Vegan for the Holidays – A Review of Zel Allen’s New Cookbook.

by L Matthews on October 2, 2012

It’s always nice to find someone as enthusiastic about chestnuts and cranberries as I am and so the new book by Zel Allen, Vegan for the Holidays: Celebration Feasts for Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, is responsible for many a tasty vegan thing being produced in my kitchen this fall.

This vegan recipe book is crammed full of ideas to spice up your usual Thanksgiving fayre, illuminate your Hanukkah, and introduce Kwanzaa to those who, like me, are woefully unaware of all the delicious food attached to such occasions. Learning about world religions and traditions feels so much better when done through my belly, especially as most recipes are pretty healthy and make use of wholefoods rather than relying on processed vegan substitute products.

Lots of the recipes are low in fat, which often means that they are carbohydrate-heavy. If, like me, you’re firmly on the side of eating good fats then you might want to make some modifications just to keep things balanced.

Vegan Cookies – A Surefire Winner

Particular favourites include Old Saint Nick’s Walnut Cookies which offer a great way to use up slightly mushy bananas and are easy to make in bulk to keep everyone nibbling happy over the holidays, vegan or not. I made two dozen one morning and they had all gone by the evening due to marauding vegans trooping through my house. Having made a couple of batches of these, my only note on this vegan cookie recipe is that adding a dash of salt helps bring out the flavour a little more.

Upbeet Chestnutty Potato Salad

Upbeet Chestnutty Potato Salad

Upbeet Chestnutty Potato Salad. c. Zel Allen.

Another favourite, this time a savoury vegan dish, is the Upbeet Chestnutty Potato Salad. I have been lucky enough to find vacuum-packed peeled organic chestnuts at a nearby store recently and so these have been featuring heavily in many a meal. As I also love beets and have them growing in the garden, this is a great dish to prepare in advance for a summer lunch or potluck. The colours, texture and flavours are incredibly rich and hearty so you might want to make double the quantity so there’s some left for yourself later…

Vegan Puffs Improve with Age

Another good find in Vegan for the Holidays was the Sweet Potato Puffs, although with an added caveat. I made these to take to a vegan baby shower, along with the Asian Mustard Sauce and, unfortunately, while they looked amazing, they tasted a little bland at first. My army of vegan taste-testers loved the sauce but the puffs themselves proved lacklustre. I returned home with four sweet potato puffs and figured I’d eat them for lunch the next day. I’m so glad I did as the spices (cardamom!) and garlic really came into their own when warmed slightly in the oven.

Sweet potato puffs

The colours in the Sweet Potato Puffs are pretty fun!

My advice is to make these a day in advance, then reheat them slightly just before serving. Vegan, gluten-free (check the oats), and simple to make, these might become a staple comfort food this autumn, to be eaten alongside lots of tea, with the sleeves of my grandpa-sweater pulled right down. Also, these are handy to take with you on a hike, without the sauce of course; that’s just asking for messiness.

Building a Pie-Dream

Another gluten-free recipe that caught my eye was the Tomato Pine Nut Pie with Sweet Potato and Nut Crust. Having friends with a variety of allergies and intolerances, in addition to being vegan, means that cooking dinner can prove… interesting. This recipe avoids gluten, coconut, raisins, peppers, hazelnuts and a variety of other things that are lodged in my brain as no-gos for guests. I also had an immense amount of fun making this pie as it brought back fond memories of art class. The basic idea is that a mix of sweet potato mash, tofu and ground almonds forms a sort of mortar with which to construct your pie crust.

I think I made mine a little too gooey, however, by cooking and mashing a huge amount of potato (check your quantities well!), so I ended up adding a little brown rice flour into my mixture to stiffen it up. Half an hour later I realised that lavishly spooning and spreading bright orange concrete into a pie dish needn’t take my whole day and was simply an indulgence too far. I hurried up and finished the crust, ready to bake it blind for fifteen minutes while I made the filling. My favourite thing about this recipe, aside from temporarily becoming a builder in my mind, was the opportunity to make a huge amount of vegan parmesan from Zel’s recipe included in Vegan for the Holidays. This stuff is good! So good it is now a kitchen staple and I feel no need to buy another fake vegan parmesan substitute again.

An Added Bonus

Curried Pumpkin Peanut Soup. That is all.

Actually, that’s not all, it’s just one of the things on my list of recipes to indulge in this month, courtesy of Vegan for the Holidays. I shall also be making borscht, Winter Almond Chowder, because yes, and Harvest Succotash (with cranberries) simply so I can walk around saying succotash succotash suckatache.

“There are some delightful dishes in this well-written addition to the vegan recipe book canon and I particularly like how it’s slightly educational without stripping the fun away from eating food with friends and family. A great index (yes, geekarama) really helps you track things down quickly but you may find that you need to plan in advance as many recipes call for things that are not just lying around in the pantry as standard. Those of you who just stocked up on nuts during the fall harvest might want to check out Zel Allen’s other book, The Nut Gourmet, which does things with nuts that you could never have imagined. There’s also a blog to keep you nut updated.

Helpfully, most recipes are either on one page or two pages facing each other so you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth to see what temperature you should have put the oven on half an hour prior (I’m a highly methodical cook, can you tell?). Not all recipes have a picture to go with them but there are some lovely colour photos included in Vegan for the Holidays that give you a good idea of the quality of the food and Zel’s presentation skills! So many recipe books fall down on the shoddy photo front; this is not one of them as the photos made me hungry.

Another plus point is that the cookbook does not patronise you or fill pages and pages and pages with basic information on veganism, what it is, how to stock a vegan pantry, or what quinoa is. There is a glossary but this is for things that are not already well on their way to being common knowledge amongst vegans who like to cook. That’s not to say that Zel doesn’t offer such advice, she does, but at her website instead.

Final Thoughts on Zel Allen’s Vegan for the Holidays

This vegan recipe book runs a little long on some recipes, but any mistakes made when cooking were entirely my fault. A key piece of advice: you have to check you actually do have everything in the ingredients list (often across two pages) before you start anything. I’m renowned for getting halfway through reading a recipe and becoming ‘inspired’ and ending up with a meal that bears no resemblance to the thing initially being investigated. Perhaps I shouldn’t should review more cookbooks; I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will continue to as the weather cools and I spend even more time making delicious holiday foods for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, and learning more about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa from Vegan for the Holidays.

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