Saturday, 24 September 2016

Cookbook Review: Vegan Bowls

Vegan bowls.
It doesn't sound like an exciting book, does it?
Bowls of vegan stuff.
Visions of brown rice and mung bean stew and green stuff.

I'm pretty sure this was what Phil had in mind when I told him we'd be eating from this book for the next few weeks.

But if you're on Instagram, well, ever, you'll know that bowls are a thing.
(I mean, tbh, I've been eating my dinner out of a bowl since I was as uni and I've always been a fan of maximum gravy with minimum spillage).
The clean eating crowd seem to enjoy that it makes it look like they have "omg SO MUCH food" when they've literally just filled a bowl with 7 different kinds of zero-calorie vegetables, but in a lot of cases a "bowl meal" is a great way to make a complete meal of different veg, carb and protein components. I also like a bowl meal because it's a great way to throw together random bits of leftovers out of my fridge and make it into a meal ("Roasted veg? Avocado? Feta? Eggs? Ah I'll just make a bowl"). 

The beauty of a bowl is that there are no rules, but if you're like me, you need a bit of structure in your life. Enter Vegan Bowls.


First impressions
To be honest, I thought the structure of this book would be very much protein - veg - grain - sauce, but it goes so far beyond that. To the point that at first I was a bit disappointed as some recipes made me think "that's not really a bowl!" but because of that it's actually really innovative! Of course there are the classic protein-veg-grain combos, but also curries, soups, stews, pasta dishes and even breakfast bowls. I loved the variety of dishes in this book. Hungarian, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, British, Greek, Italian - there's something for everyone in this book!

I found about 25 recipes that I was excited to make from this book. First impressions of the book were that most recipes seemed relatively accessible - not too many strange ingredients, but my biggest concern was timings. I like to have dinner on the table about an hour after getting home from work (I usually get home about 6 so dinner is usually around 7) and there are quite a lot of moving parts in this book, so I wanted to be confident everything was do-able midweek so I didn't have to relegate this book to the "only for weekends" pile. There didn't seem to be many complicated cooking methods - the only challenge would be to be to stay on top of everything when there are multiple components on the go. There are "quick tips" for every recipe which give you help on how to get everything done more quickly. She reckons about 30 minutes for each recipe, but I tend to find recipe book authors can chop much quicker than I can, so I thought giving myself an hour each time would be about right.

Here's what I tried...

Sweet spicy eggplant zucchini bowl
Oooh this was good, but definitely spicy! I'd reduce the amount of hot sauce next time, and maybe swap the veg (aubergine and courgette aren't Phil's favourites) but the sauce itself was amazing. With this being my first recipe from Vegan Bowls I don't think I was ready for how intense it was keeping on top of everything - rice, nuts, vegetables, sauce - and I got a bit overwhelmed. It took about 45 minutes though, so now I've got the hang of this style of cooking a bit more I couldn't definitely make this again midweek. Absolutely delicious and can't wait to make it again!

Tex Mex risotto bowl
Until quite recently (as in, until I made the mint and pea risotto from Keep it Vegan), I'd never been a big fan of risotto, and I've never made it before. However I adore that pea and mint risotto (maybe I just really like vegan risotto as it's not as creamy as regular risotto? I hate cream and creamy sauces) and Mexican flavours are my favourite, so I had to give this a try.
This was another recipe that involved some juggling (spoiler alert: they all do, so I'm gonna stop saying it now), but came together relatively quickly with mostly store cupboard ingredients. I halved the recipe for two of us (instant regrets) and swapped out some of the veg, but this was one of the nicest things I've ever made! Phil said this was "up there" with the best things I've ever cooked. My only criticism is it was a bit salty, but I think that's my fault for making my broth too strong. Amazing, amazing, amazing - perfect for midweek but I'd even give it the biggest honour in my house and serve it to guests. I can't believe I haven't made this again yet!

Chickpea brasoi bowl
I'm going to Budapest with my Mum in November (it was my gift to her for her 60th Birthday in July!) so I was quite excited to try some of the Hungarian recipes in this book. This was my first example of "well that's not really a bowl" as it's a stew with a pickled veg side, but I realised more and more as I worked through the book that it's great to have so much variety in one book, not just traditional bowls. This is very garlicky (10 cloves!) and smokey (lots of smoked paprika - however I learned after that Hungarian paprika, which is called for in the book, isn't as smokey as smokey paprika, so this was stronger flavoured than I think it was meant to be!). I loved the pickled salad as a bit of a palette-cleanser - it was so perfect with the stew! I did find with this one there wasn't quite enough for four with it only really being a stew and salad without having any other veg or grain to bulk it out. It came together in about 40 minutes. Would I make it again? Yeah maybe! It wasn't my favourite but it was very tasty and easy.

Thai Panang curry bowl
This was a good way to use up random bits of veg in the bottom of the fridge. The sauce was absolutely delicious - even without the kaffir lime leaves. I added chickpeas for some protein as that was the one thing this seemed to be lacking. Really delicious and will probably make again.

Spicy ginger polenta bowl
I felt myself coming down with a cold the night I made this, so I definitely appreciated a bowl full of garlic, ginger and chilli! I don't eat much polenta but I'd had a bag in my cupboard for a while so I was interested in trying it. This wasn't my favourite, but it was still pretty tasty.

Sizzling Southwestern fajita salad bowl
Anything that involved tortilla chips is a winner in my book! I didn't realise this was a salad and ran out of lettuce before I could make it, so I substituted spinach instead. This was a big success and I would definitely make it again with a few changes. Phil isn't the biggest fan of lentils so next time I'd make this with black beans.

Everyday dal with potato cakes
I'm pretty sure every veggie recipe book in the world has a recipe for dal. As with the chana masala in the last book I reviewed, I already have a favourite dal recipe. This was quite involved - I needed 2 frying pans and 2 saucepans, and I thought the result was a little bit bland. However, I loved the potato cakes and will definitely be making them again, but I wouldn't make the dal again.

Seitan gyro bowl
I've never bought pre-packaged seitan, but I do make a big log every now and again (this recipe is my all-time favourite) and use it as an opportunity to work through the seitan recipes in my books! There were a couple of seitan recipes I wanted to try in Vegan Bowls, so I started with this gyro bowl. This was a gorgeous mix of Greek flavours - a garlicky marinade, cucumbers, red onion, yoghurt and pitta (I admit I didn't use vegan yoghurt) over quinoa with a mix of veg. I liked that this was another "clean the fridge out" dinner - we had courgettes, green beans and cauliflower to use up - and would definitely make it again.

Philly cheesesteak bowl
Yum yum yum. I used up the last of my seitan for this bowl of deliciousness, and made roasted breakfast-style potatoes in place of the tater tots (I don't really know what tater tots are...). I tried to make the sauce in my food processor at first, but the cashews were still a bit grainy, and I'm so glad I used my Nutribullet instead! I'm rarely convinced my vegan cheese-style sauces but this one was just like cinema nacho cheese! This took about an hour and like everything else so far, was very intense and hands on, but like nearly everything else, it was totally worth it.

Miso-cajun grilled sweet potato bowl
This was a bit more faffy than the other recipes, which is saying something! My grill is part of my oven, so I couldn't grill the sweet potato and roast the broccoli at the same time, so I just steamed the broccoli, but it would definitely have been lovely roasted. However it didn't matter once we tried the red pepper miso sauce - I want to smother this on everything! The only downside was I forgot the kidney beans! I remember thinking "this would be nice with some protein!". I am definitely, definitely making this again! Or even just the sauce!

Southern beans and grits bowl
I've never really had grits so I don't know how authentic this was! I used veggie sausages instead of carrots because if you're going to suggest veggie sausages as an alternative to carrots, I'm going to choose veggie sausages. This was nice but not my absolute favourite and I probably wouldn't make it again.

Conclusion
So of the 11 recipes I made from this book, there are 7 that I would 100% make again, and there are at least another dozen recipes that I want to try. I've been incredibly impressed with this book - in fact, I would say it's one of my absolutely favourites. Nearly everything I made was absolutely delicious but not only that, so many of the recipes were innovative and exciting and inspiring. 
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to cook - vegan or otherwise. For me, 45 minutes to cook dinner is absolutely fine for midweek, but it is intense hands-on time. There are loads of recipes I would make for guests too, which is always a good sign.

Overall, this was a huge success and instantly one of my new favourite recipe books. I can't wait to cook more from this!

Charlotte x

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