‘This is the story, in the form of a rather heavy little cookbook, of a vegan history that has never existed, but is alive today, inspired by all of the great cuisines that ever were.’ So begins the first chapter of Vegan Eats World. It’s a refreshing approach, asking us to imagine not if we all became vegan today, but if we had always been vegan. Would we miss meat? Would it even cross our minds to seek it out? Many people, vegans included, think of veganism as a sacrifice. They think of a vegan diet as a limited, restricted version of the ‘normal’ meat-based diet. But Terry Hope Romero shows us another way to think of it: ‘meat is just meat’, she says; rather, it is spices, herbs and grains that give such a rich diversity of cuisines and allow us to experience so many different flavours. She does not force us towards veganism; she simply plants the idea in our heads: ‘What if the world was vegan?’
If you’re like me, you usually delve into a cookbook with a fair idea of the type of food you want to cook, and you then have to wade through the recipes looking specifically for salads, for example, or maybe curries, or pastas. In Vegan Eats World this process is made very simple with chapter titles like ‘Salads, Spreads & Sandwiches’, ‘Curries, Hearty Stews & Beans’ and ‘Asian Noodles to Mediterranean Pasta’. And yes, there are chapters for soups, entrees and desserts! If you prefer to search by ingredient, the index is very comprehensive and well cross-referenced. All in all, this book makes it very quick and easy to find the recipe you are looking for. A menus section at the end simplifies the task of trying to cook a three course meal from the recipes provided. Not all dishes are photographed, but you will find yourself tempted to just cook the ones that are – they all look so mouth-watering!
Each recipe is accompanied by icons to show which meals are quick, easy, cheap, low fat, gluten free, soy free or a combination of these. Romero gives a description of the origins and primary flavours in the dish and then goes on to suggest any other recipes or foods that are well matched to it. If there are any points of difficulty in the dish she mentions them and gives tips to overcome them. The ingredients and method are well written and laid out in a logical order, and having all measurements in volume rather than weight saves a lot of time and effort with scales or conversions! For any unfamiliar ingredients, equipment or techniques, Romero refers us back to the ‘Kitchen Cartography’ section at the front of the book, which contains easy to understand explanations and diagrams that make it all seem manageable! She provides recipes for spice blends, chutneys and sauces that can then be used as ingredients for other recipes in the book. Not only are most of these very easy but often they are worlds away from their store-bought equivalents. However, many of us barely have time to complete one recipe, let alone two! Romero accounts for this by frequently offering store-bought or quick and easy alternatives.
All this is very well, but are the recipes any good? Since I bought this book earlier this year, I have been unable to stop making recipes from this book, because it has so far failed to produce a meal that was anything short of delicious. The deluxe tofu vegetable mafe created an amazing aroma while it was cooking, so that by the time it was ready mouths were watering all round. It was smooth and creamy without being too rich, and the peanut flavour was subtle by comparison with many other peanut-based sauces I have tasted. By following the instructions for tofu preparation, even the tofu cynics at the table were converted. This was definitely a dish where the few extra steps in preparation made a huge difference in terms of the depth of flavour. Other highlights included the Flying Massaman Curry and the Greek Eggplant Lasagne. In terms of dessert, I couldn’t go past the deliciously moist Walnut Spice Sticky Cake. I made it for a dinner party and all twelve guests enjoyed it immensely with no idea that it was vegan!
Throughout the book Romero maintains a very relaxed and friendly tone, which makes it very easy to read. In fact, when I first sat down with this book planning to choose a recipe to make for dinner, I realised after 30 minutes that instead of having chosen something, I had read every word of the first thirty pages of the book! I am vegetarian, and I have no immediate plans to make the switch to veganism. However, since the purchase of this book, it seems much easier than I had previously thought, and I will definitely be reducing the amount of dairy and eggs in my cooking.