Before I begin this review–and in the spirit of full disclosure–I must confess to you all that my opinions in this blog post are biased.
No, not because I was paid to do this review (which I wasn’t); not because I received a free copy of the book (which I did); and not because I was asked to write something specific by the publishers (which I wasn’t). No, it’s because my own personal views of the author and her work have undoubtedly influenced what I will write here.
You see, ever since I first discovered the cookbooks of Nava Atlas (classics like Vegetariana; or Vegan Express; or Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews) , I’ve been in love with her recipes. They tend to embody “my” kind of food: mostly whole foods, lots of comfort-food dishes, innovative and interesting combinations of flavors, textures, spices and herbs. Good, hearty fare.
And while we’re on the topic of true confessions, let me also admit that when I find myself with a bunch of unassigned broccoli in my fridge, or a few lone kiwis in the fruit bowl, or a butternut squash lingering on the counter, it’s to Atlas’s books that I turn first to see what she’ll offer. I have never made a Nava Atlas recipe that didn’t work according to directions; and I’ve never made a Nava Atlas recipe that I didn’t like.
So, with that declaration off my chest (whew!), and both Easter and Passover just around the corner, I’ll move right to my review of the book. And I’m sure it will be no surprise to learn that I think highly of this one, too.
As it turns out, most of us do judge a book by its cover, and Vegan Holiday Kitchen is a visually beautiful book. Warm, earthy tones and opulent gilt edging grace its cover (along with a show-stopping photo by Susan Voisin–she of Fat Free Vegan fame–whose photos also occupy the interior of the book). The exceptional production values are evident throughout, from paper that’s thick and sturdy, to text that’s easy to read, to additional tips and notes and winsome line drawings (which I assume are Atlas’s own–the woman is also a talented visual artist) on chapter headers. Recipes are written in an easy-to-follow, clear and concise style, each one indicating specific dietary restrictions for which it is suitable.
The introduction offers various useful tips on how to navigate the holiday season as a vegan who may be strapped for time, invited to an omnivorous celebration, hosting an event, or wishing to make certain dishes ahead of time (while not Atlas’s preference, she does include a few pointers nonetheless).
Chapters cover all major holidays such as Thanksgiving; Christmas (and the attendant holiday season in general); Jewish holidays (Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah); Independence Day and Summer Entertaining (applicable to any summer holiday); and an entire chapter on Brunches, Appetizers and Potluck Dishes (for which this brunch lover was very grateful). Each chapter begins with an entertaining and informative section that discusses the holiday and how it can be adapted as a vegan celebration.
The first recipe I made may well be the most famous from the book (at least, I keep seeing photos of it floating around the blogosphere): the Red Quinoa Pilaf with Kale and Corn. Deceptively simple to put together, this is a filling, warming and satisfying dish highlighted by an unusual pairing of rosemary and cumin. I took Atlas’s advice and added beans to convert the side dish to a main meal. The smoky roasted peppers complemented the sweet, juicy pop of corn kernels and firm bite of kale in each mouthful. This would make a wonderful autumn or winter dish for any occasion.
Next up was the Squash, Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder. Initially, I chose this soup as a vehicle to use up the rest the bag of organic corn I’d purchased for the pilaf (and since I love sweet potatoes beyond measure, I’m happy to eat them any which way). Upon reading the recipe (which combines butternut squash along with the sweet potato in a slightly sweet, slightly chunky soup), I was concerned that the spices might prove too strong for the delicate flavors of the vegetables. But once the soup simmered according to instructions, it softened and developed a perfectly smooth and subtle flavor with a great savory undertone. The HH had nothing but praise for this one and made me promise to make it again.
Finally, I turned to the Spectacular Spring Salad. With my recent decision to cut back a bit on grains, I’ve been enjoying a variety of salads, most of them featuring my favorite green, kale, as the base. Since we don’t regularly consume the bitter greens in this salad (watercress, arugula and radicchio), it seemed like a good choice. Combined with more common ingredients such as radishes, avocado and carrots, it was, indeed, a spectacular tangle with greens, sprouts and seeds. Tossed with a simple, fresh dressing, it created a perfect first course.
On my list of recipes still to try are Moroccan-Flavored Tofu with Apricots and Olives; Corn Fritters with Cilantro Sauce; Watermelon and Peach Gazpacho; White Bean and Sun-dried Tomato Pate; Sweet Potato-Poppyseed Coleslaw; and Rice and Pecan Stuffed Squash. But honestly, this list is bound only by my dietary restrictions; if I could eat mushrooms, or gluten (some of the recipes for desserts look divine), or maple syrup, well–I’d likely have tagged every single recipe in the book.
I may be biased, but if you’re heading into the holidays next week still looking for menu options; or if you’ve invited someone at your table to whom you’d like to give a worthwhile gift; or if you’re planning ahead for warm weather Bar-B-Q’s and brunches–well, get yourself to the closest bookstore buy Vegan Holiday Kitchen. I know that, like Atlas’s other books in my collection, this one is destined to be my go-to source any time I’m planning a special occasion meal.
Spectacular Spring Salad from Vegan Holiday Kitchen (reprinted with permission by the author)
Suitable for the anti-candida diet, all stages
1 bunch watercress leaves
2 good handfuls baby arugula
1/2 head radicchio, thinly sliced
1 cup (240 ml) baby carrots, halved
1 medium-firm, ripe avocao, pitted, peeled and cut into small dice
4-6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup or so (240 ml) sprouts, preferably pea shoots or other large green sprouts
3 small seedless oranges, peeled and sectioned [not ACD-friendly; I used green apple]
1/4 cup (60 ml) toasted sunflower seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, or more, to taste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice, or more, to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a serving bowl and toss together.
Makes 8 servings.
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Other spring salads on DDD: