Sunday Morning Book Review: Vegan Holiday Cooking

Vegan Holiday Cooking cover
Reprinted with permission from Vegan Holiday Cooking by Kirsten Kaminski, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Kirsten Kaminski

Holidays – gatherings of family and friends full of high spirits (and often actual spirits) and joy, occasional awkwardness, sometimes even friction and frustration. Although they come and go, ebb and flow year round, winter is the time when many of these gatherings come in quick succession for some of us. In the US, Halloween (end of October), is quickly followed by Thanksgiving (end of November), quickly followed by winter holidays of a religious and non-religious kind that stretch into January. That’s a lot of get togethers!

And each one of these holidays comes with a traditional feast – a huge meal to share and enjoy. What’s on the menu varies from a holiday to a holiday, and from one family to the other. What doesn’t vary as much is the dominance of meat in these meals. In many cultures (Serbian for example), religious people observe lent for six weeks before Christmas Day (January 7th), where the only animal food they are permitted to eat is honey and fish. They break the lent on January 7th usually with a pig roast! And this repeats for Easter, when the lent is broken on Easter Sunday with lamb roast.

With similar holiday food attitudes entrenched in many cultures, it becomes very difficult to be a plant-based eater over the holidays. My social media feeds are filled with people either frustrated about the lack of vegan options during the holidays, or anxious about social penalty that they will have to pay for not fitting in. Plus: with many gatherings now expecting you to bring food to share, people on plant-based diets often wonder what to bring that others will enjoy!

I am first to admit that some vegan recipes include ingredients that I’ve never encountered before I switched to plant-based diet, so I can appreciate that if I was to tell someone that they are eating nutritional yeast or flax meal, they may look at me funny. That’s why I try to keep my shared holiday meals simple, and based on common ingredients. This is probably the reason why I enjoyed the stuffing recipe below – it’s simple, it’s rustic and it’s appropriate to bring to any holiday gathering. (For another stuffing recipe option that includes apples, mushrooms and chestnuts see here.)

The recipe comes courtesy of a recently published cookbook “Vegan Holiday Cooking” by Kirsten Kaminski, creator of The Tasty K, a food and travel blog. Kirsten has assembled a nice collection of 60 festive recipes that are made to impress. They look great, they sound inviting, and they are prefect for sharing. She includes everything you need to host a party – ideas for appetizers, soups, main course, drinks and, of course, desserts, lots of them!

May of the recipes in this cookbook are things that people expect to see served at the holiday table, like the stuffing – but they’ve been reimagined and upgraded to fit a more modern palette, and to incorporate only plant-based ingredients. That is not to say that there isn’t any indulgence to be had – quite the opposite! Here, again a little indulgence goes a long way, and I appreciate how Kirsten balances a lot of good for you foods, with just a bit of naughtiness. One of the recipes I made for our Thanksgiving feast this year was her Mushroom Bourguignon, and red wine (which I view as a bit on a naughty side) made all the difference. It was delicious!

All in all, “Vegan Holiday Cooking” is a helpful cookbook to have a around year-round. Enojy!

Sourdough Bread Stuffing

Reprinted with permission from Vegan Holiday Cooking by Kirsten Kaminski, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Kirsten Kaminski


This classic Thanksgiving side dish is incredibly easy to make yet full of vegan-friendly flavor. It has a subtle zing in every bite and is very hearty, satisfying and oh so filling! Stuffing is such a popular dish that it’s usually the first one to run out at the holiday table, so make sure
to pile on enough of this “just like grandma used to make” stuffing!


YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

8 cups (350 g) sourdough bread, cubed (or any other bread)

3 tbsp (42 g) vegan butter or 3 tbsp (45 ml) olive oil

1 medium white onion, roughly chopped

2 to 3 medium ribs celery, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp (3 g) finely chopped fresh sage

1 tbsp (3 g) finely chopped fresh thyme

2 cups (150 g) thinly sliced cremini mushrooms

2 to 3 cups (480 to 720 ml) vegetable broth

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Grease a 7×10–inch (18×25–cm) baking dish.

Spread the bread cubes out evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Toast the bread in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, flipping it halfway (being careful not to let it burn). Increase the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C) and place the toasted bread cubes in a large bowl.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and sauté until they are translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, sage and thyme and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and a
splash of the broth and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and their moisture has evaporated somewhat. Add the mixture to the bread cubes and combine with a spoon.

Transfer the bread mixture to the prepared baking dish. Pour the remaining broth over the bread mixture and carefully combine, until the bread is just saturated—not too wet and not dry. Season with the salt and black pepper and bake for 30 minutes, until the top of the stuffing is crunchy. Let the stuffing cool slightly and serve.

Reprinted with permission from Vegan Holiday Cooking by Kirsten Kaminski, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Kirsten Kaminski
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this cookbook and no other compensation for this post. The views expressed above are my own and authentic.

Sunday Morning Cookbook Review “Modern Raw”

Modern Raw cover.jpg
Reprinted with permission from Modern Raw by Rachel Carr, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Rachel Carr.

Most of us have been raised on cooked food. My family always had a not only cooked but warm meal for lunch – the largest meal of the day in the culture I grew up in – and I don’t remember ever not having at least two courses, usually a soup to start with, followed by a main course accompanied with a salad. So, needless to say, my mind was pretty much conditioned to think that cooking food is essential and that even most vegetables have to be cooked first before you can eat them.

I’ve learned later, when I started making my own food and venturing out into new culinary areas, that you can actually eat most of the fruits and vegetables raw. That insight did not necessarily changed by cooking habits – I still use heat to prepare food I eat – but it did open me up to raw options. I am currently actively trying to get as much raw food into my diet as possible, mostly because raw food is extremely easy to make. You only have to peel a banana, or rinse some tomatoes, and bite in!

So, I was excited to receive a copy of a new cookbook called “Modern Raw” by Rachel Carr. Rachel has put together a great collection of recipes that provide options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert that require no cooking. And Rachel also provides some great practical advice for those of us for whom exclusively raw diet maybe a bit too much to handle. Her approach is down to earth and practical: try to incorporate as much raw food into your diet every day but don’t stress over it. Plus: be open to trying something new by exploring some old time favorites with a raw twist.

The recipe below is an example of that. It’s taking a lasagna recipe and making it raw – with fresh tomatoes, basil, zucchini and some rich cashew “ricotta”. This type of food pre and eating means that you are eating the freshest ingredients at their peak. So, in many ways eating raw is the celebration of farm-to-table culture and eating local.

One surprising thing I learned from Rachel is the idea of preparing some of the food at low temperatures, not higher than 118F (48C). I was not aware of this option – gently heating and softening some of the produce to make them more palatable or making “bread”-like things, like pizza crusts. Rachel uses a dehydrator for maintaining low temperature for hours, and although I have not tried this (and don’t currently own a dehydrator) it sounded like an interesting idea to me.

All in all, this is a useful cookbook for anyone interested in vegan raw, and simplifying some of their everyday cooking.

Modern Raw Zucchini Lasagna
Reprinted with permission from Modern Raw by Rachel Carr, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Rachel Carr.

Zucchini Lasagna

Layered dishes like lasagna make a stunning presentation perfect for entertaining but are actually quite easy and fast to make. This version of lasagna is simply made with a hearty cashew ricotta layered with fresh basil, sliced zucchini and tomato, plus a raw tomato sauce for a genuine Italian flavor. It just takes a few minutes to throw together if you have your sauce and cheese prepped in advance. Sometimes I like to add marinated kale and mushrooms to the dish in the wintertime, but you can stick with tomatoes and zucchini in the summer when they are at their seasonal best.

Serves 2 to 4

Marinara Sauce

1½ medium vine-ripe tomatoes

1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil

¼ tsp salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1½ tsp (4 g) nutritional yeast

⅛ tsp garlic powder

⅛ tsp onion powder

1½ tsp (2 g) chopped fresh parsley

½ sun-dried tomato


Raw Lasagna

1 medium zucchini, washed and sliced lengthwise

1 cup (248 g) Cashew Ricotta (page 61)

1 cup (24 g) fresh basil leaves, washed and stemmed, plus more for garnish

2 medium tomatoes, sliced into ¼” (6-mm)-thick slices

1 cup (178 g) cherry tomatoes, sliced

2 tbsp (16 g) nutritional yeast, for garnish (optional)

Extra virgin olive oil, for garnish (optional)


To make the marinara sauce, wash and seed the vine-ripe tomatoes, chop them roughly and place in a food processor. Pulse until a chunky sauce is formed. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and pulse a few more times. Set aside until ready to use.

For the lasagna, wash and slice the zucchini lengthwise either on a mandoline slicer or very carefully by hand to make sure the slices are even thickness, less than ¼ inch (6 mm). Cut them into 4-inch (10-cm) lengths. Then, slice the tomatoes into ¼-inch (6-mm)-thick slices and set aside.

To build the lasagna, lay down 2 slices of the zucchini side by side on a plate. Spread some of the cashew ricotta onto the prepared zucchini slices. Top with some basil, sliced tomatoes and marinara. Lay another layer of zucchini on top and repeat with more cashew ricotta, basil, tomato slices and marinara. Top with a final layer of zucchini, marinara and some cherry tomatoes. Garnish with some pretty pieces of fresh basil and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, if using. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

note: This dish should be served very soon after assembling, as it will start to get runny if left to sit for any length of time. Instead, try making the individual components ahead of time and building the lasagna right before serving.

Reprinted with permission from Modern Raw by Rachel Carr, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Rachel Carr. 

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Modern Raw via the publisher; however the opinions above are my own!


Sunday Morning Cookbook Review: 30-minute Frugal Vegan Recipes

30-Minute Frugal Vegan cover
With permission from 30-Minute Frugal Vegan Recipes by Melissa Copeland

Vegan way of eating comes with a bad reputation when it comes to cost. I’ve heard many people wonder about whether they would be able to afford to eat only plants, perhaps because many plant-based products that are substitutes for dairy (milk, yogurts, cheese, ice cream…) or meat (different cold cuts, sausages, burgers, bacon…) do come with a higher price tag. But leaving those types of items aside, cooking with plants is actually more affordable than any other kind of cooking. There are a number of social media groups and bloggers (including myself) that really embrace the philosophy that plant-based eating does not need to break your bank.

One of the prominent bloggers in this area is Melissa Copeland, a person behind The Stingy Vegan. Melissa has now assembled some of her recipes into a new cookbook published recently – “30-minute Frugal Vegan Recipes”. As the title suggests, the focus of this cookbook is not only on cheap, but also on quick. And her recipes deliver!

They are convenient and use ingredients that are easily found in regular grocery stores. Having said that, Melissa offers some tips on scoring great prices on some of the items. One of my favorite, and the one I recommend all the time, is going to your local “ethnic food” stores – East Asian, Indian, Russian, Brazilian, Mexican, Caribbean… These stores are great places to get excellent prices on produce as well as spices. The local Indian grocery store I go to frequently also has fantastic prices on rice, quinoa, nuts, dry beans, as well as many gluten-free flours (corn, rice, chickpea, and others). Some of these stores may be a bit out of your way, but a trip once in a while can help you can stock up. For example, I go to the Indian store once every 2-3 months!

One other tip Melissa offers that I recommend all the time is using frozen fruits and vegetables. I love frozen – they come pre-chopped and they come cheaper than fresh, so what’s not to like? Of course, for some recipes you need fresh and some vegetables and fruits just lose a lot when frozen, but things like peas, green beans, broccoli, corn, edamame, spinach, squash, carrots, and even jackfruit are great frozen. When using frozen vegetables, it is important to remember to get them unseasoned. Otherwise, you may be getting things you don’t need and should avoid, like extra salt or fat!

Overall, I liked the flavors that Melissa’s recipes offer and the simplicity of the recipes she put together. The Black Bean Salsa Burgers below are a great illustration of her approach. They are yummy, they come together in a snap, and they work! The one modification I made just because I had no salsa on hand is to use canned fire roasted tomatoes instead. It worked well, and I bet any type of salsa would work as well.

30-Minute Frugal Vegan black bean salsa burger
With permission from 30-Minute Frugal Vegan Recipes by Melissa Copeland

Black Bean Salsa Burgers

Salsa goes right in the burger patties rather than on top, to bring loads of flavor and texture to these plant-based burgers. Choose your favorite salsa; just be sure that it’s really chunky. Straining the salsa to get just the flavorsome chunks prevents the burgers from being too wet and falling apart.

Makes 4 or 5 burgers

  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil, for pan, plus more for cooking burgers
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup (70 g) chopped button mushrooms (can be quite chunky as they will reduce when browned)
  • 1 cup (80 g) rolled oats
  • 1½ cups (258 g) cooked black beans, or 1 (15.5-oz [439-g]) can, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup (260 g) chunky salsa
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 or 5 vegan hamburger buns
  • Your favorite hamburger fixings


If you’re baking the burgers, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring from time to time, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and fry for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Transfer to a large bowl.

Heat the remaining tablespoon (15 ml) of oil in the same skillet. Add the mushrooms and leave them for a minute to brown on one side before stirring and continuing to fry. Once browned all over, transfer to the bowl with the onion.

In a food processor, pulse the oats until you have mostly oat flour with some whole oats remaining, for texture. Transfer to the bowl. Put the black beans in the food processor and blend until mostly pureed with some whole beans remaining, also for texture. Transfer to the bowl.

Put the salsa in a strainer and stir to remove the excess tomato sauce, until you have mostly chunks remaining. Measure ½ cup (130 g) of this super chunky salsa and add it to the bowl along with the paprika, salt and pepper. Mix well to incorporate everything.

Form the mixture into 4 or 5 patties, depending on the size of your buns. The mix is a bit wet but should not be unmanageable. I take a ball in my hands, flatten it out into a patty on a plate, then use a spatula to transfer it to a baking pan or skillet when ready to cook. They may need a bit of reshaping once in the pan. If you’re having trouble, you can add a bit more oat flour so that they hold together better.

To bake, lightly oil a baking pan, transfer the patties to the pan and bake for 20 minutes, flipping at 10 minutes. To fry, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a tablespoon (15 ml) of oil. Fry the patties for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until browned.

Once cooked, transfer the patties to a wire rack and let cool for a few minutes. They will firm up a bit as they cool. Serve on the buns with your favorite hamburger fixings.

Credit line:
Reprinted with permission from 30-Minute Frugal Vegan Recipes by Melissa Copeland, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Melissa Copeland.


Sunday Morning Cookbook Review: Vegan Comfort Cooking

Vegan Comfort Cooking cover
Reprinted with permission from Vegan Comfort Cooking by Melanie McDonald, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Melanie McDonald. 

How many cookbooks does one person need? I would say probably all of them because I am yet to meet a cookbook that did not teach me something new, different, interesting, and useful. This is especially true for vegan (plant-based) cookbooks, given that vegan cooking is a special type of skill set (and mind set) that you need to continue to work on.

For those of you who are not 100% plant-based eaters, and feel on the fence about it all because you are worried that you may not be able to enjoy rich and flavorful type of food we often call comfort food, this new cookbook may help. “Vegan Comfort Cooking” is the first cookbook by a successful vegan food blogger and recipe developer Melanie McDonald, the person behind A Virtual Vegan. Part of Melanie’s, or Mel’s (as her friends and family call her) philosophy is that she only posts recipes that have been thoroughly tested and vetted by her taste testers. Moreover, Mel is fully committed to transforming recipes that include non-plant ingredients into vegan ones without sacrificing any flavor – if the recipe can’t be made to taste good, it’s not worth making.

I can definitely relate to that, and have enjoyed Mel’s new cookbook very much! In 75 recipes this cookbook covers all main areas of cooking, from breakfast to dessert. It also includes lots of great bread recipes (and a recipe for english muffins!), as well as how to make awesome pantry staples, like vegan butter – yes, I know you can easily get vegan butter in the store, but if you do have a moment making your own butter is fun and delicious!

For me, several recipes stand out – and you can get them all in Mel’s cookbook which has now been published: Black Forest Breakfast Crêpes, where basic crêpe recipe is combined with a tasty cherry sauce and a drizzle of chocolate sauce; Down ‘n Dirty Taco Fries (oven-baked fries with chickpea topping and lime crema), and the Smokey Tomato and White Bean Soup (recipe and photo below).

Those who say that vegan food can’t be comforting or have loads of great flavor need to be invited to a dinner party featuring recipes like these. I’ll bet their view of great tasting food will be completely transformed!

Vegan Comfort Cooking Smoky Bean & Tomato Soup
Reprinted with permission from Vegan Comfort Cooking by Melanie McDonald, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Melanie McDonald.


Smoky Tomato and White Bean Soup

Serve this brimming with flavor soup in deep bowls that you can cozily wrap your hands around on a chilly evening. It’s easy to make, easy to eat and one of those recipes that gets even more flavorful with time, so it is perfect for making ahead. It even freezes well.
yield: 4 or 5 servings

  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil or water
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika or chipotle powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ cup (60 g) tomato paste
  • 27 oz (765 g) canned chopped fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 tsp (10 g) salt, plus more to taste
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups (720 ml) vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp (12 g) cane or granulated white sugar
  • 4½ cups (1.2 kg) white kidney, cannellini or lima beans, drained and rinsed


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil or water (for oil free cooking) over medium heat. Sauté the onion and celery for about 10 minutes, until they are starting to go gold
en brown. If you are using water to sauté, you will need to add a little more water every few minutes to prevent the onion and celery from sticking.

Add the garlic, smoked paprika and cumin and continue to cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Then add all the other ingredients. Stir well to combine, allow to come to a simmer
and cook for another 20 minutes. Add a little water to adjust the consistency to your liking, check the seasoning and adjust to taste; then serve. I like the soup chunky,
but you can use an immersion blender right in the pan to make it smoother and creamier, if you want to.

tips: Make this soup with only 11/2 to 2 cups (360 to 480 ml) of stock instead of 3 cups (720 ml), so it’s more like a thick stew, and serve it over rice, quinoa or couscous.

Credit line:
Reprinted with permission from Vegan Comfort Cooking by Melanie McDonald, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Melanie McDonald.

Sunday Morning Cook Book Review: The Vegan Slow Cooker, Revised and Expanded

Reprinted with permission from The Vegan Slow Cooker, Revised and Expanded by Kathy Hester.

When I first switched to plant-based cooking and vegan diet I thought that I would never need to use my beloved slow cooker again. For those of you who are not familiar with this kitchen gadget, slow cooker, also called a crock-pot, is a handy kitchen tool for those recipes that require long cooking times, and is usually used to slow cook tougher pieces of meat, or bean dishes, like chilis. The key part of the slow cooker is a heavy ceramic of porcelain pot, that sits in a heater element that provides constant low heat. The gadget is especially handy for busy families since you can set everything up, turn it on, and come back to a cooked meal within four to eight (sometimes twelve) hours.

Having said this, why did I think my slow cooker using days were over when I transitioned into the vegan diet? Well, I started eating more raw or gently cooked vegetables, and did not quite see the point of cooking something for hours on end if I can get it done in less than half an hour using traditional methods. However, I soon realized that cooking food low and slow has an added benefit of infusing lots of flavor into things that would otherwise taste bland or for dishes that just need plenty of aroma to carry them over and through the taste buds.

Once I realized that, the beloved slow cooker was back and I’ve been using for stews, BBQ flavor infused dishes, and things like chicken-less tikka masala and curries. Oh, and my newest discovery has been an amazing spice-infused apple butter!

So I was excite to see “The Vegan Slow Cooker, Revised and Expanded“, a recently released cookbook by Kathy Hester, a blogger behind Healthy Slow Cooking. Building on the success of “The Vegan Slow Cooker“, Kathy is now offered a refreshed cookbook that includes everything from a chapter that provides some vegan slow cooker basics, to soups, stews, casseroles, as well as many, many great main dish recipes. The most surprising, at least to me, was to see chapters focused on breads, desserts and breakfast!

This cookbook is rich with recipes, ideas, tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your slow cooker, or the slow cooker mode on an advanced pressure cooker. No matter what you choose to try, slow cooking is the method you should definitely add to your arsenal of strategies of getting the home cooked meals on your family table with the least amount of effort. Enjoy!

chickpea cacciatore_image.jpg
Recipe reprinted with permission from The Vegan Slow Cooker, Revised and Expanded by Kathy Hester.

Chickpea Cacciatore with Potatoes

DISCLAIMER: Recipe reprinted with permission from The Vegan Slow Cooker, Revised and Expanded: Simply Set It and Go with 160 Recipes for Intensely Flavorful, Fuss-Free Fare Fresh from the Slow Cooker or Instant Pot® by Kathy Hester.

Here’s a completely plant-based one-pot meal that will satisfy the hungriest at your table. The potatoes and chickpeas are filling and full of nutrients. The sauce and the rest of the veggies make a sauce that packs a flavor punch.

gluten-free soy-free no oil added

1 bag (24 ounces, or 680 g) baby potatoes, quartered

2 cans (15 ounces, or 425 g each) chickpeas, drained (save liquid to use as aquafaba in other recipes)

1 pound (504 g) mushrooms, sliced (can use all white, baby bella, or a combo)

2 cups (300 g) chopped bell pepper (use multiple colors if you can)

3 carrots, cut into coins


1 can (28 ounces, or 784 g) crushed tomatoes

¼ cup (60 ml) red wine (or 2 tablespoons [30 ml] balsamic vinegar)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground rosemary


½cup (50 g) pitted black olives (optional)

yield: 6 servings

equipment: 5-to 6-quart slow cooker

cooking time: 7 to 9 hours on low

the night before: cut up the veggies. Add veggies and drained chickpeas to a sealable container, and mix. You can mix all the sauce ingredients together now, or wait until morning. Store everything in the fridge.

in the morning: mix the sauce and veggie-chickpea mixture together in your slow cooker. Cook on low 7 to 9 hours.

Garnish with pitted black olives, if desired.

Recipe Notes
Recipe reprinted with permission from The Vegan Slow Cooker, Revised and Expanded: Simply Set It and Go with 160 Recipes for Intensely Flavorful, Fuss-Free Fare Fresh from the Slow Cooker or Instant Pot® by Kathy Hester.


Sunday Morning Cookbook Review: Naturally Sweet Vegan Treats

naturally sweet vegan treats veggie patch brownies
Veggie Patch Brownies, via Marisa Alvarsson with permission

For many people transitioning into plant-based eating comes with a bit of dessert and sweet treat anxiety. This is totally understandable and relatable – after all, almost all cakes, cookies, pies, puddings we know are made with loads of dairy products (cream, butter, milk, …) and, of course, eggs. So, vegan desserts may seem as unreal as unicorns!

The big secret, which is actually not as big as it used to be few years ago, is that you can have your vegan cake and eat it too. And the best part is that with embracing vegan and naturally sweetened cake and dessert making you get to leave all your less than healthy habits behind. What do I mean by that? Well, most if not all desserts are sweet and that usually means heaps of pure, refined sugar.

But, if you take a step back and offload all that added sugar what you’ll find is that there are plenty of naturally sweet ingredients out there. Different types of fruit may have immediately jumped to your mind, but the fruit is just the top of the iceberg. Natural sugars are in everything of plant origin since plants make sugars through a process of photosynthesis. So, we can trust plants to deliver lots of sweetness on their own, and the best thing we can do is learn how to let their natural sweetness shine through.

A new cookbook by Marisa Alvarsson, the blogger behind Miss Marzipan, achieves just that – letting fruits and vegetables shine through as key ingredients of desserts ranging from breakfast items, like pancakes, breads, puddings and porridges, to cookies and cakes, loads and loads of cakes. The new cookbook is called “Naturally Sweet Vegan Treats” and features more than 85 sweet treat recipes that offer lots of different strategies for those of us born with a major sweet tooth.

One of my favorite sweetener is roasted sweet potato, and I used it for a lovely chocolate mousse pie. I also experimented with using zucchini in baking which resulted in an amazing fruit cake. So, when I saw a recipe for “Veggie Patch Brownies” that includes both sweet potatoes and zucchini I had to give it a try. The recipe was super easy to make and it’s fun enough for the kids to get involved. The brownies were moist and full of chocolate, which is exactly as brownies should be! And those pesky veggies? You would not know they were there, so here is something you can offer to your picky eater and still feel great about your parenting skills. It’s win-win for everybody! These brownies are easy and delicious, and are definitely something that I look forward making again.

I followed the recipe below as given with one modification – I used roasted sweet potato purée as I think that roasting just brings the best out of the sweet potato. But, I am pretty sure you can use boiled, or canned sweet potatoes here as well.

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM “Naturally Sweet Vegan Treats” by Marisa Alvarsson

Veggie Patch Brownies

Oil-free with nut-and gluten-free options | Makes 12–16 brownies

½ cup (100 g) sweet potato purée

½ cup (75 g) grated zucchini, excess liquid squeezed out

1 cup (240 ml) almond milk or oat milk

⅓cup (50 g) coconut sugar

8 pitted medjool dates, soaked in boiled water for 10 minutes

1½ tsp (8 ml) pure vanilla extract

¾ cup (100 g) organic whole wheat pastry flour

¾ cup (75 g) pure unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powderPinch of salt

½ cup (60 g) chopped walnuts

¼ cup (37 g) chopped dark chocolate, optional (but recommended)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Line a 9 × 9 inch (23 × 23 cm) square cake pan with parchment paper.

Blitz the sweet potato, zucchini, milk, sugar, drained dates and vanilla together in a food processor or blender until the mix is a smooth, soup-like consistency.

Tip this mixture into a large mixing bowl. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Gently fold to combine.

Add the walnuts and chocolate (if using). Fold in, but do not overmix.

Pour the brownie batter into the lined pan and smooth over the surface with a silicone spatula or the back of a large metal spoon.

Place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Allow to cool completely before frosting, if desired. Slice into squares to serve.

Recipe Notes: To make these brownies nut-free, use oat milk and omit the walnuts. To make the brownies gluten-free, use a gluten-free all-purpose flour and baking powder.



Disclosure: I received a free copy of this cookbook through a community of vegan bloggers. This did not influence my views about the recipes I tried thus far and mentioned above.

Sunday Morning Cookbook Review: The Vegan 8


Vegan cooking gets a bit of bad reputation for being outlandishly complicated, full of “weird” ingredients not available in local supermarkets, and requiring days to make. I have to admit that I have indeed seen and used recipes like that. Some of them were worth the effort – especially the fresh mozzarella – but some were actually unjustifiably tedious! And: I am also guilty in using ingredients that fall into “unlikely to be found in the local grocery store” category, like jackfruit or soya chunks. In my case, I get these ingredients and more from a local Indian grocery store, but I know that for many of you these are not immediately available.

However, we all know that vegan cooking does not need to be convoluted, and that some of the best vegan recipes are simple and restrained. In them, the real plant-based ingredients shine through with their clear flavors and textures. These simpler and tamer recipes frequently appeal to non-vegans as well, and are therefore a must-have for anyone who is eating a vegan diet while surrounded by omnivores.

There are many on-line resources for those of you looking for an inspiration. This blog (obviously), as well as sites like Minimalist Baker and similar. Luckily for us, we now also have a cookbook that we can refer to when in need of simple vegan cooking. The cookbook is called The Vegan 8: 100 Simple, Delicious Recipes Made With 8 Ingredients or Less, by Brandi Doming, a blogger and recipe developer. Brandi’s story is the one of love for cooking from a very young age, then transitioning into vegan cooking later in live for health reasons as her husband suffers from a form of arthritis known as gout. So, Brandi had to adopt her cooking to help her husband navigate his condition. In doing so she has also decided to keep her recipes simple, and free of not only animal ingredients but gluten-free, oil-free, tofu-free, and frequently nut-free, which makes the food Brandi has been sharing with the world very allergy-friendly.

The new cookbook is richly illustrated and well organized, with an entire section dedicated to the “Vegan 8 Kitchen” where Brandi takes us through her kitchen and shares what are her go to staples, from sauces to flours. This was a great chapter to read and I would urge anyone who is just starting on their vegan journey, or who has been struggling with vegan food preparation to take a look. For me, the most informative was the section on different gluten-free flours as I am indeed trying to keep gluten out of my diet.

After flipping through the entire book, one recipe captured my attention – Hungarian Red Lentil Soup. There is a lot of Hungarian influence in Serbian cooking, and lots of paprika, so I wanted to give this one a shot. And it turned out really delicious! Although I was a bit skeptical about the amount of the sweet Hungarian paprika this recipe uses – two whole tablespoons! – I do think that the paprika is what makes this soup so good. By the way, my soup turned out very thick, more like a stew than a soup. But the flavors are amazing, and the soup/stew goes great over some basmati rice, so I have now made it several times as a main dish.

Overall, I found “The Vegan 8” to be a great resource for vegan cooking. Congratulations to Brandi and best of luck in the future!

Vegan 8 Red Lentil Hungarian Soup
Hungarian Red Lentil Soup, from “The Vegan 8” cookbook by Brandi Doming


Hungarian Red Lentil Soup, by Brandi Doming

oil free   gluten free   nut free

Dinner doesn’t have to take forever. This recipe comes together fast, thanks to red lentils and easy ingredients. The Hungarian paprika, dry mustard, and tomato paste give this simple dish a wonderful depth of flavor. This soup goes great with some fresh crusty bread!

Prep: 15 minutes

cook: 23 minutes

Yields: 5 servings

1 packed cup (160g) diced yellow onion

3 medium carrots (154g), cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices

3 large garlic cloves, minced (15g)

1 cup (209g) dry red lentils, rinsed well with cold water

6 tablespoons (90g) tomato paste

2 tablespoons (15g) Hungarian sweet paprika

1 teaspoon (2g) dry mustard

1 1⁄2 teaspoons (9g) fine salt

1⁄4 teaspoon (1g) ground black pepper

1 cup (240g) canned “lite” coconut milk, well shaken


  1. Add the onion, carrots, garlic, and 1 cup (240g) water to a medium pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 8 minutes, stirring a couple of times during, or until the veggies are tender but not overly so. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the lentils, 2 1⁄2 cups (600g) water, tomato paste, paprika, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Stir well, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the milk, and increase the heat to medium-low; cook 5 to 10 minutes or until the lentils are tender yet still firm, and the soup thickens some. Stir often, and do not overcook, as you don’t want the lentils to become mushy. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Note: Make sure the paprika you are using is not hot paprika. For the milk, it is important to use a creamy milk like cashew or “lite” coconut milk here for best results. The “lite” coconut milk is very creamy but yields no coconut taste. Almond and rice milks don’t do well, and definitely don’t use full-fat coconut, as it is too rich and thick and will ruin the flavor.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of this cookbook through a community of vegan bloggers. This did not influence my views about the recipes I tried thus far and mentioned above.

Sunday Morning Cookbook Review: YamChops

Reprinted with permission from “From the Kitchen of YamChops” by Michael Abramson, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018. Photo credit: Vincenzo Pistritto

Many of you transitioning into plant-based eating and/or vegan lifestyle may feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with all the details, discouraged with too many restrictions, and crushed by the broader society that has not adjusted to support our growing plant-based eating habits. I get it – I’ve been there!

What helped me are some excellent cookbooks that provided initial inspiration, especially the America’s Test Kitchen “Vegan for Everybody“, and an entire community of vegan blogs and bloggers that I discovered – Finding Vegan.  Over time, plant-based cooking and eating stopped being about the restrictions and things you can’t eat, and became about the abundance of ingredients and flavors.

Trying new recipes and ideas remains one of my favorite things to do, and I am always on a lookout for the latests cookbooks. The “From the Kitchen of YamChops” by Michael Abramson is the newest of my acquisitions. If you don’t know about YamChops, let me give some background. YamChops is a plant-based butcher shop, and when it opened in 2014 it was the first of its kind in Canada, and at that time one of only a handful vegetarian butcher shops in North America. Since then, YamChops has become well-known in Toronto, where it is located, and beyond, even earning a spot in USA Today’s list of 10 Best Gourmet Stores. They now offer lots of their products for sale on their website for those of you who live in Canada.

For the rest of us outside Canada, we now have the “From the Kitchen of YamChops” to fall back to and re-create the tastes at home. As could have been expected for a cookbook celebrating the vegan butchers in all of us, the opening chapter is all about meatless main dishes, with a range of burgers, meatballs, steaks, and even a schnitzel! There’s lots of comfort food recipes in there, and I highly recommend giving their Butternut Squash Cheeze ‘n’ Mac Casserole a try – it was delicious!!!

The story does not end at main dishes, and you will find a lot of great recipes for appetizers (including four different “ba-con” recipes – my favorite is coconut flakes ba-con, but that may change as I am looking forward to trying shiitake mushroom ba-con next), soups, salads, sauces, chutneys, dips and dressings. The final chapter is one big homage to chocolate, so your sweet tooth will not remain unsatisfied!

Out of many options, I decided to test a simple meatball recipe. My cooking is not only plant-based, but as gluten-free as possible, so recipes with gluten are a bit of a no-go for me. So, Black Bean Meatless Meatball recipe was definitely appealing because it is naturally gluten-free (if you get the right oats, so do read your labels carefully), and uses common ingredients that I always keep on hand. This made the prep easy and convenient, and these meatballs came together in a snap. You can see the full recipe below, courtesy of “From the Kitchen of YamChops” by Michael Abramson, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018.

Basically, I followed the recipe as provided, and everything came together really well. The meatballs were the right consistency, not too sticky, and not too loose, and came out moist and flavorful. The recipe is also perfect for those who are trying to cut down on their oil and fat consumption because it does not use any!

Having said that, there is one adjustment that I plan to incorporate next time I make these and that’s to sauté the green onions, red pepper and garlic for couple of minutes before mixing them in with the rest of ingredients. I found that these three components were a bit undercooked for my taste and the baking was not able to get the nice caramelized onion/garlic/pepper flavor that I prefer.

But, even without this minor change, these meatballs get a thumbs up! They were easy to make, the recipe yielded quite a good amount, and overall it is very budget friendly. So, definitely worth keeping on hand especially on busy evenings. I look forward to trying some of the other recipes included in “From the Kitchen of YamChops” by Michael Abramson, and if I am ever in Toronto again, I will definitely stop by and feast on what YamChops has to offer!!!

Photo by Vincenzo Pistritto Photo
With permission from “From the Kitchen of YamChops” by Michael Abramson, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018. Photo credit: Vincenzo Pistritto

Black Bean Meatless Meatballs

(Makes 2 Dozen (2 ounce) Meatballs)

What you’ll need: 

½ cup rolled oats

1 ½ cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp egg replacer mixed with 3 tbsp (45 ml) water

1/3 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, thawed if using frozen

¼ cup chopped green onion

¼ cup diced red pepper

3 tbsp salsa, homemade or store-bought

3 small cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp sea salt

Large pinch cinnamon

Large pinch black pepper

What you’ll do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. Pulse the rolled oats 3 or 4 times in a food processor. Add the rinsed beans and continue to pulse until the beans are roughly chopped. You want to keep some texture in the beans, so be sure not to over-process them.
  3. Whisk the egg replacer and water together until smooth and set it aside to rest for a couple of minutes.
  4. Empty the contents of the processor into a large bowl and add the corn, onion, red pepper, salsa, garlic, cumin, oregano, basil, paprika, cayenne, salt, cinnamon and pepper. Mix together until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Your hands are the best tool for this job.
  5. Add the egg replacer mixture, and mix everything together until the egg replacer mixture is fully incorporated.
  6. Take a small handful of the mixture, a little bigger than a golf ball, and form it into a fairly tight-packed ball. If the mixture holds together, you’re good to go. If the mixture is too wet, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of pulsed rolled oats. If the mixture is too dry, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water. At YamChops, we use a 2 ounce scoop to measure these meatballs.
  7. Place the formed meatballs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and place in your preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes or until firm to the touch. Gently turn the meatballs every 5 minutes to ensure even browning.
Recipe reprinted with permission from “From the Kitchen of YamChops” by Michael Abramson, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018. No further re-publishing allowed without explicit permission of the original content creators.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this cookbook through a community of vegan bloggers. This did not influence my views about the recipes I tried thus far and mentioned above.

Sunday Morning Cookbook Review: Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill

Book review of “Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill” (photo courtesy of Linda & Alex Meyer)

What better time to write a cookbook review than on a Sunday morning while enjoying a nice cup of coffee and wondering if it will ever stop snowing in New England. It’s the end of March, past the official first day of spring and more snow just started to come down!?

And it is only fitting that in midsts of another snow storm the cookbook I am highlighting is all about barbecue (BBQ) that you can do without much fuss and without ever stepping a foot outside your kitchen. The cookbook in question just came out last week – it’s “Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill” by a mother-daughter team Linda and Alex Meyer.

Linda and Alex are the creative team behind Veganosity, a web-site that offers lots of recipes and advice on making plant-based food and living a plant-based, vegan, healthy and happy lifestyle. The philosophy behind their new cookbook is that when it comes to the plant-based recipes the best strategy is not to abandon and forget all the flavors and cooking traditions you grew up with, but embrace what you like and learn how to make the same wonderfully tasting dishes using plants only.

The recipes in this cookbook will appeal to all of you who enjoy the flavors and traditional fares of the Southern United States. And if you have not had the chance to explore the American South let me try to explain why you should give it a try – the food is rich in flavor, smokey, savory and sweet at the same time, and best enjoyed in a large circle of family and friends. It’s the food of summer, heat, and hanging out, and this cookbook captures that essence while allowing you to create all the recipes indoors.

In addition to the Jacked Up Crab Dip recipe below – which I could not resist giving a try given my past success with using jackfruit as a seafood substitute for crab cakes, New England Clam Chowder, and White Clam Sauce.

The Jacked Up Crab Dip is creamy and satisfying. It is a perfect party food and it’s sure to please both vegan and non-vegan eaters especially when served with some tortilla or pita chips. It is also very easy to make and nutritious. No mayo in there, which I really appreciate since many commonly used dips are full of either mayo or cheese, so this was really refreshing to see. Plus, the seasoning and the lemon juice fully re-create the flavors of the original. I actually had some leftovers and the dip keeps well for 2-3 days if stored in the fridge

I also made Honey BBQ Ribz that were phenomenal, Southern-Style Skillet Cornbread with Maple Butter, where I skipped the maple butter part and still had a great corn bread that worked really well with the ribz, and Caroline Coleslaw which was refreshing because it used mustard only (no mayo involved). One not on the coleslaw – I found the onion hard to digest so will skip it next time. You can see what my plate looked like at the bottom of this post (below the recipe) – this dinner was a feast!

I’m looking forward giving other dishes in this cookbook a try, and implementing some of the strategies of taking some of the common Southern ingredients and flavoring agents, like molasses or smoked chipotle peppers, and letting them enhance the plant-based food and bring a little bit of sunshine into my kitchen, especially during these stubborn last days of the winter. Congratulations to Linda and Alex on an excellent cook book!!!

20170502_VEGANOSITY_CrabDip_1402 copy_preview
Jacked Up Crab Dip (Photo courtesy of Linda & Alex Meyer)

Jacked Up Crab Dip


Serves 4 to 6

2 cups (300 g) raw cashews, soaked in 2 cups (480 ml) water overnight

1 large clove garlic

¼ cup (60 ml) unsweetened cashew milk or other vegan milk

2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice

2 tbsp (30 ml) Dijon mustard

½ tsp Old Bay seasoning

½ tsp ground sea salt

¼ tsp ground paprika

⅛ tsp onion powder

1 (14-oz [400-g]) can young jackfruit packed in water or 1½ cups (400 g) fresh jackfruit

Drain and rinse the cashews and put into a high-powered blender or food processor. Add the garlic, cashew milk, lemon juice, mustard, Old Bay seasoning, salt, paprika and onion powder and blend for approximately 2 minutes (scrape the sides frequently), or until it’s smooth and velvety. You shouldn’t see or taste pieces of solid nuts.

Scrape the cashew mixture into a medium bowl.

Drain and rinse the jackfruit well. Shred the jackfruit with a fork or in a food processor and put in the bowl with the cashew mixture. Gently fold until fully combined. Serve with crackers, toast or sliced vegetables.

(This recipe is courtesy of Linda & Alex Meyer, and just one of many in their new cookbook!)

Indoor BBQ, from “Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill”

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this cookbook through a community of vegan bloggers. This did not influence my views about the recipes I tried thus far and mentioned above. The photo and the recipe above are reproduced with permission from Linda and Alex – thank you!