“Vegan? What’s that?” A vegan is a person who chooses to abstain from eating any food product made with animals, a philosophy determined from health, environment, compassion, or a combination of reasons. “What the hell do they eat? And more importantly, are there any good desserts?”
These questions were answered admirably on February 20 at a lecture and cooking demonstration at Syracuse University by Sarah Kramer, author of the recently published La Dolce Vegan! Vegan Livin' Made Easy. The tattooed author whipped up a tomato soup cake from her cookbook and explained to the over 70 people present how to effectively bake without eggs and butter. Butter: easy to imagine substitution. But eggs? How can the baked goods rise? Baking soda and powder!
Kramer also advised the following: make sure your oven is warmed and ready. In fact, get an oven thermometer to verify that the oven is heating properly. Even 25 degrees too low or high can ruin what was on its way to becoming a perfectly yummy cake. Also, stir up the dry ingredients thoroughly before adding anything wet. Once the wet ingredients are added, the rising process begins. Baking is science, she reminded us. She also recommended that when you purchase baking soda or powder, put the date of purchase on the package. Either product has a shelf life of only six months. (Don’t toss it if it gets old, however! Older baking soda can be used to scrub the sink or such.)
La Dolce Vegan is the author’s third collaborative cookbook. Her series began as a self-published zine given away to friends and family for a holiday present, created with her co-author Tanya Barnard. Demand steadily rose, leading the two women to publish the first cookbook, How It All Vegan. This book is a brass tacks introduction to cooking and living vegan. As Kramer pointed out in her talk, the recipes had to pass “the Jake test,” alluding to a culinarily-challenged friend. This cookbook is a good one for beginners wanting to lead a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, or someone simply cutting down on, or allergic to, dairy and eggs.
The second cookbook in the trilogy is The Garden of Vegan, also co-written with Tanya Barnard. Its recipes are geared towards entertaining. The third, written without Barnard, is for quick and healthy meals. Although Kramer is cited as the sole author, La Dolce Vegan is another collaboration, this time with the loyal readers of her website and message board at Go Vegan.
I like several things about this cookbook: the attitude, the photos, the index, and, of course, the recipes. First, I love to read cookbooks and this one is entertaining. The author’s quirkiness and humor shine through in her writing. Second, the photos of this quite photogenic woman show her in various 1950s-ish poses and couture, tattoos and all. Third, I especially like the index. I am one of those people who will look in the fridge or cupboard and wonder, “Hmmm… I have a bag of blueberries. What to do with them?” The index is set up for people like me, with entries for types of food, rather than recipe names alone. (By the way, I made the Blueberry Dilip, a sort-of blueberry crumble that was quite yummy.)
The first recipe I tried was Emily’s “Meat” Loaf, contributed by reader Wolffie (a woman who contributed over thirty recipes and, according to Kramer, doesn’t want to write her own cookbook).
Emily’s “Meat” Loaf
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 slices bread, roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts
5 – 6 veggie burgers or 1 ½ cups mock ground “beef,” crumbled
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp tahini or nut butter (your choice)
1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 cup vegan “cheese,” finely grated
¼ – ½ cup ketchup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly oil an 8-inch loaf pan and set aside. In a large saucepan on medium-high heat, sauté the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in oil until onions are translucent. Set aside to cool. In a food processor, blend the bread and walnuts and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the sautéed vegetables, bread mixture, “beef,” salt, pepper, oregano, basil, nutritional yeast, tahini, tamari, Worcestershire sauce, and “cheese.” Mix together until well blended. Press firmly into loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes. Pour ketchup evenly over top of loaf and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.
(Reprinted with permission of the author)
Instead of veggie burgers, I used textured vegetable protein (TVP) reconstituted with a veggie boullion (this is less expensive). And I found a vegan mozzarella cheese that I like, so I cut it into chunks instead of shredding it. It was so good! I hoarded it like a miser, denying my earlier desire to share it with my omnivore roommate. But I made a second loaf later in the week for a small dinner party and actually shared that one. (Well! It would've been rude to have people over for dinner and not feed them!) The omnivores liked it, too. The rest of the menu included mashed potatoes and a rich, chocolate cake. Just like mom used to make on Sundays!… only without eggs, milk, cheese, or meat.
Concerned about eating healthily while you eat compassionately? Kramer recommends that you read Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina.