When I first started thumbing through the pages of David Stowell and George Black’s The Veganopolis Cookbook: A Manual for Great Vegan Cooking, I was excited. The 70 recipes, taken from those served at Stowell and Black’s former restaurant, the Veganopolis Cafeteria, take you on a culinary tour of the world: Ardennes-Style Vegan Scalloped Potatoes, African Yam and Peanut Soup With Fresh Ginger, Blackened Tofu Etoufée, Stuffed Paisano Roast, Moroccan Vegetable Tagine With Preserved Lemon and Almonds, Moussaka, and Vegan Coq au Vin. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, there’s more: City Cinnamon Pecan Rolls, Stuffed Baby Pumpkins, Butter Bean and Walnut Chorizo, Broiled Sesame Ginger Tofu Sandwich, Roadhouse Vegan Burgers… I could go on.
My mission is always to get more greens in my diet, so I decided to start with the Cajun Slow-Cooked Greens: collards cooked with onion, celery and bell pepper, and seasoned with garlic and onion powders, white and black peppers (I didn’t have any white), cayenne, nutmeg and liquid smoke. The greens get cooked down for 30 minutes, so it’s not a quick steam-and-serve type of side. But the stewy result is worth the wait: The collards were hearty and flavorful. They were also a little peppery for my taste—and that’s with having added only the black pepper. But it was a nice departure from my usual steamed kale with Earth Balance, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. My main issue with the recipe, though, is that the instructions don’t say when to add the stock. It’s easy enough to figure out; all of the other ingredients are used in the order in which they’re listed. But I’d rather not play a game of fill-in-the-blank while I’m testing a recipe. Still, the dish was quite tasty, and I’d make it again, although with considerably less pepper.
The Cajun Slow-Cooked Greens were hearty but a little peppery for my palate.
As far as main dishes go, there was a lot to choose from. I was short on time, so I opted for something a little less involved, the Vegan “Bacon” Loaf: vital wheat gluten, kidney beans, liquid smoke, maple syrup and seasonings. I’d never worked with wheat gluten before, so I was surprised to see how gummy it becomes when it’s combined with liquid—now I understand why bread is so hard on your system! And it was a major pain in the ass to clean up.
Boy, does this stuff get sticky!
All that aside, the “Bacon” Loaf was tasty, and a great alternative to store-bought seitan, if not bacony tasting. And unlike the side dish, it was on the underseasoned side. At first I mixed it with the greens, to see if the overpeppered collards and underseasoned loaf would balance each other out; all I tasted was pepper.
The Vegan “Bacon” Loaf is a tasty, seitan-like main, even if it’s not very bacony tasting.
A couple of days later, I sautéed leftover slices of the loaf in onions and barbecue sauce, placed it on toasted Italian bread and topped it with vegan cheese—the result was pretty damn amazing: It smelled and tasted just like faux barbecue spare ribs (with cheese). So this was how the bready Loaf should be served! With a thick, tasty sauce. Here again, though, the instructions left me scratching my head: Once the dry ingredients are mixed, you add the “remaining stock,” but then later, before placing the loaf in the oven, you add a mixture of lemon juice and the “remaining stock” to the cooking pan.
Guys, what do you have against clarifying how much stock to use and when?
I’m not a huge sandwich fan, but this one—Vegan “Bacon” Loaf cooked with onions and barbecue sauce and topped with vegan cheese on toasted Italian bread—was absolutely divine.
For dessert I went for the Double Evil Brownies: spelt flour, firm tofu, cocoa, rice milk and sugar, with optional chocolate chips. They were very good—sweet but not overly so, and rich without being overwhelming—though I wouldn’t necessarily call them Double Evil, or even plain old Evil. And I wonder how chocolatey they would have been had I left out the chips. Of course, it wouldn’t be me in the kitchen if something weren’t slightly amiss. I didn’t have a hand mixer, so I used a fork to combine the ingredients; this means that every few bites or so, a little nugget of unmashed firm tofu makes itself known. So I suggest you do whatever it takes to procure a hand mixer if you decide to make these brownies. That said, they’re a nice treat, if not the most decadent things I’ve ever tasted.
Chocolate and sugar. ’Nuff said.
All in all, my experience with The Veganopolis Cookbook was mixed. But the range of recipes in the book is enough to warrant another go-round. Next on my list might be the Ecuadorian Yapingachos: seasoned potatoes stuffed with cheese, topped with an onion-pepper-peanut butter sauce and served with a side of avocado. Thankfully there’s no stock to worry about, and I’ll be sure to go easy on the pepper.