Thug Kitchen started out as a blog of healthy vegan recipes written with a lot of curse words and in African American Vernacular English. It garnered a lot of publicity, and I for one like the fact that it was a change from some of the meditation/mother nature/spiritual nonsense that you encounter in some vegan blogs. The publicity took a negative turn when, shortly before their book was released, it was revealed that it was all written by a white couple in San Francisco. Since then the vegan community has been quite divided on Thug Kitchen.
I think it probably started as a gimmick that they chose to set them apart from other blogs, and the longer they went anonymous the worse it looked when the truth was revealed (and when they refused to acknowledge that it was in poor taste). I think it’s quite natural to borrow from other linguistic styles: Dr HH constantly jazzes up his speech with vocabulary stolen from The Wire (largely just to baffle me, I believe) and AAVE taken from 90s rap and hip hop, so I can see that fans of those things do assimilate some of the language. But then, if he wrote a blog speaking in that voice and calling himself a “thug”, I’d find it rather uncomfortable. Bryant Terry, author of Afro Vegan and advocate for equality, wrote this interesting article which covers all of the issues very eloquently. You can make your own mind up as to how you feel about it. I decided to give it a go, though I didn’t buy it myself.
Dr HH had half-term holidays in February while I was a little under the weather, so he took the reins for one week of cooking. I have mentioned before that he is a tremendous cook, but he rarely has time to take to the kitchen, and when he does he rustles up one of his tried and tested dishes. This was the first time in ages that he actually made something new, so he was quite excited. I let him choose his own dishes to make, as long as they were from this book, and he was very enthusiastic about his little project. That said, I still did most of the cooking this month and I demand credit for it!
After the rather confusing chapters in Vegan Bible last month, it was nice to get back to familiar sections, like Breakfast. I’ve made a lot of granola in the last year, so I wasn’t really expecting to be dazzled by the basic maple granola. But it was really good! It was nicely sweet from the maple syrup, and cooked really well. I just used the basic recipe with cranberries and almonds, but I’d love to throw in some coconut next time too.
The quinoa oatmeal was very similar to my regular bowl of porridge, as the recipe calls for more oats than quinoa. It just took a lot longer to cook. I added some dried apricots while it was cooking, and served it with some extra milk and maple syrup for sweetness and sunflower seeds for crunch. I liked the almost nutty quality of the quinoa, but I don’t feel like this is worth the extra time. I’ll stick with my normal oaty porridge.
I have come to the conclusion that tacos are really difficult to eat. Is there a trick to it? Despite the messiness, the tofu scramble tacos were really good! Fortunately they were quite different from Dr HH’s famous scramble, which has Mediterranean flavours. This one has chillies and soy sauce, and completely different veg, so it did not suffer in comparison. This may have been my first time ever having broccoli for breakfast. After such a virtuous start to a Saturday, I felt perfectly comfortable eating cake for the rest of the day.
I made the whole wheat banana pancakes using plain flour, rather than whole wheat. If you measure out the dry ingredients the night before, it doesn’t take much thought or effort to make these in the morning. And they were good! The batter was easy to work with and they cooked quickly. The texture was great, the banana flavour was lovely, and I added some cinnamon as well. I made these one morning, and then Dr HH made them again on Pancake Day. It was his first time ever making pancakes, and he was astonished at how easy they were. Hopefully this means I can now rope him into some of the weekend breakfast cooking!
Moving onto the soup section, the lemony red lentil soup was delicious! I enjoyed the citrus twist, and it was a good thick, satisfying bowl of food. Simple, but perfect.
The pozole rojo is sold as a cross between a chilli and a soup, and that’s exactly what it was! I used a couple of fresh chillies, seeds and all, rather than the dried, deseeded ones suggested. I found it a touch too bitter from the tempeh, but generally really tasty, and Dr HH loved it. It doesn’t look too inviting, though.
I was a bit suspicious of the tortilla soup. I mean, bread in a soup? As an ingredient, rather than as something for dipping? Well, it turns out that’s a brilliant idea! I upped the seasoning a bit and used flour tortillas rather than corn ones, which I suspect don’t exist in Prague. I added a tin of chickpeas after blending, and it was sublime.
The leek and potato soup was the least exciting of the bunch: underseasoned, but pretty solid. I thought this soup wasn’t really in keeping with the more flavoursome dishes that made up most of the book.
Things got back on track with the minestrone. It’s hard to mess up a minestrone, isn’t it? There’s so much going on in there, it’s got to be a winner! I actually hesitated to put the chilli flakes in, but I’m glad I went for it – they gave it an extra little kick that was very nice.
And the corn and basil chowder was really good. There were some excellent flavours and the texture was great – who doesn’t love a partially blitzed soup? I think every book I’ve used for these monthly challenges has had some kind of chowder, and this is definitely one of the better ones.
More of a stew, but also in the soup section, the chickpeas and dumplings were good. I didn’t roll out the dumplings, because I’m lazy and I couldn’t imagine putting seventy of them in my pot. (Is that a mistake in the book? Seventy dumplings?!) I just put dollops of the dough into the broth, and they came out delicious. The stew was full of vegetables and the broth was good and thick. I’ll make this again.
Also in the soup section was this pumpkin chilli – mine is a bit different though, as rather than a tin of pureed pumpkin, I used chunks of butternut squash to make it more of a main meal. Again, I added more spices, and it was lovely. It looked really colourful and appetising too, with the orange squash, red tomatoes and purple beans.
The spiced chickpea wraps with tahini dressing were excellent! Well, ours were without the dressing, as our local supermarket doesn’t sell tahini and didn’t even have any hummus in. As a result, the wraps ended up a bit dry, but really tasty. Dr HH whipped this up in no time, and added some little roast potato chunks, reminiscent of the ones at Go Falafel (our favourite eatery in Manchester). Beautiful!
The grilled aubergine with soba noodles had a really nice flavour, but needed some tofu or something to liven it up a bit. Admittedly it’s in the Sides section, so I should have seen that coming.
Dr HH also made these roasted sriracha cauliflower bites. We were a bit baffled as to how they could be dipped in batter and baked to crispy perfection, and we remain pretty confused – they’d probably be amazing deep fried. As it was, they were not really crispy, but they were very tasty. The spiciness was a bit much for me, but these made for a really delicious accompaniment to our meal.
The tempeh peanut noodles with blanched kale were a quick and tasty meal. I used spinach instead of kale, as kale doesn’t seem to be a big thing in Prague. I will definitely make this again, but I’ll increase the amount of tempeh, because you can never have too much. I preferred bigger chunks of tempeh, but Dr HH enjoyed the little crumbles hidden amongst the noodles. The dressing was really easy to make and flavoursome.
The cauliflower cream pasta with fresh herbs is what I would call stealth healthy. It really felt like I was eating a creamy, cheesy sauce, but it was all from blitzed cauliflower. It was simple and tasty, and I would jazz it up with some more veg next time. I really wanted to use fettucine because that’s the best pasta, but alas, I couldn’t get hold of any. At least penne is not so messy to devour!
On a similar note, I made the silky roasted bell pepper pasta with courgette and basil ribbons. This time the creamy sauce came from silken tofu and roasted red peppers blitzed together. It was a great sauce, and I was delighted that I managed to make some courgetti to throw in as well for that extra veg hit. I think I put a few too many crushed chilli flakes in there (Dr HH disagrees though, believing every dish should have two chillies in as a standard), so I’d tone it down next time. Again, it was healthier than it seemed at first glance, which was nice.
I don’t think I’d ever made my own burritos (Manchester has my needs covered with Barburrito and Pancho’s) before trying these roasted chickpea and broccoli burritos. I hate cooking after a busy day teaching, but these were really easy to throw together on a work night: an intensive chopping session, then just roasting and assembling. The filling was really flavoursome, and I thought the soy sauce was an unexpected, pleasant touch. They were great with avocado…but then, what isn’t?
I was not the only one making my first ever burrito: Dr HH decided to have a go at the BBQ bean burritos. These were a little time consuming, as there was a lot of chopping and the baked rice needed an hour in the oven, but we both agreed that they were worth the time and effort. The beans tasted good and smoky and everything was nicely spiced. He didn’t make the recommended peach salsa, but threw together his own classic salsa. Everything was delicious!
He also made the mixed mushroom and spinach lasagne. Apparently, Dr HH makes a mean vegetarian lasagne. This was his first vegan one, and I refuse to believe that his dairy one could be better. I went through the recipe with him first and advised him to use silken rather than firm tofu for the ricotta, but otherwise he followed the recipe as it was. The vegetables were great, the ricotta was better than the one I made from Vegan Bible last month, and the overall dish was fantastic. There was a bit too much lemon juice in there, but that was our only complaint.
The white bean and red lentil burger was a bit too limey for me, but otherwise a definite winner. We don’t have a masher, so the bean chunks were pretty big but I felt like this was a bonus. I’m generally a bit rubbish at making burgers, and I was worried that they were a bit too soft, but they held together and the flavour was good. I froze them and cooked them straight from the freezer.
The dessert section looked pretty good, but in the end I only made one thing from there. The worst thing about these chocolate chip and almond butter cookies is that the dough has to be chilled in the fridge for an hour before baking. There are two kinds of people in the world: people who can wait without eating the dough, and us normal human beings. Still, a fair number of cookies actually made it into the oven. I used peanut butter as that was all I had – it was a treat! I think I made them a little too big (they spread quite a bit on the tray too), and they lost their crispness very quickly – they were almost cakey. But still delicious!
I enjoyed the recipes from this book. I think the mains section could be bigger, but there were a lot of enticing sandwiches and soups to balance it out. Most of the recipes had some exciting flavour combinations and healthy ingredients, though a lot of them needed significantly more seasoning. I don’t think it’s up there with Isa and Terry’s vegan classics, so anyone who’s boycotting the book isn’t necessarily missing out, but it’s got some nice dishes and a no-nonsense style that initially made the headlines for the right reason and showed non-vegans that it isn’t all hippy, Earth Mother mumbo jumbo.
I have to agree with you, the recipes were okay. Nothing earth shattering. I made their beer and lime tacos and they were fine. I thought of a lot of way to improve the recipe which I feel like shouldn’t be if I am buying a cookbook unless it is just personal preference you know?
Also for the Tortilla Soup, it is actually a traditional Mexican dish. The tortillas are use to thicken up the soup, and if you use corn tortillas the flavor will be much nuttier. If you make it again, I suggest trying to use corn tortilla chips (like the kind you would use to dip into salsa) if you can get your hands on them. I should make some again, it has been awhile! It is one of my favorite types of soups!
And yeah I think that Bryant Terry article really hits the real issues with Thug Kitchen. Yes there is humor about using vulgar vocabulary in something that is traditionally viewed as pretentious and polite. But they didn’t need to make it “thug” you know? They could of used their won vulgar white voices and I think it would of still reached out to a wide audience.
Aha, tortilla chips! Thanks for the tip, I’ll try that next time.
You’re right that swearing a lot would have been a sufficient gimmick to set them apart from other vegan blogs. I suspect “thug” is a more racially loaded term in the US, and I hadn’t really thought about a lot of the connotations until I read that Bryant Terry article.
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