By Pam Linn


Speed Vegan no longer an oxymoron

Yesterday it snowed all day. Not a blizzard, but the kind of small dry flakes people in the northeast wish they had. It was a perfect day to cook, after the Sunday talk shows finished pontificating about turmoil in Egypt.

My daughter had loaned me her new favorite: “Speed Vegan: quick, easy recipes with a gourmet twist” by Alan Roettinger, a private chef of note. Betty was a confirmed omnivore existing on the typical American diet: meat, potato chips, white bread, etc. until last year when her quest for health pushed her close to the brink of veganism.

The author had a similar epiphany during the research and writing of this book. When the book was completed but before going to press, he began eating a strict vegan diet.

“After only a few weeks, I can say unequivocally that my body is ecstatic with the change,” he wrote. “I have more energy, I need less sleep, and in my athletic activities, I feel invincible!”

This would sound amazing to me if I hadn’t had pretty much the same experience. After giving up meat several decades ago, I was still eating a diet high in dairy and chicken, and I still had significant pain at the site of old injuries. Following an anti-inflammatory diet dispatched those stubborn aches in less than three weeks. Like Roettinger, I gained back the energy I thought had been lost to aging. “Invincible” in athletics? Well, maybe not so much.

Anyway, I wanted to make Betty’s favorite soup, Leek and Parsnip, but discovered I had neither and didn’t want to go out. So I curled up in my favorite chair and began to read. Now the recipes don’t begin until page 38 as Roettinger devotes the beginning to essential kitchen equipment, stocking the vegan pantry with what he calls, Jump Starts: sauces and other things that store well and make assembling meals easy and delicious.

Among my favorites are Sundried Tomato Paste, Roasted Garlic Puree and Balsamic Vinaigrette.

This introduction prepares the reader and would-be cook for the author’s sharp wit and general good humor, attributes not found in some otherwise great cookbooks. After an editor suggested some study on the subtle art of punctuation, he read Lynne Truss’s bestseller, hence a snappy title in the salad section: Eating Shoots and Leaves.

Odds and Ends Redux must have been written for my other daughter, who tosses anything near its sell-by date. Among other things, the recipe calls for: “3 cooked ears of slightly dried out corn, rotten kernels dug out; 1 slightly limp zucchini with a few moldy spots; 1 red onion, slightly hairy half cut away; ? bunch slightly wilted cilantro, yellowed and mushy black parts removed; 1? cups carrot juice dangerously close to expiration date.” Hilarious and useful if you live a long way from the market.

In the section on stocking the pantry, the author explains different uses for different types of fats. Under the sub-head, “Shelf Stable Ingredients,” Roettinger lists two with which I was unfamiliar: coconut (Betty’s current favorite) and red palm oils, both extra virgin. Coconut, best for frying, is highly saturated and remains quite firm at room temperature “unless your room in somewhere near the equator,” he writes. Red palm oil, used extensively in Brazilian cooking, is not to be confused with refined dende oil; the standard form of red palm oil used in Brazil, which Roettinger says “may be better suited to lubricating engine parts.

In fact, refined oils should be avoided because they are subjected to high heat and toxic chemicals. He lists almond, olive and flax oils as those needing refrigeration, along with explanations about the term extra virgin, the first pressing after which the refining process strips out nutrients and leaves damaged molecules. “Trust me,” he writes, “you don’t want to eat any refined oil. Ever.”

Most of the recipes that require sweetening call for agave nectar, which comes from the same plant as tequila. This, and maple syrup, are my faves. However, Roettinger cautions that agave nectar “is a far cry from fresh agave juice.” The processing “not only destroys enzymes and removes minerals but also yields a highly refined product.” The product I buy is labeled Organic Raw Blue Agave. Wouldn’t that be unprocessed? Looks like I need to do some more research on this.

Anyway, I’m making a new grocery list that includes leeks and parsnips for the soup and dozens of other ingredients I’ve just learned about. “Speed Vegan” earns a place on my bookshelf beside Michael Pollan’s books and Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Of course, her recipes may take a whole day to prepare and are surely not vegan friendly. C’est la vie!