marenIn September 2015, I pulled out the most intimidating (and least used) cookbook on our bookshelf and challenged myself to make every recipe in the book, come hell or high water. Ten months and two days later, I crossed the finish line. That quest fanned a flame that inspired me to move on to the next cookbook… and the next one after that… and you get the idea.

It’s not as hard as I imagined to prepare complex recipes, and it’s OK to invite people over for dinner when trying new ones. The fellowship is wonderful, and I’ve yet to hear a complaint about the food. Quite the contrary, our friends have been really supportive and complimentary. And they don’t care whether or not the house is neat and tidy.

So, if you’ve got a hankering to experiment in your kitchen, I’ve provided reviews of the eight cookbooks that I’ve explored to date with pictures of the individual recipes. I’ve also shared some of my own recipes along with features on favorite foods.

Bon appétit!

get healthy go vegan

In the introduction to this cookbook, Dr. Neal Barnard sounds the alarm for the medical crises awaiting millions upon millions of American whose dietary habits set the stage for arteriosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, and a host of other life-threatening ailments. He joins with his partner, Chef Robyn Webb, in offering over 100 “easy and delicious recipes [that] will lure with their aromas and flavors” while paving the way to a heathier lifestyle.

We sampled 75% of the book’s low-fat, low-GI (glycemic index), high-nutrient recipes. They were satisfying and easy to make. They also leverage a wide array of ingredients to give the intrepid home chef a good deal of variety in daily, weekly, and monthly meal planning.

If you are new to the whole food plant based diet, the initial chapters of the cookbook cover the science behind the diet as well as helpful tips about making foods to fit your goals. The appendices provide a three-day meal plan, shopping lists, and recommended convenience foods.

I remain a rather hard sell when it comes to breakfast recipes. I’m usually in a hurry to get on with my day and lack the patience to prepare a fancy breakfast. But I did enjoy making Sweet Potato Hash with Peppers, Blueberry Pancakes, and Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal.

Sweet Potato Hash with Peppers
Sweet Potato Hash with Peppers
Banana-Ginger Pancakes
Banana-Ginger Pancakes
Spicy Spinach Frittata
Spicy Spinach Frittata
Spanish-Style Scrambler Wrap
Spanish-Style Scrambler Wrap
Blueberry Pancakes
Blueberry Pancakes
Soy Yogurt Fruit and Granola Parfait
Soy Yogurt Fruit and Granola Parfait
Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal
Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Brunch Burrito with Salsa Fresca
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Brunch Burrito with Salsa Fresca
Marvelous Mango Smoothie
Marvelous Mango Smoothie
Peachy Keen Smoothie
Peachy Keen Smoothie

I’m nearly as lazy about making lunch as I am about fixing breakfast. Our usual midday fare consists of leftovers from prior nights’ dinners. But I really enjoyed the Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime, the Pear and Sweet Potato Soup, and the Spicy Gala Apple, Chickpea, and Mango Chutney Soup.

Udon Noodle Salad
Udon Noodle Salad
Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime
Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime
Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Chowder
Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Chowder
Black Bean Soup with Orange
Black Bean Soup with Orange
Edamame and Quinoa Salad
Edamame and Quinoa Salad
Very Gingery Pear and Sweet Potato Soup
Very Gingery Pear and Sweet Potato Soup
Hopi Corn and Chili Stew
Hopi Corn and Chili Stew
Basmati Rice Burgers with Pinto Beans
Basmati Rice Burgers with Pinto Beans
Cajun Bean Soup
Cajun Bean Soup
Quinoa and Carrot Salad
Quinoa and Carrot Salad
Tempeh Burger with Pineapple Salsa
Tempeh Burgers with Pineapple Salsa
Tempeh Sloppy Joes
Tempeh Sloppy Joes
Black Bean Tartines
Black Bean Tartines
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Lemony Lentil Vegetable Stew
Lemony Lentil Vegetable Stew
Spicy Gala Apple, Chickpea, and Mango Chutney Soup
Spicy Gala Apple, Chickpea, and Mango Chutney Soup
Chickpea Patty with Mango Chutney
Chickpea Patty with Mango Chutney
Minty Black Bean, Jicama, and Cucumber Salad
Minty Black Bean, Jicama, and Cucumber Salad
Red and White Quinoa Pilaf
Red and White Quinoa Pilaf
Wild Rice Pilaf with Roasted Garlic and Spinach
Wild Rice Pilaf with Roasted Garlic and Spinach
Black Bean Cake with Mango Salsa
Black Bean Cakes with Mango Salsa
French Country Stew
French Country Stew
Fire-Roasted Tomato Black Bean Chili
Fire-Roasted Tomato Black Bean Chili
Winter Vegetable Potage
Winter Vegetable Potage
Toasty Tortilla Soup
Toasty Tortilla Soup

This cookbook’s dinner recipes are being tasty and relatively easy to make. Our favorites include Asian Broth with Mushrooms, Tofu, and Ginger, Polenta with Zesty Mushroom Sauce, Trinidadian Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Peas, and Three-Layer Tortilla Casserole.

Fettuccine with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini
Fettuccine with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini
Italian Fusilli with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Artichoke Hearts
Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Artichokes
Cajun Corn and Edamame Sauté
Cajun Corn and Edamame Sauté
Udon Noodles with Shiitake and Cremini Mushrooms
Udon Noodles with Shiitake and Button Mushrooms
Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas in Chili Sauce
Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas in Chili Sauce
Asian Broth with Mushrooms, Tofu, and Ginger
Asian Broth with Mushrooms, Tofu, and Ginger
Caramelized Onions with Lentils and Brown Rice
Caramelized Onions with Lentils and Brown Rice
Cassoulet
Cassoulet
Curried Tempeh Kabobs
Curried Tempeh Kabobs
Grilled Tofu with Smoky Barbecue Sauce
Grilled Tofu with Smoky Barbecue Sauce
Italian Beans and Greens
Italian Beans and Greens
Mixed Vegetable Curry with Whole Wheat Couscous
Mixed Vegetable Curry with Whole Wheat Couscous
Multi-Mushroom Sauce
Multi-Mushroom Sauce
Polenta with Zesty Mushroom Sauce
Polenta with Zesty Mushroom Sauce
Pretty Stuffed Pepper
Pretty Stuffed Pepper
Quinoa Timbale
Quinoa Timbale
Springtime Asparagus and Tofu Stir-Fry
Springtime Asparagus and Tofu Stir-Fry
Stuffed Portobello Mushroom with Brown Rice and Tomatoes
Stuffed Portobello Mushroom with Brown Rice & Tomatoes
Trinidadian Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Peas
Trinidadian Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Peas
Spiced Squash Bisque
Spiced Squash Bisque
Moroccan-Style Pilaf
Moroccan-Style Pilaf
Three-Layer Tortilla Casserole
Three-Layer Tortilla Casserole
Brown Rice, Chickpea, and Vegetable Soup
Brown Rice, Chickpea, and Vegetable Soup
Spicy Red Beans and Brown Rice
Spicy Red Beans and Brown Rice
Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Enchilada Sauce
Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Enchilada Sauce
Sweet Potato and Green Pea Curry over Brown Rice
Sweet Potato and Green Pea Curry over Brown Rice
Vegetable Paella
Vegetable Paella
Ginger Tofu
Ginger Tofu
Black-Eyed Pea and Brown Rice Pilaf with Browned Onions
Black-Eyed Pea and Brown Rice Pilaf with Browned Onions
Cinco de Mayo Black Beans and Rice
Cinco de Mayo Black Beans and Rice
Pan-Grilled Tofu Steak with Spiced Tomato Sauce
Pan-Grilled Tofu Steaks with Spiced Tomato Sauce
Ancho Chili
Ancho Chili
Sweet and Sour Tofu
Sweet and Sour Tofu

Not surprisingly, a physician associated closely with diabetes treatment serves up a rather thin selection of dessert recipes. They were all quite satisfying.

Creamy Fruit Smoothie
Creamy Fruit Smoothie
Fruit Kabobs with Peach Cream Dip
Fruit Kabobs with Peach Cream Dip
Chocolate Cherry Nirvana
Chocolate Cherry Nirvana
Raspberry Cake
Raspberry Cake

I was pleased to find a section at the back of the book geared toward entertaining. Each collective of recipes adhered to a different culinary theme and proved enjoyable for our guests.

Italian Feast

Spinach, Beet, and Orange Salad with Ginger-Agave Dressing
Spinach, Beet, and Orange Salad with Ginger-Agave Dressing
Whole Wheat Pasta with Zucchini and Herbs
Whole Wheat Pasta with Zucchini and Herbs
Multicolored Peppers with Thyme
Multicolored Peppers with Thyme
Grilled Peach with Sweet Balsamic Glaze
Grilled Peached with Sweet Balsamic Glaze

Tapas

Roasted Pepper Bruschetta
Roasted Pepper Bruschetta
Garlic Mushrooms
Garlic Mushrooms
Chickpeas with Onion and Tomato
Chickpeas with Onion and Tomato
Eggplant Salad
Eggplant Salad

Summertime Party

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Saffron Risotto with Peas and Asparagus
Saffron Risotto with Peas and Asparagus
Fennel and Tomato Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette
Fennel and Tomato Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette
Strawberries in Marsala
Strawberries in Marsala

Asian Twist

Lemongrass and Mushroom Soup
Lemongrass and Mushroom Soup
Mixed Greens with Miso Dressing
Mixed Greens with Miso Dressing
Vegetable Lo Mein
Vegetable Lo Mein
Fresh Strawberry Pie
Fresh Strawberry Pie

Growing up, Mom was a big fan of green bell peppers. She stuffed them, stir fried them in a beef and rice dish, and added them to her multi-colored garden salads. Of course, I’ve since learned that they come in yellow, orange, and red, with the latter being my favorite.

red bell pepperPeppers are a low-calorie snack food that I love to eat with hummus. They’re flavorful, far less filling than chips or pita bread, and packed with Vitamins A, C, K, and the mineral potassium. The riper the pepper, the greater its nutritional content.

Since starting our cooking adventure, my husband and I have also discovered the joys of roasting bell peppers. They’ve got a delightfully sweet and delicate flavor. You can purchase them ready-made at the store, but they’re not as tasty as a freshly-made batch. And they’re not hard to make!

I start by preheating the oven to 500˚F. (Note: If I’ve a mind to save energy, I use my toaster oven and set the temperature as high as it will go.)

cut and cleaned red pepper
Wash and dry the outside of the pepper. Slice each in half lengthwise and remove the stems, seeds, and membranes.
oiled red pepper
Coat each pepper with a light film of olive oil and then place the cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.
blistered red pepper
Roast the peppers in the oven until the skins darken and blister (about 15 minutes).
steam the red pepper
Place the blistered peppers in a bowl. Cover the bowl with foil and crimp to create a tight seal. Let the peppers steam for ~15 minutes.
peel skin from roasted pepper
Peel off the skin; use a paring knife to remove any “stubborn” pieces.
roasted peppers
Slice or dice these red gems as dictated by the recipe!

Roasted peppers are delicious all by themselves; just toss them with olive and chopped fresh basil. I use a colorful mixture of sliced roasted peppers as a garnish for risotto. And they’re absolutely delicious when combined with assorted vegetables in an Italian Marinated Vegetable dish.

Italian-marinated-vegetables

 

As one who pursues a predominantly whole-foods, plant-based diet, I like to experiment with different types of beans and different ways of preparing them. My latest adventure features black-eyed peas.

Black-Eyed PeasI lived in the South for well over a decade and noshed on my fair share of black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is thought to bring prosperity in the coming year. By tradition, the peas are cooked with bacon, hambones, or hog jowls along with diced onion and hot sauce (or pepper-flavored vinegar). It’s served with collard, turnip, or mustard greens and ham. The plumped-up peas symbolize growth; greens symbolize money. And because pigs root forward when foraging, their presence suggests positive motion. But since I generally steer clear of meat, I need an alternative treatment.

As luck would have it, black-eyed peas were first domesticated in West Africa. It’s an everyday, year-round staple over there. They eat them fresh, ground, and dried. So I opted to prepare a vegetarian version of the Ghanaian Red Red Stew.

1 pound dried beans
1/2 cup healthy cooking oil
Red Red Stew1 medium-to-large onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon smoked paprika (or to taste)
2 teaspoons kelp granules
1/4 teaspoons chili powder
2-3 cups vegetable stock
3-6 green onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. Pick through the black-eyed peas and discard any foreign objects (e.g., small pebbles). Rinse the beans and place them in a large pot submerged under 3-4 inches of water. Cover and let sit overnight.
  2. Drain the soaked beans, rinse them, and place them in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 40-60 minutes, until the beans are tender but not mushy. (Note: If you prefer using a pressure cooker, cooking time general runs 8-12 minutes.) Drain the beans and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, ginger, garlic, paprika, smoked paprika, kelp granules, and chili powder. Cook while stirring for an additional minute. (Note: Add a little vegetable stock to the pan if the ingredients start sticking.)
  4. Add the beans, green onions, and the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. (Note: You only want to add just enough stock to create the consistency of a hearty stew, not a watery soup.)
  5. Sample the stew and add smoked paprika as needed to make the dish more flavorful.

Ghanaians generally use crayfish in lieu of smoked paprika and kelp granules to produce that salty, smoky flavor. If that’s your preference, use about 1/3 cup of crayfish with or without the smoked paprika and kelp granules. If you like it “hot-ish,” add a whole habanero pepper with the rest of the spices.

Whatever your pleasure, you’ll enjoy a delicious stew while doing your body a big favor. One cup of cooked black-eyed peas contains a mere 200 calories but packs 13 g of protein and 11 g of dietary fiber. It also provides a gaggle of vital micronutrients, notably folate (89% RDA), manganese (41% RDA), phosphorus (27% RDA), iron (24% RDA), thiamine (23% RDA), magnesium (23% RDA), copper (23% RDA), zinc (15% RDA), potassium (14% RDA), and others.

forks over knives

In the Forks Over Knives documentary, Dr. T. Collin Campbell, PhD and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD make a clear and persuasive case for a whole-foods, plant-based diet. The Forks Over Knives Cookbook helps folks embrace this lifestyle by serving up a variety of recipes featuring fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers, and legumes

The first 20ish pages of the book reinforce key messages from the documentary while providing useful tips for outfitting the kitchen. It’s well worth giving this section a close read. Then there are 321 recipes to explore (of which we sampled 241).

Forks Over Knives was the fifth whole-foods, plant-based cookbook that my husband and I explored. It did not turn out to be our favorite. I suspect that in creating such a large compendium, the cookbook was bound to include a lot of recipes that we found less than dazzling. And in fairness, we’ve become far more discerning now that we’ve sampled over 1,200+ recipes on our cooking journey. That being said, we may include 30-40 offerings in our “repeat” file once we stop working our way through cookbooks.

One interesting note: We were tempted to skip the dessert section as we’re watching our waistlines. But we decided to give them a go anyway. It turns out that it’s one of the best sections in the book!