Winner, winner chicken dinner is not perhaps the most appropriate response for a vegan to make to anything. And especially not in response to reviewing a vegan cookbook. But that’s the phrase that sprang to mind when I cracked open Sue Quinn’s Easy Vegan, which arrived as a review copy from Murdoch Books.
My other response was to get slightly teary, which I admit sounds slightly hyperbolic. But really, if the number of pages I post-it noted to come back to are any indication, Easy Vegan is onto something. (And yes, I’m sorry for the tree I wasted. If I’d known I was going to post-it note practically the entire book, I’d have held off.)
I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for over 25 years—far, far longer than I wasn’t. (Contrary to what this statement implies, being vegan isn’t the first thing I pronounce upon meeting people, but it’s invariably and necessarily revealed any time food enters the picture. Which is a lot given we all eat between three and five meals a day.)
But for people like me who lived this way before it was cool, which it increasingly seems to be, we largely found our ways in the dark. And still are. For in truth, a vegan lifestyle is always one of learning.
With increasing numbers of people adopting vegan lifestyles for health, animal welfare, or environmental reasons (or for the trifecta, as it is for me), I often get asked for recommendations about recipe books, blogs, and more to follow, and where to find general information. I end up sending them to an assortment of places, but none quite perfectly cover it all.
Could I have created the book I’m after? Probably not, for I am a notoriously awful cook. But Easy Vegan is the kind of book I would love to have produced if I’d had the talent and the know-how. It’s also the kind book I’d happily give to me, or to new and aspiring vegans (or ‘pre-vegans’ as I’ve heard the term used with much bemusement).
There are some important reasons why this book is good.
First, Quinn is a journalist and food writer with plenty of experience. She’s good at putting this kind of information together, striking the right balance between informative and appetising. Second, she doesn’t appear to be wholly vegan herself (or at least doesn’t declare it, which may be by design).
This means she’s coming at the lifestyle with fresh eyes, questions about what foundation information does she need to know to start out, and is skilled at conveying complex information in accessible terms. Importantly, she’s not too emotionally invested in the lifestyle to come at it with a preachy earnestness.
The introduction sets the tone, straight up saying that while veganism requires some planning, ‘it isn’t the quantum leap into alien eating territory’ many people think it to be. Veganism isn’t, Quinn writes, about deprivation.
‘How to be vegan’ and ‘How to begin’ follow the introduction. It’s a simple explanation of what veganism is and how to take your first steps into it. Then there are some fantastic illustrations meet infographics that outline the protein content of food and vegan celebrities. I knew many of them, but Brad Pitt? No idea he was vegan.
A shopping list follows that, with some simple definitions of common vegan ingredients. Even better? A flowchart that outlines how to veganise a recipe. That is, how to switch out eggs and dairy. Right about this point of reading the book, I may have gotten a little teary.
This book is brilliantly considered and beautifully designed. Props must go to the designer and editor who truly grasp the importance of communication design. From simple tips to how to make your own vegan milks, cheeses and ice cream (yes, there are such things as these and they are delicious) to pasta to vegetable stock to pastry to smoothies, Easy Vegan outlines how vegans do get to eat and enjoy the ‘usual’ things.
Then it gets into the meal recipes. First up is bircher muesli, something I used to adore and have never quite mastered vegan-style. Suffice to say, this is one of the initial recipes I’ll be roadtesting. Filled sweet potato skins will follow soon after, along with roast vegetable salads and stuffed artichokes and sweet potato ravioli and gnocchi and shepherd’s pie and vegetable crumble…
And vanilla cupcakes. I actually almost texted a friend when I got to reading this page about 11:30pm. Anyone who even peripherally knows me knows I am able to ingest superhuman amounts of cupcakes. But given I’m not a good cook, I always need to rely on someone else to bake them for me. Until now. Quinn’s pistachio cake and crème brulee also look mighty fine.
The book’s size is practical too. Not so large it really doubles as a coffee-table-meets-food-porn book, it’s small enough to, say, carry with you or peruse recipes in bed just before drifting off for the night. Quite simply, it’s a practical cookbook that’s truly designed to be used.
Importantly, it does what I bemoan so few vegan cookbooks do: It pairs every recipe with a full-page, Donna Hay-worthy here’s-what-it-should-look-like image. Additionally, every recipe is relatively simple. By that I mean no recipe contains 50 billion ingredients, 49 billion of which you can’t find in your local supermarket and instead have to scale a Himalayan mountain to glean from some sheer cliff face only frequented by desperate vegans and mountain goats.
Nor do the recipes include and intimidating amount of steps or require enormous cooking prowess. Simply laid out on a page with plenty of white space, the list of ingredients and recipes make even non-cooks like me feel motivated rather than intimidated.
Worth noting is that they’re the kinds of recipes you could happily serve up to pre-vegans without either having to explain the complex list of ingredients (see previous passage about gathering food alongside Himalayan mountain goats) or worrying about someone turning their nose up.
My one criticism of the book is its title. Though making a clear statement of what the book is about, it’s not content-rich enough to easily find. I’ve spent a lot of time working in bookshops throughout my uni times. I can attest that trying to search databases on vague cookbook titles for impatient, passive-aggressive customers who consider you an idiot for not being able to immediately find the book they’re talking about would not be aided by these search terms.
I couldn’t even quickly find it on the Boomerang Books site, and I had the title correct and knew what the cover looked like (something said passive-aggressive customers rarely do). Rather than sort through pages of similarly titled books, I then searched on the author. So if you’re looking for this book, I recommend you search ‘Sue Quinn’.
Still, title aside, I realise I’m gushing about this book. And we all know me to not be a gusher. It is, quite simply, most excellent and the only vegan cookbook I’ve encountered to date that I’d be happy to both use myself and recommend as a day-to-day cookbook. I mean, you know a cookbook’s good if it can excite a non-cook such as me to start planning out the recipes—plural—they are going to prepare. Double thumbs up.