There have been a lot of vegan and vegan-adjacent cookbooks published over the last decade as many of us move towards a plant-based diet.
Obviously some of these books have been better than others. Some are encyclopedic in nature. Others, for better or for worse, take a single vegan slice. Of the books that try to be all things to all people, I haven’t seen one of the newest generation of vegan cookbooks do it quite so well as food blogger Gaz Oakley’s Vegan 100 (Quadrille).
Like a lot of vegan cookbooks, Vegan 100 delivers delicious, brightly colored recipes using fresh food with few ingredients. It’s all good stuff. Also like a lot of books, the photography is sharp and the instructions are clear. What sets Vegan 100 apart, though, are the basics. Oakley simply does them better than everyone else. In fact, the first recipe chapter is called “Essentials” and provides very good recipes for all those basics many other books just instruct you to buy.
And so we have recipes for almond or cashew milk; and vegan butter, cream cheese, and crème fraiche. There is a meltable mozzarella, a basic homemade pasta, a Nutella-like hazelnut spread, a very good mayonnaise that will become one of my personal staples forever, barbecue sauce, a couple of ketchups, a few pastries, a vegetable stocks, a very good, very easy egg replacement and a nut butter. All vegan, of course. In short, Oakley’s Essentials chapter is worth the price of admission and, at that, we’re only just getting started.
Oakley calls himself the Avant Garde Vegan but, to my mind, there’s nothing especially avant garde here. This is the good stuff, done right. If you could have only one vegan cookbook, you would do very well to choose this one.
One of the things Oakley does right is create working vegan versions of non-vegan favorites, then share all his secrets on how to make them successfully. And so we have not one, but two very good bacon alternatives — Smoky Tempeh “Bacon” and a “bacon” made with eggplant. Oakley also does pancakes and burger and pizzas and wraps. And he doesn’t do them in a way that makes a mockery of the original. Rather his riffs on traditional junk and fun foods are gorgeously healthy real food alternatives: like recreations of foodie favorites, done perhaps the way they should have been created in the first place.
A terrific example of this is Oakley’s Epic Raw Lasagne. It is, as Oakley promises, “delightfully light, nutritious and refreshing.” Is lasagna even supposed to be any of those things? And yet it is… plus satisfying, as well.
Satisfying is key here, I think. These are all of our favorites reinvented using vegan ingredients, and not in a cheesy way: all of this is good food, beautifully handled and presented. ◊
Linda L. Richards is an author and journalist and the editor of January Magazine.