Sometimes you just gotta live outside your comfort zone. By comfort zone, we mean cooking the same weeknight chicken fajitas over and over – not that there’s anything wrong with it! Although we don’t claim to be vegan experts, we thought we would test some vegan recipes with the best selling “Isa Does it” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Isa is the author of the previously successful “Veganomicon”. This author’s motto is very clearly stated in the first paragraph of her writing: “To get you into the kitchen, cooking satisfying meals with fresh ingredients any day of the week”. Well, that line had us hooked!
Isa starts by explaining her cooking journey and it is refreshing to note that she is not a professional chef. She admits to growing up on hamburger helper and frozen food and even disliked spending time in the kitchen. She relates to many of us who do not want to spend hours and hours in the kitchen making extravagant spreads, but just easy delicious food that gets on the table in a timely fashion.
The first few pages make for some fun reading. Isa includes her must have tools and gadgets such as a good quality blender and immersion blender. Her favourite simple tools include a solid wooden cutting board and a proper chef’s knife. She stresses the importance of stocking your pantry correctly and we like that she categorizes her spices that she uses all the time versus just some of the time. She provides simple ways to organize your pantry in a non fuss type of way. We like her “Vegan Butchery” section, designed to teach you how to correctly cube and triangle vegan protein options such as tofu and tempeh with easy to read pictures and steps. The rest of the cookbook is organized into interesting sections of food such as “Handheld” – including different types of burgers, “Sunday night suppers”, which are comfort meals and “Bowls”, such as a hummus bowl, spinach burrito bowl, etc.
So what did we try? A bunch of recipes! When one recipe turns out great, you feel like trying more and more and there are lots of great reviews online which is always a plus. We gave her Pesto Cauliflower Soup, Tofu Mushroom Stragonoff, and Malai Kofta a whirl and were pleasantly surprised with each meal. Isa makes vegan cooking seem delicious and instead of reverting back to soy for every meal, as one might imagine vegan cooking to be, she makes it versatile using different things like cashews, tempeh and of course lots of tofu.
As with any cookbook, there are just a few points that we weren’t thrilled at. Perhaps Isa touched on this in her other cookbooks, but we wanted to know what drove her to become vegan. Was it allergy related? Did she grow up eating only vegan? Not sure, but we would have liked to hear the story. Also in her special tools section, she describes a must have tool as a thin metal spatula. We would love to see what this spatula actually looks like! Finally, while we enjoyed the recipes that contained cashews for a creamy base, anybody with a nut allergy might find it hard to work with.
“Isa does it” is an easy light read that is also charmingly witty and humourous. We sense a “punk rock” side to Isa that might be different from any other cook you encounter and the number of recipes we made that actually turned out have us experimenting with Meatless Mondays. Although we can’t say we would go full throttle Vegan, Isa might just open your eyes to the possibilities of flavor, ease and the simplicity of cooking and baking for your loved ones.
Here is a favourite from the cookbook:
Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Beans and Greens
This creamy soup just become a summer time staple in your home. It is full of rich pesto flavour, a creamy (cauliflower base!) sauce, dotted with white beans, soft pillowy gnocchi and healthy greens! Not to mention it comes together very easily and you might even clean out your fridge and pantry as a result. Enjoy, it’s a good one!
Makes 4-6 servings
Taken from Isa Does it
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small head cauliflower (about a pound), leaves removed, cut into florettes
4 cups vegetable broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
Big pinch dried thyme
Lots of fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, plus a little extra for garnish
8 oz frozen gnocchi, partially thawed (leave on the counter for 30 minutes or so)
1 15 oz can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 small bunch swiss chard, stems discarded, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
Preheat a 4 quart stock pot over medium heat. Saute garlic in olive oil for about a minute, being careful not to let it burn. Add cauliflower, 3 cups of broth (alert! only 3 of the cups! you’ll be adding the last cup in a bit), salt, thyme and several dashes fresh black pepper. Cover pot and bring to a boil, stirring every now and again for about 10 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender.
Vigorously mix together the final cup of broth and the arrowroot until dissolved. Lower heat a bit so that the soup is at a slow boil. Mix in the broth/arrowroot and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes until slightly thickened. stirring often. Add the basil leaves, and remove from heat. Use a immersion blender to puree until smooth. Taste for salt and seasoning.
Return to the stove over medium heat and add the gnocchi, cover and let cook for 3 minutes or so. Add the greens and beans and cook until greens are completely wilted and beans are heated through, about 5 more minutes. Be careful as you stir not to crush the gnocchi or beans. Serve garnished with extra basil and pine nuts, if you like.