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Cooking the Short List Way: The 4-Ingredient Vegan

I’m not the greatest cook in the world, but I enjoy preparing food. I’d do it more often if I could—I’ve been eating way too much takeout lately—but I have a crazy job with long hours that leaves me really tired at the end of the day. So when a cookbook like Maribeth Abrams’ The 4-Ingredient Vegan comes along, I’m all over it.

Caveat: While most of the recipes in the book call for four ingredients or fewer, some require a few more; water, salt, pepper, and oil/margarine are exempted from the count. Just FYI.

The first dish I made was Asparagus in Corn Sauce. I love the aromatic flavor that comes through no matter what you do to asparagus, and corn is nature’s candy! So this dish seemed like a no-brainer. The sauce, a blend of corn, celery and cumin, is poured over lightly steamed asaparagus, and the dish is baked for half an hour. Some of the sweetness of the corn cooked off, so it didn’t overwhelm the asparagus, which stayed true to its natural flavor. The next time I make this, though, I’ll bake it for a shorter period of time so that the asparagus doesn’t wither quite so much. But the baking process browns the sauce nicely and imparts a bit of a crust around the edges, so maybe I’ll cook the sauce a little before spooning it over the veggies, then bake the rest of the way. In any case, this was a good start.

The Asparagus in Corn Sauce was slightly sweet and very asparagusy, though a little on the wilty side.

Next up was Hefty Greens: kale boiled for a minute in very little water, then cooked down with sausage that’s been fried for about five (I used Field Roast Apple Sage) and seasoned with tamari (to avoid the alcohol and added salt, I used Bragg Liquid Aminos instead). Full disclosure: The recipe calls for water chestnuts, but, um, I forgot to buy some. Never the less, the dish was a hit. I mean, you’d have to be pretty incompetent to screw this one up, wouldn’t you? Delicious-on-its-own faux sausage plus my favorite greens of all time, seasoned on the slightly salty side? ’Nuff said.

You can’t go wrong with Hefty Greens…that is, unless you forget the water chestnuts. In any case, yum!

I rounded out the meal with Halvah. Abrams’ version is made with tahini, of course, but also with cashew butter and vanilla extract and is sweetened with dates. (I didn’t use the optional agave; the dates made it sweet enough.) It tasted amazing, the distinct tahini flavor reminding me of the halvah my mom used to buy. What disappointed me, though, was that the halvah never solidified enough so that it could be sliced; it ended up more like a wet cookie dough, despite the fact that I refrigerated it for three hours, as instructed. Maybe next time instead of stirring the tahini, I’ll keep it separated from its oil and see if that makes the halvah any more solid. In any case, it was delicious, so if I have to use a spoon to eat it, so be it.

The Halvah tasted amazing! Too bad the consistency wasn’t right…

Overall the dishes were tasty, even if they didn’t turn out quite as I expected them to. I don’t know if the mixed results were the fault of my less-than-stellar culinary skills or of the recipes, but in the end, a good meal was had. Next I’d love to try the Hot Spiced Apples and Spinach Casserole, though I live in fear of the phyllo—I’ve heard that it can be tough to work with.

Aside from the texture’s being off in two of the recipes, my main complaints about the book are that there are no pictures (maybe Abrams is as bad a food stylist and photographer as I am?), and that so many of the main dish recipes don’t seem like recipes at all: Barbecue Tempeh is simply tempeh cooked with store-bought barbecue sauce; Classic-Style Pierogies are store-bought pierogies cooked in onion and served with sour cream; etc. That said, I’d definitely recommend The 4-Ingredient Vegan to anyone who wants to keep things simple without sacrificing flavor. If done right, less can definitely be more.

Do you have a favorite recipe that doesn’t require a lengthy shopping list? Share it with us in the comments section!

Update: The Halvah has now been in the fridge for two days, and it’s a lot more solid than it was after the recommended three hours, so maybe a longer refrigeration period would help. I also wonder if, instead of stirring the tahini to recombine the oil and solids that had separated in the jar, using just the solids might give the treat more of its trademark consistency. If you have any experience making sliceable halvah, please let us know what you did differently!

Update 2: That solidity lasted only as long as the Halvah was in the fridge. Back to the drawing board.

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