Friday, July 24, 2009

Viva la soul! Review of Vegan Soul Kitchen


Bryant Terry's new cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen, takes "soul" seriously. Instead of focusing on traditional soul foods and simply replacing the animal products, Terry tries to define what the soul in soul food really represents. It's as much a book about a culture as it is about food. But that doesn't mean it is filled with dense gray pages of type. It also doesn't mean Terry is preaching or trying to convert anyone.

Why do I mention this book in this blog? Because many of these recipes are absurdly easy to make, and the others, while they may require a few pots and bowls and a little time, go together easily. Also because the cookbook includes directions for making several home-made condiments, which can enhance your convenience food!

Baked sweet potato fries

When I first opened this book I was confused. The book is not divided in the usual sections: appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, dessert, breads, blah blah blah. Instead it is divided into sections that are important to those southerners who swear by soul food. That means we get a whole chapter on watermelon. And drinks. And condiments. Along with the expected (but differently categorized) chapters on vegetable side dishes, grain dishes, protein dishes, desserts and other sweet things.

The whole of it adds up to a focus on the lighter parts of the meal. It's a great book for parties, right out of the box. It's also a good book for home-made staples. You can create a light corn broth, a zinging cajun-creole seasoning mix, pickles and ketchup and salsa and chutney and more. Terry is also interested in keeping his meals healthy, so you'll find little emphasis on fat and lots of emphasis on fresh.

cajun-creole spice mix

In other words, this book is more for the edges than the center. You will find red beans and rice and you will find "not-so-dirty rice" and hoppin' john, yes. There are many main dish recipes. But the bulk of the book is in the seasoning, the introduction, the end of the meal. Not to mention the melody.

Every recipe is prefaced by the name and performers of a piece of recorded music. The cookbook itself begins with the score for "Blessing" by Donald Bryant. After the song we are usually treated to a little bit about the food, where it's from, memories, some hint of how it came to be.

Some nuts and bolts:

* Every recipe starts on a new page, at the top.

* There is a section on equipment at the beginning.

* There are color photos sprinkled through it.

* Although some of the recipes take several steps, none require the skill of a kitchen magician. You can make these.

corn broth on its way to becoming succotash soup

I tested several recipes and enjoyed them all. When I made Succotash Soup with Garlicky Croutons I told my daughters that this one recipe was worth the price of the book. I am now using the cajun-creole spice mix that I created from the chapter on condiments, and I know I don't have to settle for anything commercial again.

straining the succotash soup. easier than I thought.

File under "entertainment", "basics", "staples", and "VEGAN".

crossposted at Vegan Soapbox

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