Book Report: Vegan Brunch

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You have to admit – there is little better in the foodie world than that lazy weekend meal, brunch. Stacks of warm pancakes with maple syrup; tender omelets stuffed with veggies; moist muffins and coffee cake; savory sausage and potato hash – with a steamy cup of coffee and of course, a spicy bloody mary. Sigh… bliss.

But as a vegan, lots of brunch foods had slipped from the repertoire. I remember when I realized that being vegan meant no more quiche. A sad day. BUT – Isa Chandra Moskowitz,  culinary mastermind, wrote a fabulous book called Vegan Brunch: Homestyle Recipes Worth Waking Up for -from Asparagus Omelets to Pumpkin Pancakes. This brilliant piece of work was published in 2009, but we only recently got our hands on it and I must say, if this cookbook is not in your collection, you should immediately get on Amazon and buy it. Like, now.

Cooking and baking our way through this book has been like revisiting long lost friends. Omelets, quiche, sausages, frittatas, French toast, crepes. I don’t know Isa Chandra Moskowitz personally, but if I ever met her, it would be quite difficult not to hug her. She gave me back some of my favorite foods, almost two decades lost.

Here are glimpses into a few of our favorite recipes from the book….

Tofu Omlets, with Swiss Chard, from pages 13 & 16. Right out of the gate, when you see the photo of the Tofu Omlet, you begin to salivate (photo below). We have made it several times and served it to company (vegan and non-veg!) It’s a huge crowd pleaser.

In this recipe she introduces kala namak – Indian black salt. This specialized salt was easy to find for us, there are several Indian grocers in our area of Baltimore. And it was cheap to buy a good-sized bag. We have what may be a lifetime supply in the pantry and spent about $4.00. Kala Namak has a sulfuric taste and will remind you of eggs. For real. Oh – and when Isa talks about paying attention to the moisture content of the omlet batter on page 14, you need to pay attention. We used Nasoya brand soft tofu, as she suggested, but we still had to add water each time we made the omlets , even as much as 2/3 cup more to get  the right consistency.

The next recipe we tried was the Swiss Chard Frittata on page 35. We didn’t photograph it, as ours didn’t look very pretty. For us, the recipe came out too moist and fell apart when we tried to slice it. Don’t get me wrong – it tasted delicious! We served it as a scramble in the end, with sauted shiitake mushrooms on top. Isa doesn’t call for the kala namak in this recipe, but we used it anyhow and it really added to the flavor.

Classic Broccoli Quiche, on page 41, was another winner. We made it for a green-business club dinner, as well as a brunch with family. There’s not a photo because, well, it went SO FAST! Everyone loved this dish. Again, we used the kala namak in place of regular salt. We also soaked the cashews overnight and doubled the mustard, thyme, tarragon, turmeric  and pepper from Isa’s recipe. Our first taste of the batter seemed a little bland. Could be we just like a heavier flavor profile. The Basic Pastry Crust recipe, on page 47, is perfect, though. The dough was easy to work with and baked up beautifully for the quiches.

But let’s move on from the vegan-egg-type-dishes. After all, no brunch is complete without pancakes! The Dirty Hippie makes a pretty awesome pancake already. He has several of his own recipes we love, and we’re also big fans of the PETA  Blueberry Pancake recipe.

On page 85 though, Isa offers up a Pumpkin Pancake recipe (photo above) that is simply scrumptious! They were moist and warm and like a sweet stack of autumnal heaven. We ate ours with sorghum instead of maple syrup and they were divine. The recipe is flawless. And of course, it’s October as I type this, so it’s the ideal time of year for Pumpkin Pancakes – but by all means, eat these anytime. Canned pumpkin is readily available and the recipe is soooo good, I can’t think of a reason not to eat them all year long!

Moving on from pancakes to waffles, we loved the Gingerbread Waffles on page 95. This recipe was prepared for holiday brunch guests, so we didn’t get a chance to photograph it and – again – we had no leftovers. But the flavor was like a bite of Christmas cheer and gave you a slightly warm, cozy feeling on a cold winter day. Yum! At the same meal, we also offered the Pumpkin French Toast on page 101. Another perfect recipe that executes exquisitely. It was buttery and rich-tasting, but in reality, it was the pumpkin that gave it so much richness. We ended up giving both of these recipes to our guests (non-vegans!). Cuz, damn – they were delicious!

No brunch  is complete without some sort of potato offering, according to Isa’s intro in Vegan Brunch. We couldn’t agree more. And her book offers up home fries, hashes and roasted potatoes, as well as some more unusual recipes, like the Creamy Avocado Potato Salad on page 123.  As potato salads go, this recipe was smooth, creamy and quite surprising. The lime & cayenne bring some pop and the onions & cukes give a great crunch. We ate the entire first batch with spoons in the kitchen. Try this one – it’s incredible. You may never want to use vegan mayo in your potato salad again.

Well, unless you try the Coleslaw Potato Salad with Cumin Seeds on page 120. To preface this, my Dad is a coleslaw junkie. The man can sit down and eat huge, ridiculous portions of slaw. And he is old-school omnivore – he’s probably never even hear of Vegenaise. But that’s what we used to make this, as the recipe suggests. I made him a double batch to start with, knowing it would be delish. He ate it all between lunch and dinner. We had to make another double batch the next day!  Oh, and we didn’t have cumin seeds, so we subbed in cumin powder. It worked fine and the flavor was still perfection.

Want more perfection? Try making the Samosa Mashed Potato Pancakes on page 125. We’re big fans of Indian food here, so the mention of something-like samosas for breakfast, but without the usual labor-intensive job of making samosas works for us! These are simple to make – don’t be daunted by the instructions, which look longer than they are, and lots of fun as a breakfast, brunch or dinner dish. Heck, eat them anytime. We doubled the turmeric, mustard, garlic, cumin and red pepper flakes, because we like hearty flavor. Oh – we ate ours with jarred chutney, but Isa does offer a homemade Spiced Apple Cider Chutney recipe on page 72. We haven’t tried it yet, but it looks good!

Of course, some vegans and vegetarians aren’t into faux meats. To each their own. But for us, we say what brunch is complete without some sort faux sausage or bacon? If you feel lazy, just grab a vegan pre-fab, like Gimmee Lean Sausage or Smoky Bacon Tempeh Strips. If you’re more ambitious, Isa has you covered. She has recipes for homemade Cherry Sage Sausages on page 138, Chorizo on page 139 and Smoky Shiitakes on page 150. Alluring protein options for your brunch plate.

From this food category, we tried the Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs on page 129  (photo above).  We served it to clients who were coming to our office for a consultation with some wine and they were blown away (and asked for the recipe!). These tasty little squares couldn’t be easier to make. They come together almost effortlessly. This is a recipe children could help with during the beginning and end steps, and would easily sub in as a supper main-dish. The only thing is you have to give yourself time: the puff pastry needs to thaw; the tempeh needs to marinate; the pastry needs to bake. Ours took a few minutes longer than 18-20 minutes. Yum!

There is another rock star in the faux meat offerings: the Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes on page 132! We live in Baltimore, and there are crab cakes literally everywhere. While we don’t eat them, we known how they should look and smell, as well as the correct texture. And of course, we both ate them years ago, before going vegan. When Isa confessed in her recipe intro that she never had a crab cake before going vegan, we had concerns she might miss the mark on this offering. And – she did neglect to add Old Bay, which all Maryland crab cakes contain – but otherwise, this faux crab cake is the real deal! The recipe is more time-consuming than several others in the book, so be sure you give yourself enough time  – and space – to work on it. When Isa asks you to let the tempeh cool, she is serious – you need to do this step or the cakes fall apart. We added a Tablespoon of Old Bay to the tempeh sauce, and 3 Tablespoons to the panko breadcrumbs. We used Tabasco brand Chipotle Sauce whenever Isa asks for hot sauce, and it added a nice spicy, smokiness.  The remoulade sauce is scrumptious – we loved it. But if you want a true Baltimore-style crab cake, you need to have cocktail sauce (a mix of ketchup, horseradish and vegan Worchestershire sauce) instead.

As a sidenote, – Isa mentioned that she thinks the Chesapeake Bay is doing better these days… sadly, the Bay is not doing that well. We wish it was. A local Baltimore news report was just released that 1.1 billion gallons of sewage has been released into the harbor in the past year alone. Boo! Our beautiful waterways are struggling. Try these faux crab cakes, then visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and see how you can help clean up this majestic part of America.

Nothing finishes off a brunch spread like a sweet baked goodie. And who knows vegan baked goods better than Isa Chandra Moskowitz?! (See Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World , Vegan Pie in the Sky, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar)  We knew that any selection from the baked goods chapter was going to be a home-run.

The East Coast Coffee Cake on page 172 was fabulous (photo above). Again, we served this to clients at a meeting, (different clients!) with coffee, cocoa and tea. The variation we made was on page 175, berry with citrus zest. The crumble topping is so good, you will want to eat it with a spoon. We made ours with half whole wheat flour and only 4 Tablespoons of canola oil. It worked out fine. The cake comes together like a dream – so simple. The most challenging part of this recipe is the hour you need to wait to cut it. This will be the longest hour of your life. The coffee cake is tender, flavorful and sweet; it makes the house smells heavenly. A wonderful way to begin the day – or wow some clients!

We tried the scones, too, on page 180 in the Apple-Rosemary variety, page 183. These were a gift for friends and were another smashing success. They were crunchy on the outside, and flaky & soft on the inside with an ideal balance of flavors. With a warm cup of earl grey, the scones are great for a snooty afternoon tea – or as a brunch treat. Our friends also said they were excellent as a midnight snack.

Sadly, we haven’t gotten to the drink recipes yet, which begin on page 224. If the rest of the book is any indication, though, there’s no doubt these are yummy! The Black and White Le Cremes on page 228 sound especially fun!

The final thoughts: Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is incredible. It should be on the bookshelf of every vegan/vegetarian and should be used frequently. These recipes aren’t complex, but they do require you to pay attention and precisely follow directions. If you are up to that task, get ready for lots of compliments from whoever you cook/bake for! Vegan Brunch is a winner!!! We can’t wait to try more of the recipes, like the Tofu Benny on page 67, Chocolate Beer Waffles on page 97 and Fennel Breakfast Risotto on page 48.

Thanks Isa – you brought brunch back to vegan home cooks in grand style!

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