Review: Vegan JapanEasy

When Vegan JapanEasy came out last March I’d been weighing up which of Tim Anderson’s other cookbooks to buy. JapanEasy was tempting but I really wanted Tokyo Stories. I’m already used to veganising recipes from non-vegan Japanese cookbooks (Sonoko Sakai’s Japanese Home Cooking and Luiz Hara’s The Japanese Larder are my current faves) and veganised versions of dishes from Just Hungry and Just One Cookbook. I’m not an expert, or even close to one, but I’m fairly used to veganising Japanese food.

Preparing a batch of citrus-pickled radishes

When Vegan JapanEasy came out I was half excited to own a Japanese cookbook that I wouldn’t need to convert and half worried: after all, it’s been written by a non-vegan author. Don’t get me wrong, non-vegans have a lot to add to the vegan cooking scene but when writing cookbooks they do tend to make similar mistakes. Like making weird generalisations about vegan diets, saying how vegan food is all unseasoned tofu and lentils and they’re here to save us from a life of bland. Completely ignoring any innovations vegan authors have made. Thankfully Tim Anderson avoids that one but he does express incredulity at vegan sushi and ramen in a way that a vegan author probably wouldn’t, and he’s not a fan of mock meats and alternate protein sources. Which, okay, some people aren’t fans, but when it comes to recipes like Stir-Fried Cabbage and Bean Sprouts With Ginger Sauce and Cauliflower Katsu Curry they’re just not going to fill you up as much as pork would.

Sweet Potato Ponzu Roll, before being rolled. Nori topped with rice, sweet potato and chives.

Mostly though I enjoy his writing style. On the Amazon reviews (never to be taken very seriously) someone questioned his respect for veganism and another person complained that he talked about kebabs. But – you know what – I’m still looking for something that hits all the same spot as a greasy kebab, so I have no objections in that department. I’m a big fan of the cheesy jokes and puns and that page-long rant about what Katsu means… well I’d frame it and hang it on the wall. If I didn’t live in a small flat. Enough of the general comments then, on with the food.

Yaki-onigri. A rice ball coated in miso glaze, grilled and wrapped with a small strip of nori

Years and years and years ago I bought myself some onigri moulds. I though it would be impossible to get that perfect triangle shape by hand. It’s not but I have the moulds now so I don’t even need to try. I made them to turn into Yaki-onigri. In which your plain rice ball is turned into a ball of rich, sweet caramelized perfection with a coat of sweet miso sauce and some time under the grill. Twice I’ve had these for lunch and then spent the afternoon drooling at the memory.

An assortment of dishes over short grain rice: teriyaki roasted carrots, cucumber and wakame with seasoned vinegar and jackfruit karaage

Teriyaki-Roasted Carrots was the next dish to try. Both roast carrots and teriyaki sauce are favourites of mine and the combination was exactly as good as I thought it would be. I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by this version of teriyaki sauce though. Based on the sweet-soy sauce recipe earlier in the book with cornflour which makes it a bit too tacky when its baked on (we tried it on tofu as well as these carrots)

The night I made the carrots was a night where I just made whatever I had the ingredients for. Then I chucked it on some short grain rice to pretended it was a balanced meal. So there is also Cucumber And Wakame with Seasoned Vinegar (favourite!) and Jackfruit Karaage. The Jackfruit Karaage was interesting. The taste was spot-on but the jackfruit was kind of soggy. I usually make Karaage with chunks of unchicken breast from Miyoko Schinner’s Homemade Vegan Pantry and this hasn’t converted me to jackfruit.

a messy rendition of agedashi tofu with more cucumber and seaweed salad and the finished pickled radishes

Just before Christmas I got a packet of vegan tempura prawns to try and figured I’d cook up a few other small dishes to go with it. It seemed like a good opportunity to try my hand at Agedashi Tofu. It turns out that I am not skilled at keeping silken tofu together as I deep-fry it. The taste made up for it though. Fresh and subtly sweet. Not exactly what you expect when you heat the oil for deep frying but perfect to eat in the middle of all those rich festive meals. Also with a fresh taste, but by no means a subtle one, I made a batch of citrus-pickled radishes. They’re a mind- and taste-bud-blowing treat.

Sweet Potato Stuffed Sushi Rolls with a small dish of citrus-pickled radishes and some cucumber and wakame salad

I couldn’t pass the Makizushi section without trying one of the rolls. I went for the Sweet Potato Ponzu Rolls because it didn’t have crushed cornflakes on the outside; sorry, but that’s a texture too far for me. The Sweet potato is baked and marinated until it’s the best sweet potato you’ve ever had, and chives make everything better. I made a batch of this to take to my Guides’ Christmas Party. It was over Zoom so I got to eat the whole batch myself.

breaded burger, cabbage and beansprouts, and rice

Kate’s very favourite dish in the entire cookbook (and possibly her favourite thing I make at all right now) is the Mock Meat Menchi Katsu. Tim Anderson hated all vegan burger attempts before trying the Beyond Burger which he says is ‘life-changing’ (considering how much money I’ve put into the pockets of the Beyond Burger people through this pandemic I can’t argue with that) so he suggests using it here. I knew though that the serving suggestion of raw cabbage would not be met with Kate’s approval so I thought maybe Stir-Fried Cabbage and Bean Sprouts with Ginger Sauce would be better. I thought it was great. Bags of ginger flavour. But Kate hates cabbage in all forms and would, in future, prefer her fried, breaded burgers without vegetables.

Last up is today’s lunch – curry ramen – so I can remember both the brilliant taste and burn on my tongue because I couldn’t wait to eat it. So good! I like Japanese curry in all its forms so if you drown carbs in it and cover with crunchy veg I’m going to be very happy.

Should you buy this book? Well, if you’re vegan and new to cooking Japanese food this is 100% perfect for you. But it is, after all, JapanEasy so if you’ve got a bit of experience under your belt you might only find recipes for things you know. If so you still might find it worthwhile to have a collection of recipes that are already veganised and ready to go. I know I do.

Review: Purezza Vegan Pizza (in book form)

I did most of the cooking for this review back in May but I’ve been sitting on it ever since. It’s hard to work out how I feel about this book. I think that if you want a book to tell you how to make vegan pizza you should buy this book. If you already know how to make vegan cheeses (from Miyoko Schneider’s books for example), or how to impart meaty flavours into beetroot and carrots (Terry Hope Romero’s Salad books), or have a go-to base recipe (Isa’s Pizza from Vegan With A Vengeance) then you don’t need this book. You might want it because it has all the pizza tips in one place but there is nothing earth-shattering. Nothing terribly new. It doesn’t even make a great cookbook for fans of the Purezza Restaurants (which we are) because it won’t teach you how to make the exact cheeses they use, the exact base they use, the salami, or even the dough balls. On that front it’s massively disappointing, but (and this might be the biggest ‘but’ I’ve ever made) you can get pretty good pizza from it.

A slightly misshapen handmade pizza with tomato sauce and a scattering of commercial grated vegan cheese

The book is set out with all your basics in the front – dough, sauce, cheese, toppings – and ways of combining them towards the back. This means that you can make basically any pizza you want or sub in store-boughts or old standbys for some of the ingredients. For my first pizza I wanted to test out the base so I kept it simple with marinara and Violife. The dough I choose to make was the sourdough variation of the Whole Meal Dough (there are commercial yeast and GF variations), though at a 1:9 ratio of wholemeal to plain flour I don’t know that I’d actually call it wholemeal. I would call it delicious. It’s got a nice light flavour and puffs up perfectly.

Three Small Pizzas With Deep-fried Bases, Tomato Sauce and A Sprinkle of Vegan Parmesan

Keeping with the dough and tomato theme I decided to make these delicious little Montanara Pizzas. The dough is deep fried and then they are topped with the marinara and a little bit of Grated Nut Parmesan. The nut parmesan is much like any other nut-based parmesan which I’ve been eating for at least a decade. The pizza is like any other deep fried food but that makes it delicious so no complaints there.

A pizza with a very bubbled crust topped with slices of potato, cubes of browned carrot, vegan cheese and vegan parmesan

It was time to get a bit more ambitious with the toppings. We had the Roasted Potato and Smoked Carrot Pancetta Pizza. The carrot cubes are cooked in a baconish marinade and then crisped along the edges. It’s rich, smoky and just the right amount of sweet. You’ll also notice a different cheese.

I used the cashew mozzarella (also on all of the following pizzas) which they admit is not the ‘more complex recipe for producing our unique mozzarella, which is completely allergen-free’, which I imagine will be a disappointment to nut allergy sufferers who have enjoyed the restaurant. And to be honest it disappointed me too, being a fairly standard cashew cheese. It says it is unique in that you don’t need to soak the nuts and therefore can make it the same day you want to eat it. While all things are possible with a Vitamix I would 100% recommend soaking the cashews overnight anyway. It’s just easier to get an even blend. I don’t want to be too down about it because it is a good, solid cashew mozzarella – I make it all the time – but if you put Purezza on the front of the book I expect recipes they serve at Purezza.

Pizza with a deep red tomato sauce, charred courgette and vegan cheese.

Taking a slight detour into a different sauce we tried the Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Courgette Pizza (I’m looking at the recipe now and either I forgot the garnishes or I just forgot to photograph them; both options sound like something I’d do). This pizza brought two revelations. The first was that if I sliced it thin enough, Kate would eat courgette placed on a pizza. The second was that sauce. The sun-dried tomato pesto is everything and we loved it so much. We ate the leftovers the next day with breadsticks from Epic Vegan and it was basically one of the best lunches we’ve ever had.

Pizza with tomato sauce and spinach spread across the base with dollops of vegan ricotta and mozzarella and finished with vegan parmesan

And finally we come to the pizza that keeps me coming back to this book. The classic combo of spinach and ricotta is done really well here. It’s light and bright, pairing perfectly with this style of base. And while I could find the recipes for the individual parts in any one of the hundreds of cookbooks I already own, sometimes I’m just lazy enough to want it all in one book.

If you’re new to vegan cooking, or vegan pizza cooking then this book is going give you the basics, and wont let you down. If you already have a vegan pizza method then its usefulness depends on how lazy you are. And if you were looking for that nut free cheese, that perfect salami, or those dough balls, then I’m afraid you’re out of luck.

Review: Epic Vegan (part 2)

Hello again, last Friday I started reviewing the wonderful Epic Vegan by Dustin Harder but then I realised I’d made far too much food for it to fit in one post and split it into two. Let’s continue were we left off.

bite-sized pretzels

This is another recipe that can be combined in to some very epic dishes but we just nommed it on its own because we’re greedy like that. The Pretzel Dough recipe in the book can be made into bowls (for soup), classic shaped soft pretzels, or pretzel bites. I made the bites because I thought it would be easier to share that way. They probably would have been easier to share if I wasn’t capable of inhaling them. Great in the moment but now I have to drink a lot.

Spiral pizza rolls with a white mozzarella sauce swirled on top

To explain how deep my cravings have been for a good pizza roll I need to confess my pre-gan addiction to the ones they sell in the bakery section of Tesco. Which was the only thing open in Torquay when I used to start working at stupid early in the morning. It was my lifesaver if I skipped (okay, slept through) breakfast. This is the only recipe I’ve found that hits that craving. The dough is fluffy on the inside with just the right amount of bite to it. The tomato sauce is assertive without being overpowering and the Saucy Mozzarella brings that perfect layer of cheese.

The Saucy Mozzarella is one of the foundational recipes in the book so I’ll just talk about it briefly here. I think the taste of the Saucy Mozzarella is a little too assertive. I think mozzarella is much more subtle in its flavour. That’s not to say this cheese sauce is bad, just that I wouldn’t necessarily compare it to mozzarella. That said I think the stronger taste really works here in these rolls.

Rectangular pizza base with an even coating of mac and cheese dotted with sliced hot-dogs, mozzarella sauce and ketchup

This is the Franks ‘N’ Mac Pizza and I feel it’s unfair to talk about the pizza as a whole until I’ve talked about the recipes that make it up. First there is the base. The Pizza Dough recipe in this book is now my go-to recipe for a takeaway-style pizza. It’s great for times when you want to mimic the type of pizza that comes in a greasy box. Without so much grease. It goes really well with all these bold, over-the-top flavours. There’s also saucy mozzarella on here which I talked about above and then there is Easy Creamy Shells And Cheese.

I understand the point of the Easy Creamy Shells and Cheese was to create a mac and cheese that could be made from regular supermarket ingredients (or regular for the US, not necessarily for me) and so it’s made from cooked vegetables and starches instead of nuts and nooch. For us though it just tastes too much like it’s composite parts, especially the pepper. I’m sure some people will be reading this will think that’s sounds great but for me I prefer the taste of a good old cashew and nooch sauce. The more unusual vegan ingredients take just as much effort as finding squash in the supermarket in springtime here.

So we didn’t like the mac. That did put us off the pizza but if I was to make this again with the mac and cheese from The Homemade Vegan Pantry (for example; other Mac and Cheeses are available) it would be an absolute winner. The base is great, the topping combo is great. I just wish I liked that mac.

A more traditional round pizza with a turned over crust, bright red sauce a sprinkling of grated mozzarella, meatball halves and topped with Parmesan

The Stuffed-Crust Meatball Parm Pizza had to be tried. Again it took a few recipes to put it together. The Pizza Dough and Saucy Mozzarella we’ve already talked about. There’s also Beet Marinara, a vivid red tomato and beetroot sauce. It does taste of beetroot so that might encourage you or discourage you depending on how you feel about beetroot. The meatballs are a tempeh/mushroom/wheat gluten mix and they are fantastic but you can also use store-bought and I’ll probably be sticking to Linda’s in future because I can’t eat too many mushrooms. There’s also Quinoa Bacon Bits, saltly, sweet, smoky quinoa that add a perfect finishing touch to the pizza.

a large pie with a quarter taken out from the bottom, revealing a filling of spaghetti

While I was making meatballs for the pizza I thought why not make some for this pie. In fact this pie seems to be born out of the question ‘why not?’. This is Baked Spaghetti and Meatball pie. This time I opted for plain marinara instead of the beet version but I still got my home-made hit from those little bites of chewy, umami laden meatballs. The crust is a bit too crumbly for my liking but I’m from the north and have very firm opinions about shortcrust. It tastes nice, buttery, but I like my pies to be a bit more solid. I loved the overall effect of the pie though and I really want to make it for kids. I think they’d get a big hit out of cutting the pie open at the table and finding spaghetti and meatballs inside.

Pink pasta coated in a creamy sauce and topped with a sprinkle of quinoa

Once again the quinoa bacon bits make an appearance. They were very moreish. Here they top a carbonara and the sauce was good but those bacon bits are amazing. I should note that my version is looking a little pink there because I used home made beetroot pasta; before mixing them together the sauce looked more sedate.

Epic Vegan is a book of recipes for all those fab, mad, Instagramable creations. They’re going to taste as good as they look – there’s no need to worry about that – but they’re also going to take a lot of effort. There are some simple dishes in there, like the carbonara, and some, like the meatball pizza, you could assemble from store bought alternatives. It’s not all hard graft but it’s not a book of simple recipes or everyday recipes. I wouldn’t recommend this as anyone’s first vegan cookbook but I would recommend it if you want to show off and have some fun.

Review: Epic Vegan (part 1)

You know that I love insanely indulgent vegan fast food but I’m separated from awesome eateries, like Samphire in Plymouth or V Rev in Manchester, right now. I do love a good cooking project though so I got myself a copy of Dustin Harder’s Epic Vegan and got to work.

Golden brown baked potato wedges served with cheeseburgers, broccoli and aioli for dipping

The book starts with a chapter of basic recipes which are then added to and combined to make the more Epic dishes. Plenty of them stand well on their own though so if you’re in a pinch there are some simple ways to get the epic taste. One of our favourites is the Crispy Drive-Thru Potato Wedges. We had the baked version alongside some burgers for a simple meal (also we had broccoli; broccoli has vitamins)

Battered potato wedges alongside breaded ‘chicken’ and lightly wilted spinach.

The deep fried version is a little more work but the pay off is in how quick they are to cook and how delicious the batter is. Kate very quickly declared that in future all potatoes must be cooked this way. (A few days later she discovered Pesto Wedges and said the same thing about them.) That lightly spiced batter is absolutely perfect.

Puffy bread sticks topped with parmesan and served with a tomato sauce

The Cray Cray Bread is based on breadsticks you can get at chain pizza places in America. The book mentions Little Caesars but I’m sure I had some from Pizza Hut as a pre-gan teen. Anyway they’re not really a thing in the UK. They’re chewy, puffy bread sticks with garlic butter and parmesan (there’s a hemp parmesan recipe in the book but you’re also encouraged to use shop bought when you don’t fancy making everything from scratch) We had a plate between us for lunch with some tomato sauce and couldn’t help ourselves from eating the whole lot.

Golden drop biscuits on a baking tray, topped with parsley.

One of the more recent recipes we’ve tried is the Garlicky Cheddar Biscuits. These are American style biscuits and it’s suggested that you have them with sausage gravy. Now I’m not one of those English people who pretends to be shocked by the idea of biscuits with gravy but I do have texture issues and American style gravy is not something I’m able to eat. The biscuits can totally stand alone though. They’re bursting with butter, cheese and all the garlic you could want. Which, for the record, in my case is a lot.

Three glazed doughnut holes covered in glitter and a doughnut covered in glitter with blue and white snowflake sprinkles

With this doughnut I’m combining my love of junk food with my love of Disney. To celebrate Frozen 2 (a film we saw twice in the cinema) arriving on Disney+ I made a batch of the Crispy Cream Donuts and decorated them with silver glitter and snowflake sprinkles. This is the first time I’ve made traditional fried doughnuts and it was so easy. Seriously. Just follow the recipe and go from zero to doughnut master in around two hours. And most of that is waiting for the dough to rise.

A hot dog, on a bun topped with hash browns, scrambled tofu, red peppers and sriracha mayo

Based on a dish from Cycle Dogs in Seattle (I’m just going to put that on my places to visit list) this is a holy combination of breakfast and hot dogs. The eggs and hash brown recipes are from earlier in the book and both work well as a stand-alone (the hash browns especially: make an extra-large batch so you can stuff a bunch in the freezer; you won’t regret it) but if you combine brilliant sides and wrap them around a hot dog you’re going to be very happy.

I’m going to leave it there for now. There’s another six dishes from this book I want to talk about but it’s probably best to have a little break to digest. I’ll have the second half of the post up on Wednesday 8th. See you then.