My first introduction to Nava Atlas was when a friend gave me a copy of Vegetariana: A Rich Harvest of Wit, Lore, and Recipes several years ago. While I was browsing at a local bookstore recently, I ran across Vegan Holiday Kitchen and was drawn in by the gorgeous photos and recipes; I was particularly intrigued by the Jewish vegan updates of beloved classics like sweet noodle kugel, tzimmes, matzoh balls and challah.
Nava was kind enough to send a review copy, and I promptly singled out four test recipes: massaged kale salad, skinny figgy bars, citrus-roasted tofu, and the chocolate orange cake. The kale salad was delicious and easily modified; I’ve been making it with mustard greens and candied ginger since it lends itself to experimentation with other dried fruits, greens, and seeds / nuts. It takes only moments to throw together, and is a perfect last-minute side dish for a potluck or party.
The skinny figgy bars are a guilt-free update on Fig Newtons; a paste of figs and dates is perked up by a touch of lemon juice, cinnamon and ginger; the filling would make a great jam or spread on its own (I soaked the dates in hot water to soften them before adding them to the food processor). The quick-oat crust almost seemed too wet upon mixing, but baked up tender and moist. I also made the optional orange drizzle, which gave the bars an additional boost of citrus that complemented the lemon juice in the filling.
For the citrus-roasted tofu, I used Italian bitter orange marmalade, which is then mixed with dry mustard, soy sauce, and pepper. I left out the carrot and almond garnish, as well as the tarragon and curry powder, since I wanted the flavor focus to be on the citrus. One caveat: I didn’t leave enough space between the slices of tofu while baking, so the edges didn’t get as crispy as I would have liked. The final flavor was great, though, and I will definitely make this again using a larger roasting pan and would consider making 1.5 times the marinade, since much of it bakes off in the oven, and you’re supposed to use the extra marinade to spoon over before serving.
Finally, the chocolate orange cake seemed to be a very thick batter (half whole wheat, half unbleached flour) that seemed to be a bit dense when it baked up, but the orange zest and juice made for a very moist, flavorful cake; it’s difficult to believe that it’s fat-free. There’s even an unexpected touch of balsamic vinegar (I used some of my prized 18-year balsamic from Fustini’s, which has an incredible depth). Rarely have I had a recipe turn out like the included photo, but the chocolate-orange cake looked runway-ready and was quickly devoured by an appreciative audience.
The ingredients and instructions are clearly laid out in an easy-to-read font, and there are plenty of gorgeous full-color photos throughout. I loved that the recipe titles were color-coded to correspond with the section they were in (Passover titles were in blue, Easter recipes in purple, etc.). I loved that the dishes arranged by season, so you can easily make use of the freshest seasonal produce. All of the recipes I tried turned out as described without requiring any tweaking, and I would definitely make them again. There’s a huge wealth of influences; you’ll find Middle Eastern-inspired dips and spreads, Mexican and Asian flavors, Eastern European and Jewish comfort food, and Native American influences for Thanksgiving.
Two small things that could have improved the book for me would have been nutritional info and an easier-to-use index; the index font is about half the size of the recipes, and it’s difficult to quickly locate a given ingredient or recipe since they’re lumped together in paragraph form, but overall “Vegan Holiday Kitchen” is a wonderful addition to anyone’s cookbook library.
(Review copy courtesy of Nava Atlas/ Sterling)