Life Deserves Some Spice: My review of The 30 Minutes Vegan’s Taste of the East

July 29th, 2010 · Lisa · book review, Review · Comments
Although many people who are contemplating removing animal products from their diets express concern that this restriction will limit the diversity of dishes they can enjoy, typically whole new worlds of ingredients and flavours are discovered once people start to plan their meals around the bounty of the plant kingdom. It is amazing how many of us don’t discover the joys of dosas, avocado rolls, masir wat, and falafel until after we embrace a vegetarian lifestyle. Mainstream restaurants may see a veggie burger as the ideal alternative offering, but we know that ethnic cuisines such as: Ethiopian, Indian, Thai, Mexican and Japanese cater to conscious diners with an amazing array of delicious options without even trying.
In Toronto, we are lucky to have of diverse range of available dining adventures to encourage us to experience new foods. But for those of us who enjoy the opportunity to learn about new ingredients, new techniques and different traditions it is exciting to see a whole new generation of cookbooks that elevate vegan cuisine beyond lentil loaf and celebrate the robust flavours of an international pantry.
Mark Reinfeld and Jennifer Murray, authors and restaurateurs, recently released the second title in their 30 Minute Vegan series: Taste of the East. The 150 recipes in this collection transport our taste buds to India, Thailand, China, Korea, Nepal, Indonesia and Japan. And it seems we’ve caught the express train because almost all of the recipes are designed to arrive at your table in less than 30 minutes. The author’s experience in the kitchen (and living throughout Asia) informs the tips and tricks sprinkled throughout that introduce the reader to new ways to speed up preparation time, a list of pantry stables for each cuisine and an impressive roster of resources to support and reinforce your reasons for living a compassionate life.
The cookbook chapters are divided by country (plus the Asian fusion chapter which contains recipes from a number of countries) within which recipes are presented in menu order: soups, salads, appetizers, side dishes, entrees and desserts. This approach makes it easy to plan a full meal from one region and means you don’t have to wait until page 200 to find the sweet treats! Given the nature of the cuisines highlighted in this collection there are lots of recipes to choose from even if you prefer to eat gluten-free or raw foods. The chefs encourage readers to adapt the recipes by suggesting different ingredient options and techniques below each of the original directions.
In order to stay within the 30 minute time-frame many of the authentic Asian dishes have been simplified; making them ideal for busy people and kitchen novices who may otherwise be intimidated by pages of ingredients and directions. You’re bound to impress you friends when you whip up Tofu Tikka Masala, Indonesian Gado Gado or Peking Seitan on a random Wednesday night – simply because you can. With a well-stocked pantry (informed by the helpful lists the authors provide) you will be satisfy your cravings with quality home-cooking faster than any take-out delivery. These recipes are rich in health promoting vegetables (lots of leafy greens!) and don’t come with a surprising amount of sodium, oil or MSG (which can be an issue when ordering-in).

While testing recipes for this book I had the pleasure of packing two picnic lunches for friends who offered to help with tasting part of the task. My friend Maria not only offered her palate and opinion, she also brought a blanket and strawberry lemonade (we will be friends for life!). 

All of the recipes are seriously fast and flavourful. I prepared 5 recipes in less than an hour that impressed my colleagues and had soon had recipes requests flying into my inbox.

Oh and look, I got to bring out my trusty tiffins! Is there anything better than packing a beautiful lunch in a cool and convenient container?

Kale and Snow Peas
Tamarind Sweet Potatoes
Braised Tempeh with Green Beans in Sesame Sauce
Magnificent Maria’s Lemonade
Daikon Carrot Salad
Napalese Dhal Bhat

Not only did I love everything that I tried but this book is full of some seriously enticing titles. I can’t wait to try the Asian Dream Boat Smoothie, Green Tea Chocolate Bon Bons with Crystallized Ginger, Tempeh Lettuce Wraps with Mango Ginger Sauce, Vanilla Cardamom Rose Lassi.

In case you’d like to sample the fantastic dishes highlighted in this cookbook, I found a great recipe that the authors shared in the most recent Vegan Fusion Newsletter.
Szechuan Tempeh and Veggies
Szechuan is generally hot hot hot. Feel free to adjust the spiciness to your liking. This dish creates a Szechuan sauce in which the tempeh and veggies are simmered. Serves 4

1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 to 5 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon seeded and diced hot chile, or more to taste
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
8 ounces tempeh
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons mirin or cooking sherry
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon agave nectar, organic brown sugar, or sweetener of choice
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper or a few drops of Szechuan oil, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to taste
2 cups assorted chopped mixed vegetables (try onions, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, bok choy, or your favorite green veggie)
1/4 cup diced green onion

1. Place the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, chile, and ginger and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Cut the tempeh into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the pan. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently and adding a small amount of water if necessary to prevent sticking.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the remaining water, mirin, soy sauce, and agave, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the arrowroot mixture and stir until the sauce thickens. Add the salt, pepper, and cayenne and stir well.
3. Add the chopped veggies and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with green onion before serving.

Replace the tempeh with tofu or seitan.
Replace the tempeh with an additional 2 to 3 cups of chopped mixed vegetables.
Chefs’ Tips and Tricks
If you want a thicker sauce, dissolve an additional teaspoon of arrowroot in 2 tablespoons of cold water and stir into the pan.

Do you have a favourite Asian dish that you’ve veganized?
I’ve never been for Dim Sum but this book shares recipes to recreate an entire menu. I can imagine a pretty fantastic fest built around their suggestions. I don’t have a little cart on wheels but maybe I could improvise something fun. 


  1. Posted July 29, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    bah! blogger spacing issues are mind numbing. Sorry all.

  2. Posted July 29, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    you had me at the sweet potatoes!!!

    Everything looks great!
    Pure2raw twins

  3. Posted July 30, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Ooh! I'd loved to have been a taste tester for your wonderful looking Indian picnic! Those sweet potatoes especially caught my eye, they're always my fave.


  4. Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:33 am

    This sounds like a great book! Thanks for reviewing it. I'm off to see if my library has it.

  5. Posted July 30, 2010 at 9:41 am

    lisa!!! wow!

    i'd really love to join you one day for a cookfest!!! it would be so amazing. i love how you like to cook an abundance of various meals…you amaze me.

    i really need to get myself tiffins!!!

    maybe this weekend?

  6. Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Great review! The food you made looks delicious. I can imagine the smell and taste of those spicy dishes were even better.

    I'm going to have to go on a hunt for those tiffins as well. Did you buy them in Little India?

  7. Posted July 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Wow, what a lovely little picnic! I want a tiffin!!! 🙂 Everything looks great! YUM!

  8. Posted August 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Ah tiffin love! They are so much fun to fill. I hope you can find them in your city. I usually go to the Indian area of Toronto – they have some great tiffins there. Otherwise To-Go ware has some great options you can find online.

  9. Posted August 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Love your tiffins:) It's hard to believe you made all that incredible food in less than an hour.

    With 150 recipes, Taste of the East sounds wonderful! Thanks for telling us about it.

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