Bryant Terry’s “Vegan Soul Kitchen,” on the heels of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, attempts a healthy makeover of soul food staples like pickled watermelon rinds, cornbread, collard greens, peach cobbler, grits, coleslaw and potato salad, accompanied by extensive playlists taken from jazz, soul and R&B. The book’s subtitle, “Creative African-American Cuisine,” is where “Vegan Soul Kitchen” truly shines: these aren’t just stripped-down recipes with animal products removed, but instead draw on traditional African and African-American influences to create new soul food classics.
The ingredients and instructions are straightforward; each recipe is prefaced by a brief introduction about its origin and/or inspiration. Most of the ingredients should be easy to locate (fresh, preferably organic produce). Depending on your personal nutritional views, you may or may not want to substitute for the large amounts of coconut oil and coconut butter called for in several recipes (coconut oil is frequently promoted as a health food, but is very high in saturated fat). There are useful sidebars on home canning, how to cook dried beans, and specific ingredients (okra, kombu, tempeh). I especially liked the chapter on Margie’s cupboard, which features useful staples like garlic olive oil, sauces and marinades, plum ketchup, relishes, salsa and pickles. Surprising use of flavor really makes recipes shine, like the Italian-influenced basil sea salt and rosemary oil, or an Asian vibe from coconut milk, ginger and tamari.
The first recipe that I tried was the Citrus Collards with Raisins Redux. I ended up substituting dried cherries for the raisins. The garlic seemed to overpower the greens; next time, I’ll try this with one clove instead of two. Also, I didn’t squeeze out enough of the water after rinsing the greens, making them slimy (my fault). The next recipe was the lavender lemonade. I’d purchased a bag of culinary lavender, and was looking for a way to use it up. I was initially apprehensive about boiling a quarter-cup of lavender buds, which turned the water a scary green-gray color after ten minutes. But the resulting lemonade (sweetened with agave nectar) was refreshing and not too sweet, with a certain floral hint from the lavender (but not strong enough that you could immediately identify it). This is a definite hit for those hot summer afternoons on the front porch. The drinks section (“Hydro Game”) really shines, with refreshing twists such as Sparkling Rosemary Lemon-Limeade, Pure Strawberry Pop, and Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Blackberry Limeade that are refreshing alternatives to processed sodas. The third recipe that I tried was the coconut rice; it makes a quick and refreshing side dish (or breakfast!) and can be thrown together in a matter of minutes if you have rice and coconut milk on hand. Other great sides include Roasted Red Potato Salad with Parsley-Pine Nut Pesto, Caramelized Grapefruit, Avocado, and Watercress Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette, and Roasted Sweet Potato Puree with Coconut Milk.
I would have liked to see nutritional info and perhaps a few more photos illustrating dishes (the few color photos are located in the center of the book instead of spread out throughout the chapters), but overall “Vegan Soul Kitchen” offers up tasty dishes, along with some great recommendations in music, books, films and artwork that complement the chosen recipe themes (Louis Jordan’s Beans And Cornbread with Red Beans and Brown Rice with Red Wine-Simmered Seitan, Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man for Watermelon Slices with Basil Sea Salt). This is a good starting point for those seeking to transition to a vegetarian / vegan diet (although there is a chapter devoted to tempeh, tofu and seitan, most recipes are soy-free); Terry also includes a few of his favorite cookbooks, including The Voluptuous Vegan: More Than 200 Sinfully Delicious Recipes for Meatless, Eggless, and Dairy-Free Meals, Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.).
(Review copy courtesy of Da Capo Press)