Setting the Vegan Table for a Long Stay A cookbook review of Bryant Terry’s “Vegan Soul Kitchen”
Plenty of Southern women have claimed that all that’s needed to keep a good man stayed put is a breakfast of eggs, pork sausage, buttermilk biscuits, grits and gravy. When it comes to Southern and Soul Food cooking, it’s been indeed a "bring-it-on" affair filled with butter, pork, sugar and salt.
Bryant Terry, author of "Vegan Soul Kitchen," (Da Capo Press, $18.95) doesn't upset the old order. Instead of focusing on what’s missing from the vegan plate (two major food groups) he brings your attention to what's added (whole grains, nuts, and seasonal fruits and vegetables) to his interpretation of a rich and storied cuisine. The table he sets is one that could make any man or woman will want to stay well past daybreak.
Vegans can be a tormented bunch despite their dedication to a vegetarian lifestyle that employs all that is healthy and “alive”--but that doesn’t move. They must explain a method of cooking that omits dairy and meat, while finding ways for it all to taste good. Those who best seem to master it are ones who have been dedicated to gourmet vegetarianism long before veganism came about. One of those dynamic individuals is Annemarie Colbin, whom Terry studied with at the Natural Gourmet Cooking School. Many adherents of healthy cuisine have hailed her cookbooks, most notably "The Natural Gourmet Cookbook."
Once you get past a bit of self-conscious writing and a few awkwardly worded recipes you'll find many imaginative side dishes, some which combine to make whole meals.
Self-conscious? Do we really need advice to compost and suggested soundtracks to go with recipes? The suggestions are seldom even clever. For a recipe for spicy goobers your sound track is "Salt Peanuts." For a roasted turnip dish? By all means listen to "Turnip's Big Move." For Candied Walnuts? "Bitter" by Me'Shell.
Said my friend Shaniquia, "So I'm supposed to shop at Whole Foods on my way home, and stop at J&R Music?"
All that aside the recipes offer interesting new riffs on some normally fattening deep-fried Southern and Caribbean standards, like BBQ tempeh sandwich with carrot cayenne coleslaw and Caribbean creamy grits with roasted plantains. Most of the recipes offer plenty of spice – Creole style, mustardy and citrusy – and that's just for starters. The Texas caviar, with its loud, brash, spicy flavor is more a prelude to wrestling cattle than discussing the merits of a meatless diet.
The biggest adaptation for those new to veganism might not be the absence of meat and dairy but the use of ingredients like tempeh, seitan and coconut oil. Terry avoids cheap fixes like textured vegetable protein, processed flours and lesser grade oils. One suspects that even one of Terry's side dishes, deserts or fruity dishes added to a bucket of fried chicken will prolong your life and add to your vitality.
Terry does sweeten things up, often lavishly. Even the use of a sweetener as virtuous as agave nectar is generously added to drink recipes and even vegetable sides, like citrus broccoli and roasted beets. The elegance of Colbin's recipes, after all, is the arrival of complex flavor without sweeteners. But Terry does want to bring you that soul food taste, hence the nuts that are double-maple coated, and sweetened everything -- from watermelon drinks, coleslaws, sweet potato fries, and grilled corn. If we discover that agave nectar isn't the savior from refined sugar that the vegans have led us to believe, veganism may be taken to task.
Leafy greens and okra you'll find in abundance here. Some recipes may be too leafy. A gumbo recipe calls for collards, mustard greens, kale and spinach (use a deep pot). A chilled and grilled okra, corn and tomato salad is comprised of rustic flavors offset by sweet, ripe heirloom tomatoes. True to Terry’s word, grilling the okra serves to "decrease the slime factor."
Terry makes a good case for homemade soup stocks and dried legumes rather than boxed broth and canned beans. To forgo these steps means loss of flavor derived from the blend of vegetables melding into homemade stock, and the deeper flavor of legumes simmered with kumbo (a seaweed). Once you get the temperature just right, simmering beans or soup stock will enhance your eating experience, I suspect as much as the "Game is My Middle Name" soundtrack.
The recipes are robust, so indeed you might forgo one of the trio of leafy greens in the gumbo. I'm not heroic in forgoing sweetness, but I preferred the citrus mint tea without agave nectar. Terry encourages experimentation, but working with such an innovative cuisine, more suggestions from the chef might better serve the home cook. Nothing is understated in "Vegan Soul Kitchen." One surprise follows another and all for the cause of good food and good stewardship of the earth. Watermelon rinds get put to use, as well as those little tails on beets. There's an occasional side trip from the African diaspora, like one for potato-sweet potato pancakes: inspiration provided by Saul's deli in Berkeley. While he states his influences early on, Terry isn't to be pigeonholed even within a vegan format. If you're in any doubt, his cinnamon applejack toddy with candied orange peel will tell you so.
Johnny Blaze Cakes
From “Vegan Soul Kitchen”
Yield: 12 cakes
Soundtrack: “Bring the Pain” by Method Man from Tical
These crispy corn cakes are all-purpose. I sometimes serve them as an appetizer topped with Rainbow Chow Chow; as a main dish, I like them with Chilled and Grilled Okra, Corn, and Heirloom Tomato Salad (page 68) heaped on top; and of course you can’t go wrong serving these with Strawberry and Slightly Hot Pepper Jam for breakfast. – Bryant Terry
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 2/2 cups boiling unflavored rice milk
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne. Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the rice milk to a boil then slowly pour it over the cornmeal mixture, stirring as you pour. Add the jalapeño to the batter, mix well, and refrigerate the batter for 20 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
4. Warm a large, nonstick skillet or a griddle over medium-high heat and grease well with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
5. Add 1/4 cup of batter to the skillet per cake. A large skillet should comfortably fit two to three.
6. After about 1 minute, when the bottom starts to set, reduce the heat to medium-low, and use a wooden spoon to shape the cakes, pushing them in and up so that they are about 3 inches wide and 1⁄2 inch thick.
7. Cook the cakes for 8 to 10 minutes per side, adding more oil after turning, until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside (do this in several batches).
8. Transfer the cooked cakes from the skillet to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven until all the cakes are cooked.
Recipe courtesy of Da Capo Press.