Veganism Meets Haute Cuisine

The Conscious Cook is truly a unique cookbook, not only because it contains high end vegan recipes, but because it combines recipes, elegant photos, chef bios, guidelines, and more.

Tal Ronnen graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute and has worked at the top vegan restaurants in the United States. He is known as the chef who prepared vegan meals for Oprah’s 21-day vegan cleanse. He has also catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s vegan wedding, Arianna Huffington’s party at the Democratic National Convention, and the first vegan dinner at the U.S. Senate.

He begins his book with the basics of what veganism means, it’s benefits, and debunking some common myths. He also lists plant-based proteins, kitchen tools & tricks, favorite ingredients & products, and superfoods.

The rest of the book is broken down into starters, salads, soups, sandwiches, entrees, and desserts. Supplemental chapters include seasonal dinner party menus, eating seasonally, his favorite vegan restaurants, and an easy references section that contains cooking guides for whole grains and beans. I found it strange that there wasn’t a heading for pasta in the index.

Each chapter also includes interviews with vegan chefs and founders/inventors of vegan products. Many of the recipes ask for Gardein products, which I was happy to find that Albertson’s now carries.

While the book is full of beautiful photos (every recipe has a photo), the recipes are daunting. The names and photos of the entrees look and sound like a 5 star restaurant (e.g., Tempura beet rolatini with balsamic gastrique). The book comes off as a bit pretentious, but it’s amazing to see Chef Tal’s artistry in print.  The recipes are not for everyday cooking. They can be time consuming and ask for ingredients you won’t have on hand or might not be able to readily find at the supermarket. Some of these ingredients include red palm oil, probiotic powder, and white miso paste.

The book is more of an inspirational springboard to create your own fabulous meatless meals at home. It really helped me with my week of veganism by introducing me to cashew cream. I am now obsessed with cashew cream, which was first developed by raw foodists. Raw cashews don’t have much flavor, but they do have a high fat content (don’t worry, it’s the good fat) that reduces faster than heavy cream. Chef Tal recommends using a Vita-Mix blender to get the correct smooth consistency, but my knock-off Bullet blender (from Target) did the job just fine. I also used his ricotta recipe to create my own, which I will share soon. There are a couple of other recipes that I am really excited to try. The book is available at the El Paso Public Library.

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