Two vegetarian cookbooks bite the dust

December 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm (Cookbook reviews, Crescent Dragonwagon, The Vegan Gourmet)

I am a collector of cookbooks, but a principled one.  I believe that a cookbook that is not cooked from is a cookbook whose purpose is unfulfilled.  If I don’t cook from a cookbook, then I shouldn’t own it.  I also believe in finishing cookbooks.  My ultimate goal is to finish every cookbook I own, where “finishing” means making every recipe that appeals to me.  (In other words, I can skip the recipes for eggplant parmigiana and blue cheese and artichoke ravioli.)  I try not to buy too many cookbooks, as I always feel guilty about all the cookbooks I already own that go untouched.  Still, sometimes my principles lapse a little and I buy myself a new present.  Other times, friends or family give me new cookbooks.  It’s two of these gifted cookbooks that I’ve been holding onto for years that finally bit the dust.

The first cookbook was Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian. This cookbook is massive.  I don’t think TSA would let you on a plane with it, for fear you might use it as a weapon.  I think for me, that was its biggest downfall.  I felt like there was no hope that I would ever finish the cookbook, so it was hard for me to get started.  There were so many recipes, it was hard to choose one to try.  Over the years I did occasionally pull it out, and probably made at least a half dozen recipes from it.  None of them were stellar, and some were truly duds.  I know a lot of people love this cookbook, and love Crescent’s down-home, Southern spunk.  But it just wasn’t for me.  I’ve donated the cookbook to the library of a fellow vegetarian.

The second cookbook to get “let go” this month is a slim volume with only 120 recipes:  The Vegan Gourmet (2nd ed.) by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay.  The authors of this cookbook appear to have interpreted gourmet as meaning “a little odd.”  The recipes are definitely different:   They put dried peaches in their chili, black beans on their pizza, and suggest a pilaf with olives, tarragon, and pecans.  I have nothing against creative combinations, but unfortunately most of the recipes I tried weren’t that exciting, and a few were just plain bad.  The reviews on Amazon are mostly positive, but a few echo my feelings:

I’ve tried about 8 of the most interesting-looking recipes in the book, and haven’t been terribly impressed with them. Most of them have left me with a feeling of ‘well, that’s ok, but not really great.’…. overall I found the recipes required too much effort and too much “adjusting” for what I got out of them.

The recipes looked promising, but every time I tried one–from pilafs to beans–I was sorely disappointed. What the recipes lack is real flavor. They’re surprisingly bland, and hardly “gourmet.”

I really wanted to like this cookbook.  It’s a slim, approachable volume full of healthy, interesting, vegan recipes.  The recipes focus on vegetables, grains, and beans, which I appreciated, and the fat and salt levels are always reasonable (sometimes quite low even).  The book itself and the layouts and fonts are quite nice.  And the recipes are certainly intriguing.  In fact, there are so many interesting looking recipes that I haven’t yet tried that I’ve had trouble giving this cookbook up.  However, given that I’ve made over fifteen recipes from the cookbook, with only one clear keeper, I think it’s time to cut loose.  Below is a run down of most of the recipes I’ve tried.  Most of these were before the birth of this blog, and so were never documented herein.

  1. couscous salad with dried tomato vinaigrette was a bit greasy, and the flavors were a little harsh.  I prefer other grain salads on my blog to this one.
  2. Marinated garbanzo salad with zucchini and olives was good, but not great.  Most of the flavor came from the olives.  The salad looked pretty, but needed more pizzazz.
  3. The cannellini beans in mint marinade had 3/4 cup dressing and only 3.5 cups beans.  Derek really liked the combination of mint and lemon with the beans, but I found the dressing to be overwhelming.
  4. Black-eyed peas, corn, and toasted walnuts with spicy/sweet vinaigrette was fine, but the onion was overpowering.  Otherwise the combination was fine, but a little odd with the mustard and orange and sweeteners.
  5. The spicy chili beans with tempeh and dried peaches was totally tasteless.  There wasn’t enough chili powder  (2 teaspoons?), salt, or spice.  The dried peaches added a nice, fruity touch, and the adzuki beans in the chili were good as well.  I couldn’t really taste the 1/2 cup of orange juice or the 1 Tbs. molasses.
  6. The hominy and tomatillo stew with pumpkin seeds is my favorite recipe from this cookbook.  It’s extremely green, and quite salty, but really interesting tasting.  The addition of the sorrel really adds a nice sour note.  I like to serve small servings of this soup as an appetizer before a Mexican meal.
  7. The okra, corn, and tofu gumbo was not bad.  It was spicy, but otherwise rather bland.
  8. The braised turnips with chives and parsley were bland, and tasted an awful lot like turnips. (I’m not a huge turnip fan, although I really shouldn’t hold that against the recipe.)
  9. The sesame sweet potato saute with hijiki had potential.  I liked the comination of the sweet potatoes with sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, and green onions.  Even the hijiki was pretty good.  However, I had trouble with the stir-frying instructions.  My sweet potatoes just did not soften up in the 2-3 minutes of steaming that the recipe calls for.  Maybe I didn’t julienne the sweet potatoes finely enough.
  10. The peas and orzo with olives, tarragon, and pecans just didn’t work for me.  The various flavors simply didn’t mesh.  I did like the combination of peas and pasta.
  11. The soba noodles with shredded vegetables and spicy peanut sauce was simply not peanut saucy enough for us.
  12. The beets and greens with bulgur and miso tahini sauce was not a success.  The sauce completely overpowered the delicate flavor of the beets, and even if there had been less sauce, I just didn’t think the flavors went well together.
  13. The soft polenta with corn kernels and sage was a solid (if standard) flavor combination, but the polenta wasn’t seasoned enough for us.  Maybe it just needed more salt.  Undersalted polenta is quite bland.
  14. The baked millet and sweet potato patties with spinach and cilantro sauce were pretty bad.  The texture of the patties was fine, but we did not care for the flavor at all.  The lime juice combined with oregano, garlic, and chili powder just tasted nasty.  The cilantro spinach sauce was also funky tasting.
  15. The ginger lemon tempeh stir fry tasted perfect the first time I made it–like real authentic Chinese food.  However, the second time I made it it came out bland, and too sweet.  I’m not sure what I did differently.
  16. The creamy fruit smoothie with flaxseeds and molasses is good.  The recipe is pretty straightforward, but very nutritious: 2 cups of soymilk, 1.5 cups of fruit, 1 large banana, 1/4 cup flaxseeds, and 1 Tbs. blackstrap.
  17. Tempeh rancheros were very pretty but tasted like raw tempeh with the ranchero flavors added on top.  The flavors were too strong and didn’t blend together well.


  1. Mr.Volt said,

    and another one “bites the dust”

  2. Kelley said,

    This is a really good idea. I have a few cookbooks that I never use, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.
    I am thinking that the only “purging motivation” will be if I run out of room on my cookbook shelf and need space for a new gem.

    • captious said,

      Yes, it is certainly a lot easier to buy a new cookbook than to let an old one go. Perhaps I should only let myself buy a new cookbook if I first get rid of an old one.

  3. Texas Tofu Chili | The captious vegetarian said,

    […] spicy chili beans with tempeh and dried peaches from the Vegan […]

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