed a cookbook with recipes for familiar foods, even if their ingredients were unexpected.

 Lemon Risotto with Peas and Scallions
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I don't mind hunting down vegetarian Worcestershire sauce or powdered-egg substitute, if the result resembles something appealing. Meanwhile, my son was subsisting on green salads, plain pasta and hummus while I frantically tried to figure out how to cook not only for him but for the rest of the family without consuming too much time. While we argued about why he refused even to eat organic cheeses and eggs from free-range chickens, I respected his commitment to animal welfare. And if you're ever going to be idealistic, I guess teenage-hood is the time (though I wish he'd waited to put his idealism into practice until he'd moved out).

"Vegan Planet" by Robin Robertson (Harvard Common Press, 2003, $18.95) proved my salvation. So far we've enjoyed every recipe we've tried. And since there are 400 recipes, it may well keep me cooking happily until my son leaves for college. Many of the recipes are actually tantalizing, from Lasagna Primavera made with a vegan béchamel sauce (yes, we're back to soy) to pumpkin-pie pancakes. It's easy to forget that not a single egg, drop of milk or shred of cheese enriches these recipes. For vegetarians, the dedication that reads simply "for the animals" says it all.

Robertson goes far beyond sprouts and greens, with heart-healthy, conscience-soothing international dishes like Five Spice Moroccan Couscous Salad, and flavorful, vegetable-based soups. All the ingredients are readily available at Whole Foods or PCC, even though it takes a bit of searching.

While we especially enjoyed the Hot Tamale Vegetable Pie, made with green chilies and topped with salsa, we quickly put the cookbook to the litmus test — did it have a good chocolate-chip-cookie recipe? "Mom's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies — Only Better" is not an idle boast. Through what alchemy do ingredients like vegan chocolate chips, egg replacer, maple syrup and corn oil end up tasting every bit as delicious and nearly identical to the recipe on the back of the Toll House bag? There's no butter and no eggs, but you'll never miss them. The dough tastes the same as the original, and the kitchen smells just as enticing while they're baking. Next I'm going to try the Linguine with Sage and White Bean Sauce.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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