September 15, 2013
Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin
**I have tried 13 of the recipes in this cookbook**
I've been back and forth on how to review this cookbook. Having had it in my possession for about a year now (I always take a long time to review cookbooks since I try out a good amount of recipes), it's been hard for me to open it up and actually use it. So many of the recipes just didn't appeal to me or jump out and make me want to use it. And I've hard mixed feelings on some of the recipes I have made. I'm not a vegetarian, but I cook vegetarian quite often and enjoy the cuisine. And I think I have more vegetarian cuisine cookbooks than I do of other types of cuisine.
I received an Advanced Reviewer's Copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program. This means that it isn't a "complete" cookbook that I've been working through. The only picture was the cover (which is beautiful) although I've been told that the finished product has wonderful pictures. So when reviewing this, I have to bear in mind that maybe some of the recipes would have been more appealing with pictures to back them up and those who buy the full copy of the book will have a more positive experience than I did. As far as the rest of the layout of the book, I found it easy to read and well organized, with appropriate sized text for the recipes. Aside from the recipe section, there's also a beginning describing ingredients and kitchen tools, which can be helpful at times. I also appreciated the descriptions of the dish and the information at the beginning of the recipes.
In Appetizers and Small Dishes, the first chapter of recipes in this book, I actually only tried one recipe. There were several I thought about, but alas, just didn't have the time to powder my own cheddar cheese for the onion rings or do some of the other time consuming tasks that were required. I did make the Tempeh-Filled Potstickers. They were good, filling, and the sauce was great, but they were exceptionally time-consuming to make. At least for someone who's not experienced with making gyoza.
I made two recipes in the Soup section. The Garlic Miso Broth, which tasted heavily of Garlic and not much of anything else. And the White Bean and Kale Soup, which had a main flavor of the added Parmesan, but was otherwise plain with a nice texture. I think if I were to make it again, I would try adding quite a few spices to the mix. I do plan on making the Butternut Squash Soup with Maple Pumpkin Seeds in the future, it's just sourcing the pumpkin seeds that is proving difficult (and I just don't have enough time to peel individual seeds after carving a pumpkin myself). But it sounds delicious.
I did not make any of the salads. That's just a section I avoid in most cookbooks as it seems like a lot of work for a salad, no matter the book. There were some interesting sounding ones, like Green Mango Salad and Jicama, Radish and Orange Salad. But it's not a section that appealed to me.
I was surprised to see that the Main Course section was rather small. Only 8 recipes in total. But the Superfrice Grilled Cheese was good. I know it's a standard recipe, but the author was able to make it a little bit special using a unique cooking method.
The Main Course Pasta and Noodles dishes section was much larger. I tried the Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil and the Linguine with Mushrooms. Both were quick enough to make, but didn't offer a lot in terms of flavor, although I used all the ingredients recommended. I even added extra red pepper flakes to the Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil. The Linguine with Mushrooms had a wonderful texture with the mushrooms and white wine, but I think maybe adding more seasoning would have helped the dish. Just a bit of basil or oregano.
I thought the Stovetop Main Courses were interesting sounding. I actually only tried the Quinoa Cakes. Which had a great flavor once the salt and pepper was added, but I had the worst time keeping them together in cake form so it ended up just being quinoa on my plate. Not a terrible thing, but a little frustrating when trying to make it. There were enough eggs in it for a binder, so I'm not sure why they weren't holding together well.
From the Oven Main Courses I immediately went to the Mac and Cheese. This version was a Triple-Smokey Mac and Cheese. I loved the idea, and loved the texture, but ultimately found it a little too spicy. I think half of the chipotle amount would make this dish just about perfect. Unless you can really stand the heat, in that case you're good to go with the recipe. It also is a mac and cheese that freezes well. A couple of the other recipes in this section look easy to make, so in comparison with some of the other sections, this is one that is more approachable.
Side dishes was the next section. The Roasted Cipollini Onions and Beets were very good. There's not a vegetable out there that can't benefit from roasting, at least as far as I'm concerned. And this was a good mix of things. Jamaican Rice and Peas was spicy, even from one pepper, but it was very easy to make in my rice cooker and I was pleased with the results. It was also very filling.
I'm not much of a dessert person, so it really surprised me that I found the dessert chapter the best chapter in the book. The Raspberry-Blueberry Buckle was the perfect way to get rid of old fruit in the fridge. The Maple Pudding with Spiced Pecans was simple to make and absolutely delicious. The pudding was the perfect texture and used relatively few ingredients. And I loved the spice on the pecans. It was my favorite recipe in the book actually.
There's a breakfast section, but my idea of a breakfast is soda, so I have not tried anything from that section. And the last chapter of the book is just for various condiments and cooking items. I tried out the book's way of making homemade bread crumbs, and it was very effective and easy. The other items in the chapter were mostly sauces and they sounded interesting.
Overall I wouldn't call this a cookbook for beginners or new vegetarians. The recipes can get complicated and a lot are time consuming. They also require that you know very many different types of cooking using a variety of different appliances. Those that like a challenge though, could appreciate this cookbook. That's not saying that there aren't simple recipes, because there are a few in here. But, like I mentioned before, there's a recipe in here where you have to powder your own cheese. So it runs the gamut.
I think ingredient-wise it might not be as approachable either. I live in a major Metropolitan area (Charlotte) and I was even a little intimidated by some of the ingredients that were needed for this book. I'm sure there's somewhere around here that sells 99% of what's in this book, but finding that can be daunting and a lot of things (morels, certain sauces, fresh lychees) are not something that most people are going to be able to get their hands on. So that's something to keep in mind when you are cooking with this book. Sure you can go off of the recipe and use replacements, but sometimes that doesn't always work out as well, and for those who like to stick to recipes, it can be frustrating. Some of the ingredients, even if they are something you can find, can be on the pricey side too, so that may be another deterrent.
As far as it being vegetarian, this book does a good job of providing variety. Some of it may not sound that appealing to people, but at least it doesn't make use of a lot of fake meats or other standard vegetarian fare and it does have a lot of unique recipes. There are recipes that use cheese, so I wouldn't consider this a vegan cookbook, but it does have some vegan recipes in it.
I think that there are people out there who this would be a great cookbook for. But for me, it was just a little too time consuming to get some great recipes, and the others weren't as appealing to me. The ones I did have were mostly average (with a few really good recipes). But overall, this is a nice book to have around if you want to do something special.