Recently I went on a research spree to find “quick and easy” vegan cookbooks, in an attempt to have at least some of my meals not take 2 hours to prepare. I’ve been slowly trying to review them here and post the results of my research. Somehow in my explorations I came across Peter Berley’s cookbook, Fresh Food Fast. It’s vegetarian, not vegan, but when I read the description I knew I needed to check it out from the library. FFF is arranged by season, and then within each season by menu. Each menu contains two dishes that are meant to be made together, and is preceded by a shopping list, pantry list, equipment list, and “game plan” for how to time the steps in order to prepare the two dishes in the most efficient way possible. Each menu is meant to take under an hour. At the end of the seasonal section there are additional recipes for desserts.
Out of the twelve summer menus, there were eight that I could easily prepare, some using substitutes, as both vegan and gluten-free. That’s a pretty good ratio for a vegetarian cookbook and way better than I usually get with an omnivore cookbook. Eight out of ten summer desserts could also be made vegan and gluten-free. The five menus I’ve prepared so far have each taken over an hour, but just barely in most cases. And having the shopping list and game plan truly were helpful in taking some of stress off of meal preparation, which can be every bit as flustering as the time things take.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the menus are impeccably seasonal. Every single produce item called for has been available at the farmer’s market. This means a LOT of recipes featuring corn, zucchini, and tomatoes. Which did get a little boring. But I do like eating seasonally, and that’s what’s in season right now. Of the ten dishes I made (in five menus plus one dessert), seven were excellent and two were definitely not keepers and not worth the time and energy it took to make them. But again, that seems like a pretty good ratio to me.
The menus I’ve made so far are: Black Bean and Zucchini Quesadillas with Chipotle Salsa + Chilled Cucumber Mint Soup; Warm Green Beans with New Potatoes and Grilled Onions (to which I added lemon-pepper tofu to sub for the hard boiled eggs); Three Sisters Stew with Okra and Leeks + Arepas: Pan-grilled Colombian Corn Cakes; Asian Cucumber Salad + Thai-Style Tofu and Vegetables in Spicy Coconut Broth with Jasmine Rice; Pita Pizza with Olives, Monterey Jack, and Chopped Salad + Pan-Seared Summer Squash with Garlic and Mint.
The arepas were absolutely incredible and have now become a staple. They are so easy and quick and really provide that “hot and satisfying” feeling that can be difficult to find with ease from vegan, gluten-free food. The three sisters stew was delicious, as was the Thai tofu and the cucumber salad. The pizza topped with chopped salad sounded so odd, but was incredible! It was a bit less convenient for me because I couldn’t make it on a pita base, but luckily I had a prebaked GF pizza crust on hand. I don’t really care much for dessert, but I wanted to check out at least one, so I also made roasted nectarines with cinnamon labneh which I made from soy yogurt and that was truly divine. On the other hand, the zucchini quesadillas were really bland, and the green beans and new potatoes were kind of a boring mush that took an inordinately long time to make. The cucumber soup was tasty but I’m not that into cold soups so I don’t think I would make it again.
Overall, I think this is a very solid cookbook. For a vegetarian I think it would be even more of a treasure-trove. The layout is beautiful and the pictures are lovely and the way the cookbook is arranged is very functional. I like the “don’t think, I’m guiding you through this” aspect of the book as well. However, not every recipe was a solid winner, and not every recipe could be made vegan, so that does cut down on the awesomeness-factor somewhat for me.
Here’s a tasty preview of the book – one of my very favorite recipes and one I’m sure I’ll be making again and again.
Pan-seared Summer Squash With Garlic and Mint
(recipe directly from Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley)
Yields: 4 servings
2 lbs summer squash, sliced 1/2 inch thick (he means lengthwise – if I had grokked this it would have save a lot of time!)
2 T. freshly squeeze lemon juice
2 T. fresh mint, torn into pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 t. coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus add’l to taste
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly milled black pepper
1. Warm a large heavy skillet, griddle, or grill pan over medium heat. Arrange the squash in a single layer and sear until speckled with brown and beginning to blacken, about 5 minutes more. (You don’t need any oil for this process, at least I didn’t in my seasoned cast iron pan.) Flip the squash and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Repeat with remaining squash.
2. In a serving bowl, combine the lemon juice, mint, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes and let marinate for 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil. (I actually did this in a small bowl so I could pour it over the squash rather than adding the squash to the sauce. Just personal preference.)
3. Transfer the seared squash to the bowl, toss to coat with the dressing, and let rest for about 5 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper and serve.
This is delicious hot or cold!