By Mylène Ouellet (Originally posted at My Face is on Fire)
It’s not a secret to anyone who’s ever been inside my home that I am a little cookbook-obsessed — just a little. I will often read them cover to cover and it’s not uncommon for me to keep a few of them on my nightstand for bedtime reading. Reading through recipes from a new or trusted cookbook author is a great way to introduce yourself to different taste and texture combinations. A good cookbook will also offer up a bit of introductory information for those who may be new to cooking. What tools will you need? What are some basics with which you should stock your cupboard? It will teach you a little about potentially new ingredients used in the book’s recipes and then, if it’s a really awesome cookbook, its author will have done what I always appreciate, which is to suggest pairings of different dishes. If it’s a vegan cookbook, its author will also (hopefully) spend some time explaining not just why we don’t need to use animals to eat delicious food, but why we shouldn’t treat animals as things and why we should consider going vegan.
Abolitionist animal rights activist Vincent Guihan’s New American Vegan does all of this and more. The little extras in his book leave it rising (far) above most of the vegan cookbooks on the market these days. There are a lot of them and many of these books, sadly, are missed opportunities for their authors to actually educate others a little about veganism and about what it’s like to go and to be vegan. Vincent not only shares his own experience going vegan, but provides some pretty useful advice on things like how to entertain as a polite but unapologetic vegan. He also goes over and above most other vegan cookbook authors in conveying to his readers how flexible and forgiving recipes can be — particularly his recipes. He suggests alternative seasonings for the recipes, as well as substitutes for those harder-to-find ingredients.
This empowers the reader, whether a new or experienced cook, to feel comfortable being creative with the recipes without having to worry about wandering too far off course and possibly ruining the recipe altogether. Cooking should not be a daunting experience; neither should going vegan and learning new ways of approaching meal preparation. I was one of the original testers for the recipes a few years ago and I got hooked even then. I’d been anticipating the book’s publication for a while and was thrilled when I first heard that it was finally coming out.
On Feeling Free to Drool
Here are some of the gorgeous and tasty treats I’ve tried and loved which you’ll find in New American Vegan:
Clementine, Kalamata Olive & Collard Salad. A little sriracha, as suggested in the book, really rounded out this already intricately tasty dish quite nicely.
Quick, Rich Borscht. A lover of beets, I’d never tried borscht before; now I have a recipe that’s a keeper.
Basic Crackers. Those pictured above are the yummy Pepper Jack variation, great by themselves or with soup, chowder or dip.
Avocado Creton. The smokiness combined with the rich fatty avocado is awesome. It was perfect with the aforementioned Basic Crackers.
Chickpea, Avocado Ceviche. Again with the avocado, because who doesn’t love avocado? The cilantro and spices in the recipe are subtle and the lime picks it up just perfectly.
Fiery Illinois Corn Chowder. Creamy with an adjustable spiciness, this chowder is even more amazing topped with a handful of cilantro.
The Interview-ish Part
I contacted Vincent with some questions to weave some of his answers into this exploration of his book and he graciously replied:
MFIoF: When and how did you first learn to cook?
VG: Not surprising for Chicago, the first thing I learned to cook was pizza. That meant learning how to prepare bread dough, the sauce, etc. Pizza is a big deal in Chicago. There are a lot of different ways to make it — some very inventive, and the toppings and combination of ingredients make it a good place to learn flavour combinations and flavour layering.
MFIoF: How did going vegan impact your time spent in the kitchen and the development of your mad culinary skills?
VG: I spent more time in the kitchen after going vegan. I was a vegetarian for a long time, which although well-intended, was misguided. After going vegan, I spent a lot of time working with more basic ingredients in combination to create the food I wanted to eat. In most respects, it was a liberation of my palate in a move away from prepackaged foods, and more important, away from prepackaged cultural notions of what food should be, how it should look, how it should be prepared. Notions of the ‘centre of the plate’, eating in courses, and of course, the primacy of animal products in meals are all deeply culturally contrived.
MFIoF: What other sort of activism have you engaged in? Where and how does writing a vegan cookbook fit into your activism as an abolitionist?
VG: Activists approach moral problems differently. In most social justice movements, organizers play an important role with helping people to understand the issues and get started in terms of practical work. There’s not a lot of that today in the movement — just a lot of businesses co-opting donations and volunteers (the free labour of the movement) to do fundraising. I think it’s important for advocates to bypass the animal agriculture-welfare complex and promote abolition. My cookbook is a direct appeal to the public to go vegan and work for the abolition of the property status of nonhuman animals. But I think people fear change when they cannot envision who they will be after the change. The cookbook is really meant to speak to the notion of how life goes well as a vegan.
MFIoF: Why did you decide to write a cookbook? How would you describe your cookbook?
VG: It’s awesome. Seriously. I know some people in the community may be offended that some vegans aren’t prepared to bow and scrape to promote veganism, but I think people who are not vegan are cheating themselves out of a much better life. Veganism is good news for them. I wanted to write a book that would be full of good news for people who were ready to hear it. My book is provides the basis for personal change for anyone who’s ready to go.
MFIoF: What advice would you give to new vegans who are first learning to cook, or at least learning to prepare vegan food for the first time?
VG: Keep going. Most people hone their palates licking the boots of the oppressor, so to speak. Eating inferior tasting “foods”, thinking that what is least interesting about a dish is the most important. Few things taste as good or look as beautiful as a slice of fresh mango or pineapple. Meat, diary, and other animal products do have flavour and texture. However, it’s often the ‘garnishes’ and the preparation that gives the finished dishes their appeal. Once you understand that animal products tend to be ‘canvas’ ingredients that absorb the flavour of the rest of the ingredients, the more you understand that it’s the other ingredients that have beautiful flavour, colour, texture, etc., that are important. Free your plate. And keep going.
MFIoF: Where’s the best place for the interested to snap up your cookbook?