Review & Recipe: Keep It Vegan by Aine Carlin

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While it’s great to see all the vegan cookbooks that are appearing on the shelves these days, I feel like many of them repeat the same recipes.  There are only so many ways you can make tofu scramble and basic seitan before you run out of variations.  Which is why it’s fun to come across something a little different from time to time, like Aine Carlin’s Keep It Vegan.

keep it vegan cover

Image courtesy of Kyle Books

Formerly an actress, Aine Carlin now writes about food and lifestyle over at Pea Soup Eats. Keep It Vegan is her first cookbook and it brings together a rather random amalgamation of plant-based recipes in categories like “Breakfast, Brunch & More,” “Midday Meals & Simple Suppers,” “Something Special” and “Sweet Treats.”  There’s also a smattering of sides and sauces to go with main dishes or use on salads.

There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to the recipes chosen.  Offerings range from a butternut squash mac and “cheese” with kale to a tart with asparagus, mint, peas and caramelized red onions.  It took me a while to find a rhythm when flipping through this one, but a few recipes stood out.  Like the Buddha Bowl Parcels, for example.

vegan buddha bowl parcel

These little foil-wrapped packets take the concept of “the bowl” and make it even easier.  Instead of having to juggle grain/protein/green/sauce and get it all together, you toss a combination of sweet potatoes, onions, red peppers and kale in the oven for an hour and cook some rice at the same time.  When it’s done, you open up the packet, dump it on the rice and boom!  Instant bowl of delicious simplicity.  There’s even a sauce consisting of rice vinegar, hot sauce and soy sauce (which I left out because I’m not a fan of salt) cooked right in with the veggies in the packet.

buddha bowl parcel served
Just one problem–no specific “protein” component!  I solved that by cooking some lentils along with the rice.  Which, by the way, was beautifully seasoned with cardamom pods, cloves, anise and strips of lemon peel.  Lacking anise, I tossed in a pinch of Chinese 5 Spice.  When all was said and done, it had a lovely combination of sweet, spicy, bitter and sour flavors.  I just made this again the other night and loved it just as much as the first time!  It’s a great “go to” meal with almost no cleanup to deal with.

I also threw together a batch of the Coconut, Date and Almond Granola.

coconut almond date granola closeup
I enjoy having granola around to mix with vegan yogurt or put on oatmeal, but it’s hard to find a prepared version that isn’t full of oil and sweeteners.  This recipe has both, but since you make it yourself, it’s completely adaptable.  I substituted applesauce for the oil and swapped out some of the almonds in favor of chopped pecans.  I also had some big flakes of coconut on hand that I was going to use in another recipe, but which worked quite well here in place of shredded.  There’s also a generous helping of pumpkin seeds and chopped dates, both of which I absolutely love!  All in all, it’s a relatively healthy granola that isn’t hard to make.

Imagine my surprise when, upon tasting it, I discovered that it tastes exactly like Honey Bunches of Oats.  I’m going to tell you a secret.  I don’t miss a whole lot of non-vegan foods, but Honey Bunches?  Oh boy.  I mainlined that stuff when I was younger and keep wishing someone would make a healthy, vegan version of it.  Aine Carlin did, however unwittingly.  This has all the flavor without the six thousand sweeteners, caramel color, canola oil, whey or artificial additives.  I could seriously sit down and eat a whole batch of it.

My most recent experiment out of this book was the Hole Mole Chili.

hole mole chili keep it vegan
In all honesty, I’m not sure why I went for it.  I’ve tried things with mole sauce in the past and could never really warm up to it.  I like chili and chocolate together, both as chili chocolate and as chocolate chili, but there’s something about the flavor of mole that seems sort of flat to me.  I felt the same about this chili–which I think doesn’t do it justice.  It’s good chili, packed with veggies and beans with a lot of options for toppings including avocado and pan-toasted tortillas.  I just personally feel that mole is missing some kind of flavor I’ve come to expect in chili.  Unless it’s a mushroom chili, I tend to prefer spicy-sweet or just plain hot!

Overall, I wouldn’t say Keep It Vegan is a terribly accessible book for the uninitiated plant-based eater, but if you’re been into vegan food for a while, there are several adventurous recipes to try.  One that I have my eye on for summer squash season is the Crusty No-Knead Carrot & Zucchini Bread.  It’s a simple, quick recipe with no yeast, no rising time, no kneading and–bonus!–no oil!  There are even nuts and seeds in it for some crunch.  If you want to try it out now, check out the recipe below!


 Crusty no-knead carrot and zucchini bread
makes 1 x 1 lb loaf
reprinted with permission

crusty no knead bread keep it vegan

Image courtesy of Kyle Books

Bread making can often cause the most confident of cooks to tremble at the knees. All that yeast activating, kneading, resting (and not to mention waiting!) is enough to send anyone straight to the supermarket shelf to grab a loaf of the white stuff… and who can blame ’em? Luckily not all breads are created equally—and some involve even less effort than choosing a store-bought batch from your local bakery. This crusty no-knead carrot and zucchini version is one such recipe that requires nothing more than throwing everything together in a bowl and having enough patience to let it bake for the mere 30 minutes it will take to turn miraculously into one of the easiest breads you could possibly muster.

Ingredients

1²⁄3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting (QV Note: White whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour would also work!)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme, plus extra for sprinkling
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 carrot, grated
1 zucchini, grated
3/4 cup plant milk, such as soy, almond, or oat
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons mixed seeds, plus extra for sprinkling

hummus, to serve (optional)

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

2 Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt and set aside. Squeeze the grated carrot and zucchini to remove any excess liquid and season with a little pepper. Add the carrot and zucchini mix to the dry ingredients and stir well.

3 Make a well in the center and pour in the plant milk, and then gently fold using a spatula, ensuring not to overwork the mixture. Stir in the walnuts and seeds.

4 Dust a little flour over a work surface and a baking sheet. Turn the mixture onto the surface and shape into a rough oval about 12in in diameter.

5 Transfer the dough to the baking sheet, score the top with a sharp, floured knife, and sprinkle with a little more salt, thyme, and extra seeds.

6 Lightly dust the loaf with flour and bake for 30 minutes or until it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Let it cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before slicing or tearing. Serve warm and generously spread with hummus.

 

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About the Author:

Sam has been a vegan since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of vegan food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant Program. She is a member of Toastmasters International and currently serves as part of the Capital View Toastmasters club. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, play silly card games and knit socks.
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