In May 2008 veganism stepped into the limelight. Newspaper headlines, morning chat shows and news anchors were spreading the story that Oprah had gone vegan. After pinching myself to make sure I was actually conscious and not having a dream about vegan supremacy I realized that unfortunately Oprah was embarking upon a 21-day cleansethat had her following a vegan diet. This was not the transformation I had imagined from the headlines but it still had the world talking about what “vegan” means.
When I first went vegan I remember eating a lot of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. When Oprah tries veganism a lovely, chef prepares fantastic, flavourful meals at her request. That man is Tal Ronnen. His vegan recipes were celebrated on the Oprah Winfrey show and subsequently he released his first cookbook, The Conscious Cook
. The wonderful thing about Tal’s association with Oprah (and more recently the Ellen Degeneres show
) is that his book is featured front and centre at all the big book stores. At last, a vegan cookbook stands prominently on the display table next to all the other celebrity cookbooks (you know, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey, etc) looking all fresh and feisty.
It is a beautiful (the very talented Linda Long
did the photography) hard-cover book, featuring complex recipes that will impress any foodie or gourmand you care to eat with. Tal includes his own favourite recipes but also highlights interesting creations from other vegan chefs.
Although I found the pictures enticing and the titles tempting the multi-recipe menus felt a bit daunting. Tal calls for a few ingredients that may be hard to find at the local grocery store but if your pantry is well stocked with items like white wine vinegar, hazelnut milk and chipotle peppers then you’re ready to start cooking. Otherwise, maybe these are the recipes you’ve been waiting for to inspire new flavour discoveries.
This cookbook would be an excellent introduction to gourmet vegan fare for a friend or family member who loves to cook but may be new to animal-free cuisine. Tal employs a number of store-bought, prepared ingredients in the majority of his recipes. Gardein
, Tal’s faux meat creation (now widely available) plays a starring role in many entrees, Earth Balance
, soy yogurt and soy mayonnaise are also called for in a number of the recipes. I think these additions are great options for people who are discovering veganism but I would have appreciated recipes variations that I could create using whole foods instead. That’s a personal preference and probably reflects that I have no children and lots of time to pulse tofu in my food processor.
Tal’s french training is evident in the rich, creamy sauces he creates. You will learn a lot about cooking technique and ingredient combinations by attempting a few of his tasty tricks.
After imagining the flavours profiled in each of the colourful photos I selected a few recipes to try. Some of the ones I selected are meant to be side dish or components of a more elaborate meal. I find this approach a great way to experience Tal’s delicious flavours without spending hours in the kitchen on a weekday night.
Let’s start with dessert. Tal has a small selection of sweets, including a vegan Bailey’s recipe that I know I must try. After a delivery of organic fruit the choice was easy: winter fruit en papillote.
Seasonal Fruit en Papillote
Apples, Pears, Dates, Cinnamon and Nutmeg baked in parchment paper
An envelope full of flavour ready for the oven.
When you tear open your dessert package the delicious aroma rises with the steam. This is a lovely treat that can be personalized to each dinner guest with ease. The rustic presentation is casual and fun but you can fancy-it-up by adding some sweetened cashew cream (an addition to most of Tal’s recipes) and a dash of cinnamon on top.
Braised Kale and Mashed Sweet Potato (with Chipotle and Cashew Cream)
This was an incredible meal made of two side dishes. They were both really easy to prepare and had deep, layers of flavour that made me want to lick the bowl.
Fresh Mint and Cucumber Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette. Mint and cucumber are a delightful, refreshing combination. I think I would have enjoyed the dressing without the soy yogurt as the tahini embarks a perfect richness without the aftertaste of processed soy.
Another side dish featuring a sour bite, balanced by the strong flavours of daikon radish and sesame seeds. Although Tal tops this with a orange-agave glazed tofu and mashed sweet potato, I enjoyed it on its own as a light lunch.
The Conscious Cook is an excellent addition to the vegan culinary literature. I think the recipes portray the variety of satisfying meals that are available to anyone wanting to eat amazing food without causing harm to other sentient beings. The images go along way to changing the stereotype of vegan martyrs deprived of joy.
If you want to know more about the recipes contained in this book, be sure to check out the
There are a number of Tal’s Recipes online that you can test-out before you pick up a copy of his book.
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Twice-baked fingerling potatoes
A more complete review of my experience with this book will appear in the Spring addition of the Toronto Vegetarian Association member’s newsletter.