We all have some ideal method of eating in mind, ready to attain after the holiday, weekend or birthday party. Those healthier foods that we know would best suit our body. Whether we adhere to this or not is another story.
I’m sure most of us have had that doctor’s physical which ends with, “and lay off dairy/red meat/processed foods, etc.” I cringe at the word “diet,” but the morning after an evening of margaritas and Cheeto-encrusted mac and cheese bites certainly has me saying, “I’ve got to change my diet!”
Anya Kassoff’s “Simply Vibrant” puts you swiftly into the health aisle — or rather the produce aisle — as all of her recipes are vegetable and fruit heavy. A cookbook offering up amaranth porridge and cauliflower “risotto” doesn’t scare me off anymore; in fact, I welcome it. But I know not everyone is ready to swap out their beef sliders for a mung bean and barley veggie burger.
I’ve got chronic health issues, so food and lifestyle changes are par for the course. Sadly, I’ll not be cured by a change in what I eat and drink, but symptoms are certainly alleviated by swapping a raw salad with spicy cashew cream for those cheese fries and a pint. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, health issues or not.
As Julia Child is credited saying, “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” I figure a healthful cookbook like this one can help me tip the scales of moderation in my favor.
Thankfully, Kassoff isn’t looking to convert you to a food philosophy or wellness lifestyle; she’s simply offering up recipes she’s found work for her body. Or better yet, allow her body to work. Food is, after all, fuel.
Her pantry is stocked with sprouted grains and flours, nuts, seeds and sea vegetables (aka seaweed). She limits eggs and cheeses but states that a soft-boiled egg or sprinkling of cheese is an easy addition. She does specify “farm egg” (I assume she means farm-fresh and locally sourced) and “good-quality cheese,” so nix the Velveeta.
Kassoff has found a way to enjoy fueling her body while cooking with the seasons and keeping to local and, if possible, organic produce. This is a predominantly vegan cookbook, most of it also gluten free. Not being vegan myself, I still enjoy a vegan cookbook because it often puts more into flavoring a bounty of vegetables, and adding a little meat is pretty easy. With a cookbook like this, I consider meat — if I even miss it — just a condiment.
Eating as Kassoff does, you’ll eat with the seasons, want to grow ingredients in your own garden (or window) and find that spending a little more on a little less will get you better flavor and most likely a healthier product.
I tend to test a cookbook by taking on what sounds like the more bizarre flavor combinations and seeing if they really work. Test subjects in “Simply Vibrant” included creamy steel oats with rainbow chard and pine nuts — a savory breakfast bowl — and the warm salad of roasted cauliflower, grapes and forbidden black rice.
I tried the warm and savory oat bowl and was a bit surprised just how much I liked it. This fell a tad on the plain side, but I found the concept intriguing. The steel-cut oats worked like some sort of breakfast “risotto.” The dish would work well with a crumble of bacon or topped with a fried egg.
More approachable recipes are those like the naked taco bowl — perfect for hotter days when I have no desire to be in the kitchen — and the sweet potato chocolate brownies, which hide their vegetal flavor in the sweet chocolate and offer a gooey vegan brownie made without the requisite eggs. There’s also a simple red rice and lacinato kale risotto — several recipes riff on this classic dish — and my kids gave a big thumbs up to the teff and apple pancakes made with aquafaba, an egg substitute using the liquid reserve from a can of beans, usually chickpeas.
I won’t fib and say I didn’t miss my pint of stout with dinner, but my body was surely the better for it. Fueling myself with the produce aisle and keeping shy of the snacks in crinkly bags isn’t a novel concept, but finding ways to sneak healthful grains into breakfast and extra veggies into dessert can be that welcome change in eating — OK, diet — my body craves.
Teff and apple pancakes
These are dense, with a bran muffin-like quality and the caramelized apples pair well with the teff. If the only aquafaba you can find is salted, just reduce or omit the salt in the recipe. You can sub demerara sugar for the coconut sugar and cow’s milk for the plant milk.
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm almond milk or other plant milk
¼ cup neutral coconut oil, melted, plus more for frying
1 tablespoon maple syrup, plus more for serving
Pinch of salt
1¼ cup teff flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup aquafaba (from 1 can of garbanzo beans)
½ teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
2-3 small apples, cored and thinly sliced
Coconut sugar, for sprinkling
Cinnamon, for sprinkling
Combine almond milk with coconut oil, maple syrup and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
Sift teff flour and baking powder into the same bowl. Mix to combine into a batter with a wooden spoon.
Pour aquafaba into another medium bowl and beat with a hand mixer for 1 minute, until fluffy. Add in lemon juice/vinegar without stopping the mixer. Beat until stiff peaks start to form, about 6 minutes. Fold aquafaba fluff into the teff batter, taking care not to overmix.
Warm 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Start frying the pancakes, measuring about 2 tablespoons of batter per pancake. Lightly press 2-3 apple slices into each pancake and sprinkle with coconut sugar.
Reduce the heat slightly, and fry pancakes until bubbly throughout, with the edges slightly dried and golden, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side for about 1-2 minutes, until golden.
Continue to cook the pancakes in batches, adding 1 teaspoon of coconut oil for each batch, until all batter is used up. Sprinkle with cinnamon if using.
Serve with maple syrup, honey and/or plain yogurt. Makes 8-10 pancakes.
Creamy steel cut oats with rainbow chard and pine nuts
There are a lot of “empty the veggie drawer” options here — use kale or collards instead of chard or add in fried tomatoes, herbs, garlic or shallots. You can use cow’s milk instead of plant milk. Add a crumble of bacon and top it off with a poached or fried egg.
2 tablespoon neutral coconut oil or ghee, divided
1 cup steel cut oats
3 cups hot water
1 cup almond or coconut milk
¼ cup pine nuts
5-7 rainbow chard leaves, leaves and stems separated and chopped
Warm 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add steel cut oats and toast until golden and fragrant.
Add 3 cups of hot water and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a slow simmer and let cook, covered, for 25 minutes. Stir periodically to prevent oats from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add almond milk and simmer, partially covered, for another 15 minutes. Keep stirring periodically to prevent any sticking. Go on to the next steps to cook pine nuts and chard.
While oats are cooking, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saute pan over medium low heat. Add a pinch of salt and pine nuts and toast them for about 2 minutes, until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Increase heat to medium, add reserved chard stems and saute for about 5 minutes, until soft. Stir stems into the porridge, once it’s cooked. At the same time, stir in chard leaves, remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes, allowing the chard to wilt.
Distribute between bowls to serve, garnish with toasted pine nuts. Serves 4-6.
— Reprinted from “Simply Vibrant” by Anya Kassoff with permission from Roost Books.
“Simply Vibrant: All-Day Vegetarian Recipes for Colorful Plant-Based Cooking”
By Anya Kassoff
Roost Books. 336 pages. $35.
Who should buy this? Those who like keeping to meatless days more than just Mondays. Anyone looking to overhaul their pantry with goodies from the health foods aisle.