The Conscious Cook shows readers that avoiding the health risks and ethical dilemmas of eating meat and dairy does not mean sacrificing taste and appetite. This is not a cookbook of sprouts and tofu burgers, but of mouth-watering, hearty meals that keep the protein at the center of your plate. Featuring 75 original recipes that will satisfy the fussiest foodies and the most dedicated of carnivores, The Conscious Cook is a breakthrough in meatless cuisine that will revolutionize the way readers experience food.
-Amazon's Description of "celebrity-chef" Tal Ronnen's new vegan cookbook-
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When I picked up a copy of "The Conscious Cook" at my local library three weeks ago I hadn't a clue who Tal Ronnen was.
But I soon found out!
He's one of the most well-known vegan chefs around--with stint as Oprah's chef when she tried out vegan eating--adviser to the top vegan restaurants--and master vegan teacher-chef at culinary schools nationwide.
Not to mention he's friends with just about everyone in the vegan world.
- Yves Potvin, the Canadian who invented my favorite "garden protein": Gardein--a delicious blend of vegetables and grains with the texture of meat.
- Bob Goldberg, the inventor of Vegenaise (vegan mayo) and Follow Your Heart--vegan casein-free cheeses.
- Don McKinley, the American who "discovered" quinoa growing in Bolivia, and started importing seed and growing it in Colorado back in 1982.
- Serafina Magnussen, a master vegan baker--baking without butter or eggs.
- Seth Tibbott, maker of artisan tempeh, and the founder of Turtle Island Foods in Hood River, OR
The photos in this cookbook are stunning & mouth-watering--and the 75 delicious-sounding recipes are well-constructed and easy to follow.
But then I took a closer look with a critical eye. So many of these recipes include generous amounts of olive oil, Vegenaise (the egg-free mayo), or Earth Balance, a vegan butter substitute.
Darn! I was ready to just return this book and chalk it up to vegan junk food--albeit delicious junk food.
First off--I've got to say this. There are basically two kinds of vegans (yeah, sure, I'm generalizing here).
1. The "ethical" vegan who doesn't eat animal products for moral, environmental or ethical reasons.
2. The "health conscious" vegan who doesn't eat animal products for health reasons--and that usually means they are very conscious of lowering their fat consumption--including oils.
Since, I'm the "health conscious" (mostly) kind-of-vegan, Tal's generous use of oils, Earth Balance spread, cashew cream (I'll explain what this is later), and Vegenaise kind of defeats the purpose of a vegan diet for me.
I'm Glad I Gave the Conscious Cook a Second Chance
Before returning the book I decided to take a second look. Hey, I can adapt these recipes to make them healthier--not zero fat--but healthier. I decided to try out a few before I discounted Tal's book altogether.
So far , everything I've tried has been a culinary winner. Yes, it's not everyday fare, given the higher fat content. But Tal is truly a master chef.
- If you are a confirmed meat eater I'm certain you'll enjoy these recipes.
- If you're tipping your toe in the water of vegan eating I'm certain you'll enjoy these recipes.
- And if you're already a vegan who's looking for some dazzling delicious recipes--and you're OK with a little oil or cashew cream occasionally--and you're willing to cut all that in half--I'm certain you'll enjoy these recipes!
- If you want no-fat fare--skip this cookbook
Conscious Cook recipes I'm looking forward to trying:
- Mediterranean Chickpea Wrap
- Vietnamese-style Tofu Hero with Asian Slaw
- Old Bay Tofu "Crab Cakes"
- Tempeh Creole over Brown Rice
- Paella with "Sausage", Nori-Dusted Oyster Mushrooms, and Wine-Braised Artichoke Hearts
- Asparagus and Meyer Lemon Risotto
Tal's Split Pea Soup with Tempeh Bacon and Chipotle Cream
Here's the first of Tal's recipes I tried, and the one that won me over. I prepared it one morning before I went to work--it was that easy. The smoked paprika, fresh rosemary, shallots & leeks make it a cut way above the usual split pea soup. And I've always loved tempeh bacon! I used the left-overs for an amazing "Bacon Tomato Avocado" sandwich.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Prep time: 1 hour 15 minutes
2 TBS Earth Balance (Tal uses 4 TBS.)
2 shallots, minced
2 leeks, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary (Tal uses 1 tsp.)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp smoked paprika
5-cups vegetable stock. I used Imagine's No-Chicken Broth
1 1/2 cups green split peas, rinsed
Freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. canola oil (Tal uses 2 tsp.)
4 slices tempeh bacon (Fakin' Bacon at Whole Foods)
Chipotle Cream (I left this out, although I'm sure it's delicious. Too much extra fat! It's a combo of 1/4 cup vegan mayo, 1/2 cup thick cashew cream (recipe follows later in post), 1/2 can chipotle in adobo sauce, salt, pepper, & juice of 1 lime). Put it all in a processor & blend until well mixed.
1. Place a large stockpot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the Earth Balance (I'm sure olive oil would work just fine) and stir until melted, being careful not to let it burn. This will create a nonstick effect.
2. Add the shallots, leeks, carrot, and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the rosemary, bay leaf, and paprika and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Add the stock and split peas and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, heat the tiniest amount of oil you can in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the tempeh bacon and fry on both sides until crisp. Cool and coarsely crumble. Serve the soup with a sprinkle of tempeh bacon & chipotle cream (which I omitted). TIP: "Fry up all the bacon & keep in the fridge for BLTs.
Tal's Agave-Lime Grilled Tofu with Asian Slaw and Mashed Sweet Potatoes
This one was OMG mouth-watering-I-can't-get-enough-of-this-delicious! This recipe I made with my husband last Sunday. A bit of a pitchky-potchky, but well worth the effort. The sweet potatoes were so delicious I decided to make a large batch of them for Thanksgiving. The chipotle & cashew cream combo in them is outstanding.
Even My Version Came Out Picture Perfect!
Prep Time: 1 hour, plus 2 hours for marinating the tofu
Warning: This recipe uses thick cashew cream that YOU make. It takes minutes to make, BUT, you have to soak 2 cups of whole raw cashews in water overnight, so you have to plan ahead. The Cashew Cream recipe is at the bottom of this recipe.
For the tofu:
**This tofu is fantastic and worthy of making all by itself for sandwiches or to cut in strips on top of salad.
1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 8 (1/4 inch thick) slabs. Wrap in a dish towel & press for 30 minutes under a heavy pot or brick to remove excess water.
1/4 cup light agave nectar (available everywhere now)
1/2 cup shoyu soy sauce (I used regular)
3 garlic cloves, smashed
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 TBS lightly packed brown sugar.
Make the tofu:
1. Make the tofu: Place the tofu in a single layer in a shallow nonreactive dish. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining tofu ingredients. Pour over the tofu and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tofu from the marinade (reserve the marinade) and arrange it in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until reduced to a syrupy glaze, about 8 minutes.
4. Heat an outdoor grill or preheat a grill pan over medium high-high heat. Transfer the tofu slabs from the baking sheet to the grill and grill for 3 to 4 minutes, or until grill-marked. Turn the tofu over and generously brush with the glaze; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until grill-marked. Remove the tofu to the baking sheet, turning it over so the glazed sie is down, then glaze the top side.
For the slaw:
3 TBS. rice vinegar
1 tsp. light agave nectar (add more if you like a more sweet tangy taste)
1/2 tsp. sea salt, or more too taste
2 TBS. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 TBS. canola oil (Tal uses 1/4 cup safflower oil)
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned (save yourself time & buy the julienned carrots in a bag)
1/2 daikon radish, peeled and julienned (I bought this--never had one before--but when I unloaded my groceries I couldn't find it)
1/2 head napa cabbage, shredded
1 scallion, thinly sliced (Tal juliennes)
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds (Tal uses mixed black and white sesame seeds)
Make the slaw:
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, agave nectar, salt, lime juice, and soy sauce. Continue whisking vigorously in one direction as you slowly pour in the oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Add the remaining slaw ingredients to the bowl and toss to coat.
For the sweet potatoes:
2 very large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced. (I short-cutted with pre-cut sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup thick Cashew Cream (Tal uses 1/2 cup) *recipe to follow
1 TBS. Earth Balance (Tal uses 2 TBS.)
1 canned chipotle pepper, seeded and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the sweet potatoes:
1. Cook the sweet potatoes in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Put the sweet potatoes, Cashew Cream, Earth Balance, and chipotle pepper in a bowl and use a portable or stand mixer to whip up at medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy. If you have a whisk attachment for your mixer, use it! Season with salt and pepper.
Assemble the dish:
1. Place one quarter of the sweet potatoes in a scoop in the middle of a serving plate. Top with one quarter of the slaw. Place 1 tofu slab on the top of the slaw, and 1 slab angled against the sweet potatoes and slaw, as in my picture. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
2 cups of whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry), rinsed very well under cold water.
Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover the them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place in a blender with enough water to just cover the cashews. Preferably use a Vita-Mix for this. It's quick & easy.
Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you're not using a professional high-speed blender like a Vita-Mix, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)
Makes at least 2 1/2 cups of thick cream. Prep time: 10 minutes, plus the overnight soak
Storage: Can be stored for 2-3 days in the refrigerator, or store in small servings in the freezer for up to 6 months. If it's a bit lumpy after defrosting, give it a spin in the blender.
Many of Tal's recipes use Cashew Cream, so it won't go to waste.
It gives vegan recipes the same sort of flavor that can come from cream. I'd use this only sparingly, for company fare.
Tal's California Gardein "Chicken" Salad. My Curried Variation
Prep Time: 10 minutes
3/4 cup Half the Fat Flax Seed & Olive Oil Vegenaise (vegan mayo) Tal uses 1 cup of the regular Vegenaise
2 tsp. rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 TBS agave nectar
1 1/2 pounds Gardein chicken-style strips (find them as "Chicken-Less" Strips in the refrigerated case at Trader Joe's or use the frozen Morningstar Farm version called "Meal Starter", thawed)--pulsed in a food processor or chopped by hand Tal uses 2 pounds of Gardein "chicken" Click here to read more about Trader Joe's "Chicken-Less" strips.
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (single layer in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes-watch carefully)
1/2+ cup dried currants (Tal uses 1 cup champagne grapes, which weren't available)
3 stalks of celery, diced 1/4 inch
2 tsp. curry powder (Not in Tal's recipe--but I added for more intense flavor)
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.
Serve on the bread or wrap of your choice.
I used Ezekiel bread with sliced tomatoes & a little avocado. Delicious. Next time I would make 1/2 the amount, but it kept well for 4 days.