Ecological Cooking, by Jo Stepaniak & Kathy Hecker is a mini-encyclopedia of Vegan cooking. The book may not sport glossy pictures, but it is filled to the brim with instructions, ideas, tips and recipes that should help even a kitchen novice to start cooking vegan. In fact, the book is a veritable Joy of Cooking for the vegetarian chef. Technically, the recipes provided in the book are purely vegan, meaning that zero ingredients that contain animal products or foods that are made using animal products can be found in the book. Nevertheless, Ecological Cooking is a useful resource and guide whether you are simply looking to cook a few vegetarian meals or become a full blown vegan.
The first section of the book is filled with useful tips for an earth friendly kitchen. To start the authors provide a list of recommended kitchen gadgets and basic ingredients to have on hand in the vegan kitchen. Many of the suggested ingredients are standard pantry items, such as beans, flour and baking powder; however, other ingredients such as tahini, barley and miso may be less common. Next in line is a thorough glossary of special ingredients, such as agar gar, nutritional yeast, Seitan, Tempeh and TVP.
Suggested ingredients and the glossary of vegan foods are followed up with an inclusive list of Natural Foods Substitutions. As an experienced cook who is nevertheless terrible at stocking my pantry, I am always thrilled to find substitutions, as they often mean I can make a dish without an extra trip to the grocery store. This list is especially good for vegans (and some vegetarians) who avoid a variety of plant based foods that are made through the use animal byproducts. For example, bone char is used in the whitening process of commercially available white sugar, and according the list of substitutions, a vegetarian chef might substitute ½ cup maple syrup or 1 cup apple butter in a recipe that calls for ¾ cup processed white cane sugar.
Once you have read through the first section and stocked your pantry the aspiring vegan chef should be ready to cook. The recipe section of Ecological Cooking is chocked full of delicious recipes that range from variations on standard American fair to traditional ethnic recipes and everything in between, including a few recipes that must have been invented on accident. One recipe that is surprisingly good, but definitely not traditional, is the Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole on page 163. I must confess that I only made this recipe, because I could not believe that it would taste good – but it did. Somehow, the combination of tomato sauce, tamari and cooked pecans makes a filling dish with a meaty texture. I am not sure exactly what this dish reminds me of, but perhaps you could think of it as similar to a spaghetti pie.
A perfect accompaniment to the Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole is the Daily Bread, found on page 84. Most bread is vegetarian; however, as mentioned above, processed white sugar is generally made using bone char. And, although many bread recipes are vegetarian, they are generally not vegan. The Daily Bread recipe is indeed vegan, using Sucanat instead of sugar and a mix of whole wheat and white flour. The recipe made nice heavy bread that was both filling and chewy. As I only have one loaf pan, I only made 1/3 the recipe, but this should not have affected the quality of the bread.
Ecological Cooking provides a variety of other bread recipes in addition to the Daily Bread. The recipes include: Chapatis, Anadama Bread, pita bread, sweet breads, pancakes, muffins and more. For anyone who wishes to eat more healthfully, while avoiding unnecessary processed foods and nasty ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, I highly recommend learning how to bake bread. Bread making (muffins and sweet breads included) is really quite simple, and once you have it down, takes very little time.
My favorite recipe from Ecological Cooking is the Alu Mattar on page 138. To make a complete protein out of this meal, I would recommend serving it with Chapatis. I am a succor for Indian food, but I am also lactose intolerant, and many Indian restaurants use cream or milk in their sauces. Consequently, I was thrilled to find this dairy free version of one of my favorite Indian dishes. I followed the recipe to a T except for the suggestion to garnish the dish with Cilantro, as both my husband and I abhor Cilantro. I enjoyed our Alu Mattar dinner so much that I found myself craving the stuff the next morning. We had leftovers, so I ate some with brown rice for breakfast. Tasty and much healthier than a slice of cold pizza!
Okay, so I have shared with you the gist of the book and a few of its best recipes, but you might still be wondering why vegan? If so, this excerpt from the back cover of the book should answer your question:
A meat-based diet affects:
The quantity and quality of our water supply
The worlds forests
The amount of fossil fuels consumed
Human hunger and health
The cruel part of this review is that the book is out of print and I plan to keep my copy, which Ive used and loved for nearly 10 years. You might be able to pick up your own Ecological Cooking second hand at Amazon or your local used book store; however, dont despair as the author does have a variety of other excellent vegan cookbooks. Vegan Vittles: Second Helpings is the best substitute of Ecological Cooking. Please visit Jo Stepaniaks website for books and lots of excellent vegetarian tidbits.
The recipes below have been reprinted with permission from the author.
Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
2 C chopped pecans
1 C cooked potatoes, diced small
1 C chopped celery
½ C sliced mushrooms
1 (4 oz) can tomato puree
1 C fresh bread crumbs
2 T tamari
Sauté onion in 1 tsp. olive oil until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Combine with remaining ingredients. Place in a lightly oiled casserole (I used a pie dish) and bake, covered for 30 minutes at 350 F. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more.
3 large loaves
4 C warm water
3 T (3 pkgs.) active dry yeast
½ C Sucanat
2 tsp. salt (optional*)
1/3 C safflower oil
Dissolve yeast in water. Add Sucanat, salt and oil. Stir well. Add flour, alternating whole wheat then white until you reach desired consistency [until dough pulls away from your hands without sticking]. Use as little flour as possible, since a soft dough will yield a moister bread. Knead 10-15 minutes on a floured surface. Form into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Turn dough to oil top and cover bowl with a damp cloth. Set in warm place for about 1 ½ hours, or until dough is doubled. Divide into 3 equal pieces. Form into loaves and place in greased pans. Let bread rest ½ hours, covered with a damp cloth. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes.
* The recipe says that the salt is optional, and as one who has recently baked bread without salt (as infants are not supposed to eat added salt), I do not recommend salt free bread, as it is rather blah.
3 T vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 T grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. tumeric
1 T Curry Powder (page 209) – I used premade Indian curry powder
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
½ C water
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chunked
4 C cooked, peeled, diced potatoes
1 ½ C frozen peas, thawed under hot tap water and drained
3 T fresh cilantro, or 1 ½ T dried cilantro (optional)
Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté onions for about 10 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add spices and stir fry for about a minute more. Remove from heat and place in a blender along with ½ cup water. Process until smooth. Poor back into skillet add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and peas. Cook for 10 minutes more, until hot. Garnish with cilantro before serving. Is delicious rolled up in Chapatis.