Author: Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Publisher: Lifelong Books
Retail Price: $19.95
Buy On Amazon.com
I don’t respect brunch as a legitimate meal; I feel like clever restaurateurs created it to upsell stale breakfast food and give diners a shameless rationale for drinking before noon. High tea – now that’s an underappreciated appetite-quencher. When are you hungrier – between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and dinner? See what I mean? High tea is the perfect in-between meal, with pleasant little sandwiches and a civilized pot of Earl Grey at around 4-4:30, just enough to get you through your cold, lonely commute home. The embracing of brunch over high tea in this country is testament to our collective stupidity and failure as a race and I eagerly await our deserved self-destruction.
That said, Vegan Brunch’s author Isa Chandra Moskowitz makes a persuasive argument that brunch isn’t so much about scarfing calories than about slowing down the day, catching up with friends, and doing something outside of the usual bagel-and-coffee. Moskowitz argues that these unique strong points of brunch also make it one of the best meals to host: thus a cookbook on a meal I would otherwise consider expensive breakfast with mimosas.
As for the vegan part, while Moskowitz has got me listening about brunch, no one can convince me that scrambled tempeh is edible. Then again, I’m not vegan and I appreciate the fact that such a lifestyle means having to eat substances other people would normally use as adhesive or insulation.
Luckily, this cookbook isn’t all about making you hunt down various protein-like blobs. There’s a surprising amount of variety in this cookbook, including countless items you’d make anyway without meat products, and only some of the eggier recipes require texturized gelatinous paste. And perhaps it’s subversive, but (shhh!) you can always use those recipes and replace the wacky stuff with eggs. From a technical standpoint, vegan or not, all of the recipes do provide a great base and technique for all late-morning things sweet and savory, and ideas for variations are included and encouraged. (Soy milk in place of regular milk, however, does work pretty well in brunchy recipes.)
Back to the variety. Moskowitz went around the world (figuratively) for inspiration, and there are excellent, Coozer-tested recipes for pierogies, Ethiopian crepes (very easy and flavorful), stuffed poblanos, Peruvian home fries, fennel breakfast risotto (!), chocolate beer waffles (!!!!), and dozens more, organized by sweet, savory, bread basket (muffiny/biscuity things), sides, toppings, and drinks.
Recipes are easy to follow and begin with a fun, conversational introduction. The recipe then continues with the how-to in paragraph form. While the art of cooking is usually more multitasking and flexible than linear, I do prefer a numbered step approach to recipes. Moskowitz, though, makes the paragraph thing work. She has a great way of imparting those learned lessons you rarely get from no-nonsense recipes – exactly what color the onions should be before you add the so-and-so, when to lift the lid to make sure the steam doesn’t blow up your apartment, etc. The clear but careful direction makes it feel as if the author were in the kitchen with you (if only!).
Vegan Brunch includes lots of colorful photos, fonts, and sidebars, helpful variations, and blurby tips (I didn’t know that about basil stems!). While I think adding soft tofu to matzah brei is a travesty befitting lice, blood, and frogs, the recipes I tried came out delicious.
I’m no vegan or brunch-lover, but this is an appealingly designed cookbook with clear and personable recipes that embraces the traditional standards while ranging far beyond them. Heck, I might even take a stab at the awesome-looking vegan chorizo (anyone know where I can buy liquid smoke?).
Bottom Line: Vegans can eat chocolate beer waffles?!