If you’ve been reading along lately you’ll know that I have been attempting to streamline my cooking process. Left to my own devices I am given to elaborate preparations, multiple courses, long baking times, and sauces, dressings, and marinades of all sorts. This produces generally excellent meals, of course, but the trouble is that if I’m tired or pressed for time my only option is to put an Amy’s into the toaster oven. (And, because I don’t have a microwave and Amy’s takes 45-55 minutes in the toaster oven, if I am really pressed for time my only option is my friend the Bumble Bar.) So I’ve been wanting to retrain myself, to open up an avenue into the type of cooking that doesn’t take all night.
I have a fun thing called brain fog that means it’s hard for me to process complex information quickly. This in turn means that improvising under pressure is not my forte. So to help guide me to quick-meal paradise, I turned to my local library for support. The first book I checked out was Vegan Express, by longtime vegetarian cookbook author Nava Atlas.
Vegan Express offers recipes that can be prepared in 30 to 45 minutes. Each recipe comes with a comprehensive list of menu suggestions that include both ideas of other recipes from the book to pair with the dish as well as accompaniments that don’t require a recipe. An example of this would be the suggestion, “If you want to add one more item, steamed broccoli would be just the thing. Or, if time is not an issue, may I suggest upgrading that to Spicy Sesame Broccoli (page 197)?”
I’ve read through the entire cookbook, and have made five different recipes from the book, one of them twice already! I have really enjoyed cooking from Vegan Express. Atlas introduces each section and each recipe with a bit of information, which is almost always a cookbook requirement for me. I just like this so much better than when a recipe is simply presented unannotated as a bare list of ingredients and directions. The recipes generally conformed to the time frame (as with every “quick” cookbook, it all depends on how fast you prep veggies, and how dirty your greens are), and most importantly the directions were extremely clear. I’m willing to spend a little more time cooking as long as it’s entirely stress-free. Vegan Express walked me carefully through each dish and, with one exception, everything I needed to know was there on the page.
I had a great time matching up the veggies that came in my CSA box to recipes from the book. It felt like the recipes were very flexible and accommodating in terms of substitutions. I did do a little flavor doctoring on each recipe, but I pretty much always end up doing that with cookbook recipes, and the base recipes made a wonderful starting point and made it easy and obvious to bring the flavors up a level.
Vegan Express is not gluten free, but most of the recipes will work with a gluten-free diet. There’s a yummy section on seitan that made me a little sad, but all the pizzas, pastas, quesadillas, and wraps would work if you had the appropriate GF bases on hand (let’s hear it for Tinkyada brown rice pasta! and La Tortilla Factory teff wraps!). I try not to be overly reliant on soy, especially processed soy like soy cheese and soy creamer, and there are a fair number of tofu recipes and recipes that use soy cheese, etc., but there are many more recipes that use beans, lentils, nuts, and so on, so I think the book would even have a lot to offer someone who was avoiding soy entirely.
The five recipes I tried were Tofu Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and potato curry); Tempeh, Kale, and Sweet Potato Skillet; Pasta “Carbonara” with Broccoli; Bok Choy, Edamame, Cashew and Orange Rice; and the Basic Vinaigrette. The section on “big quesadillas” also inspired me to start making my breakfast burritos as quesadillas instead – more room for filling! – and the salad suggestions prompted me to incorporate more creative fixin’s into my salads which I then topped with the excellently balanced Basic Vinaigrette, made with apple cider vinegar.
All four main-dish recipes were terrific – filling, delicious, creative, packed with protein and veggies, and easy to prepare. My favorite was the tempeh, kale, and sweet potato skillet. It’s an unexpectedly simple recipe that contains the one flaw I found: the recipe tells you how to prepare the sweet potatoes and the tempeh and has you set them both aside, and then never mentions them again! But I just used them to top the kale mixture and the final result was phenomenal. I made the aloo gobi twice in two weeks since I had two heads of cauliflower. Once I used fresh tomatoes and once I used canned, and the dish came out perfectly both times.
It’s been a while since I bought a new cookbook, but I’m going to be ordering Vegan Express when the time comes to return this copy to the library. Here’s a little teaser of a recipe for you – if this recipe or anything I’ve written here intrigues you, I encourage you to check out Vegan Express yourself!
2 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 tsp grated fresh or jarred ginger
1 tsp garam masala or good-quality curry powder, or more to taste
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp dry mustard
8 oz firm or extra-firm tofu, sliced, blotted dry, and cut into small dice
2 med or 3 plum tomatoes, diced (I used part of a can of diced tomatoes one time and it was great)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup minced cilantro, optional
Salt to taste
(I added a little sweetener and extra grated ginger at the end)
Heat oil in a wide skillet or stir-fry pan. Add the garlic and saute over medium-low heat until golden.
Add the potatoes and about 1 cup of water. Cover and bring to a simmer, then cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the cauliflower, sprinkle in the ginger, garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and mustard, and continue to simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Stir in the tofu, tomatoes, and peas, and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Stir in the optional cilantro (and extra ginger/sweetener, if using), season with salt, and serve.