At first glance I didn’t have much interest in The Part-Time Vegan: 201 Yummy Recipes That Put the Fun in Flexitarian; I’m a full-time vegan, so I didn’t really see the point. But once I started cooking—woowee! Cherise Grifoni’s recipes are surprisingly good. It’s not that I doubted Grifoni—I didn’t know anything about her before this. But once you’ve test-driven a lot of cookbooks, you stop expecting to be swept off your feet. And given the title, I expected to be only partially impressed, if that. Boy, was I wrong.
Not only is the book full of great recipes, it’s an easy “read.” Grifoni’s tone is conversational and jokey; flipping through her cookbook is like catching up with your smart-ass friend from college…albeit one who’s way off base about honey. And her approach to veganism can be a little confusing. She definitely doesn’t want to be seen as a preachy vegan, so she promotes a take-it-or-leave-it approach. And she doesn’t seem to want to pass up the occasional pastry just because it’s not vegan (she went vegan when she realized dairy was the culprit behind her migraines). But she also dedicates an entire chapter to Veganism 101, in which she provides a lot of great information. And how can you argue with statements like, “I’m here to let people know that even small changes in your diet towards veganism can help you lead a happier, healthier life”? Maybe it’s all a front, her laissez-faire approach to doing the right thing, to make it more palatable to the masses. A spoonful of sugar and all. Whatever the case, two of the three recipes I tried knocked my socks off, so at least as far as her food goes, I’m sold.
The first dish I tried was Honey Mustard and Balsamic Vinegar Green Beans. This side of green beans and broccoli cooked in onions and garlic and seasoned with (ahem) Dijon mustard and topped with nutritional yeast was really tasty. Next time I’ll go a little lighter on the mustard, but overall the flavor was nice, and it was a great way to bring green beans into my regular cooking repertoire. It wasn’t my favorite dish of the bunch, but it was certainly solid. The most baffling thing about it, though, was the serving size: Grifoni says it serves one, but my husband and I shared it and still had some left over.
Honey Mustard and Balsamic Vinegar Green Beans, minus the Honey.
Then it was onto the entree: Orange-Glazed “Chicken” Tofu, which Grifoni promised would be reminiscent of Chinese food. She wasn’t wrong. By the time the firm tofu was cooked down in the garlic, Bragg’s (the recipe calls for soy), orange juice, maple syrup and red pepper flakes, it had that almost-stringy, piecey look of braised chicken you find in some of the dishes at your favorite Chinese restaurant. But on their own merits, the texture and taste were perfect: not too firm or soft, with just the right balance of tangy and sweet. This was a radical departure from how I’ve cooked tofu in the past, and I will definitely make this dish again…and again. It’s something I could see eating cold, straight out of the fridge (that is, if there are ever any leftovers). Again, serving size seemed not to apply: Grifoni says this dish serves three, but the two of us gobbled it up without leaving a scrap behind.
The Orange-Glazed “Chicken” Tofu is similar to what you’d find at a Chinese restaurant, except you’re not hungry again an hour later.
But the highlight of the evening was the Chocolate Graham Cracker Candy Bars. (How many of the words in that title set my heart to racing?) When you’re first putting it together, it seems simple, so again, I didn’t expect much. But when I took my first bite, midstep between the kitchen and the living room, I literally stopped in my tracks and yelled, “Holy crap!” Yes, they’re that good. Even with some alterations. I couldn’t find vegan graham crackers to save my life (there’s that honey issue again), so I substituted Annie’s Chocolate Bunny Grahams. (FYI, roughly six bunnies equals one graham cracker.) Lining up the buns foot to foot and head to butt, I created a bottom sandwich layer, which I covered with cashew butter, then topped with six more chocolate rabbits. Because I was using bunny bites instead of one large cracker, I couldn’t pick the sandwiches up and dip them, as instructed, in the melted chocolate chips and Earth Balance, so instead I coated them with a layer of the stuff, then topped half of the goodies with coconut and the other half with coconut and chopped walnuts. This might not sound groundbreaking, but let me tell you this: These babies are divine. And after being refrigerated for a while, they harden and can be eaten like the sandwiches they were intended to be. But leave room, because you’ll find it hard to eat just one. Between the gooeyness of the chocolate and the cashew butter, the crunch of the cookies, and the softness of the coconut, there isn’t a whole lot more to say than, “O-M-G!” OMG indeed.
The only thing I can say about the Chocolate Graham Cracker Candy Bars is, “Holy crap!”
I’ll give it to Grifoni: She knows her way around the kitchen. And the cookbook: All of her recipes are labeled to make it easy to find what you’re looking for (high in fiber or protein, quick to make, or flexitarian, or easily made with nonvegan ingredients). She’s also included a section of Dinner Plans: an Appetizer, Main Course and Dessert whose marriage she’s already arranged. The Chocolate Graham Cracker Candy Bars are the dessert from Dinner Plan #8, the Backyard BBQ Wannabe, which also features Tempeh Dill “Chicken” Salad and Seitan Barbecue “Meat.” Other Plans include Spicy Sweet Cucumber Salad, Caramelized Onion and Barbecue Sauce Pizza, and Maple Date Carrot Cake (#1); Vegan Cheese Ball, No Shepherd, No Sheep Pie, and Tofu Chocolate Pudding (#7); and Strawberry Milkshakes, “Cheesy” Macaroni and “Hamburger” Casserole, and From Scratch Chocolate Cake With Vanilla Icing (#10). How much easier could she make it?
I might not agree with everything Grifoni says, but good vegan food can do as much, if not more, than a reasonable argument to change people’s hearts and minds. So while she might not have set out to expressly convert anyone, I think a lot more people will be eating animal-free thanks to her amazing vegan recipes.