It’s the end of the summer holidays here in Prague, and you know what that means – Dr HH is heading back to work and hanging up his apron after his month at the helm in the kitchen. I’ll let the man himself tell you how he got on this summer.
Hello! I’ve spent another summer month shackled to kitchen worktops to provide a post filled with vegan nomming delights. I was tasked with finding my own cookbook, and, after ditching some for looking too complicated and others for looking a little dull, I settled on The Main Street Vegan Academy Cookbook. I don’t know much about the academy itself, it looks like it’s run by some vegan lifestyle coaches who offer training courses to others. The book is a collection of recipes from various people associated with the academy. It seems to be aimed at newer vegans, with a a few chapters with tips about living a vegan lifestyle, and various coaching tips distributed throughout the books with some extra nutritional information about ingredients and some cooking tips. The recipes are grouped into sensible chapters, so let me take you through them.
Good Morning and Great News: There is Life After Bacon
The idea of a jam sandwich is enough to make Ms HH run for the hills; add in the concept of mixing the jam with peanut butter, and she might actually just explode. So she was certainly sceptical when I told her I was going to serve the aforementioned affront in smoothie format. You’ll be pleased to hear that the PB&J sammie smoothie was a roaring success! Without a slice of bread in sight, this made for a tasty filling smoothie that was quick to throw together. I used raspberries rather than the recommended blueberries, which are also on Ms HH’s banned list.
Here at HH HQ we are quite the porridge connoisseurs, by which I mean we eat a lot of it. I took the chance to make our regular porridge breakfast a little more exciting by making Victoria’s victorious oatmeal parfait. I had no idea what a parfait was going in to this, so I had to learn on the job. I made a few swaps in the recipe, using walnuts rather than Brazil nuts, and there were no berries as I couldn’t find any in the shops or markets that didn’t come in a plastic punnet. It was a tasty porridge and looked rather fancy (as much as porridge can look fancy) but I’d rather cut out all the fiddly layering and just top a regular bowl.
The breakfast burritos were next up and they made for quite the breakfast feast. We’ve been trying hard to avoid buying anything in plastic, so I had a little extra work to do for this dish, making my own tortilla wraps and mozzarella as well as cooking up my own sausage crumbles from a packet of smoked tempeh. I did a lot of the prep work the night before as I didn’t want to make a hungry Ms HH wait for her breakfast. I value my life too much to do that. The end result was a magnificent breakfast: nicely fried onions and peppers, savoury sausage crumbles bursting with flavour, a good eggy chickpea flour scramble, creamy and oozy mozzarella, and, finally, roasted potato chunks, an addition that elevates any meal. This went down as the biggest hit of the book, but be warned it’ll take you a while if you’re not working from packet ingredients.
I don’t think I’d ever really dabbled with using chickpea flour as an egg replacement, but after the breakfast burrito success I was at it again with the crazy spicy Spanish omelet. I’ve never cooked with eggs, having not really eaten them since my teens, so this was my first ever attempt at an omelette and it was all a bit disastrous. My attempt to cook one side and then flip it out on to a plate resulted in a large quantity of batter and oil finding its way on the worktops. I managed to shovel it all back in and cut the omelette up into quarters so it was easier for me to manoeuvre the pieces. Eventually I won my battle, and I was underwhelmed by the final result. For something called crazy spicy, I found this rather bland and in need of a lot more seasoning, I settled for a drizzle of sriracha to pep it up. The textures were good and Ms HH reported hitting a potent pocket of paprika at some point but I don’t think I’ll be rushing to make another Spanish style omelette any time soon.
I completed my breakfast chickpea flour hat-trick with the besan pudla. We actually had it for our dinner, but I’m not letting you take my hat-trick ball away from me on a technicality. These were chickpea pancakes with some Indian seasoning and chopped tomato, pepper, and coriander in the batter. My batter started out a little too thin so my first pancake was turned into a scramble, but after the addition of more chickpea flour my batter was just right. This was a delicious dish both in scramble and pancake form, the seasoning in the pancakes was great, and I added a little more pep to it with a tamarind chutney.
The Social Vegan: Omni-Pleasing Small Plates, Snacks, and Hors d’Oeuvres
I didn’t really dabble with the party food section much but the 3-P pesto caught my eye. That’s right, a blended combination of garden peas, mushy peas, and sugar snap peas: pea lovers rejoice! Sadly, Ms HH is not a pea lover. This pesto was actually a delicious combination of peas, pistachios, and parsley. The dip was rich, creamy and bursting with flavour, even Ms HH came back for a second little taste of it so I’m calling this a success. It was great with crackers and bread and I made a delightful summer lunch when putting it on toast with some mozzarella slices.
Salad Days and Soup for Supper: They’re not Just Starters Anymore
I dipped into this section when looking for inspiration for packed lunches for Ms HH to take to work with her. I was quite excited by the zucchini beany salad as it included lots of ingredients bursting with flavour olives and capers. The dressing was a little too sharp, a little less lemon juice would have been better, but overall it was a tasty salad. It didn’t feel very filling, it needed some bulking up with either some more chickpeas or some other sort of filling grain.
The quinoa bruschetta salad looked to be a pretty standard salad affair, cooked quinoa and vegetables tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I had an extra sweet potato lying around so thought I’d roast that and add it in, but in the end I roasted all the vegetables to try and make things a bite more exciting. It was a solid but unspectacular solid and I never did serve it with any bread.
There were a few soup recipes, and I decided to go ahead and give them a try even though it was unbearably hot outside. The easy cheesy broccoli soup was pretty easy to throw together. The recipe called for a blended base of cooked cauliflower and peppers with 6-8 cups of broccoli florets added afterwards. First of all, I had absolutely no idea how much broccoli I needed to fill the required 6-8 cups. Measuring chopped vegetables in cups is always a source of frustration for me. I settled on a large head of broccoli and blended about half of it in to the soup, I also added an onion to the recipe for a little extra flavour. The soup was delicious, sweeter and a lot less green than broccoli soups I’ve had in the past, and it was even better when topped with a potato rosti.
The sweet potato miso soup sounded like a combination that was too good to pass up. Sadly the soup didn’t hit the dizzying flavour heights I was hoping for. I didn’t get my flavour balance right and there wasn’t enough of a miso hit in there. My blender also didn’t do a great job with the chopped ginger, so occasionally everything was overwhelmed with a massive hit of ginger. It was certainly better when I stirred an extra teaspoon of miso into the bowl before reheating.
Set it and Forget it: One-Pot Meals for All
Our lack of slow cooker/insta-pot resulted in me just skipping over this section
Main Street Mains: You Won’t Miss the Meat
My first foray into the mains section was the lemon-Dijon tempeh and mushrooms and it was not the best of starts. I substituted the Dijon mustard for whole grain and I think i was just a little heavy handed with seasoning, resulting in a dish that was both too salty and too lemony. I wasn’t a big fan of the mustard flavour in here either. I think this could have been quite a good dish if I’d got my seasoning right.
The recipe for roasted red pepper cutlets caught my eye early on and I heeded one of the suggestions that you could turn pretty much anything into cutlets, so I ended up making aubergine cutlets one night and tofu cutlets the next, both served with potato wedges. These dishes were great, the crumb coating of oats, nooch, and herbs was really flavoursome, and I even made an attempt at using some aquafaba as an egg replacer to stick everything together – it worked to some degree but wasn’t totally successful.
Mama Day’s beefless stew made a good filling meal when served with rice. It consisted of chunks of seitan, carrot and potato cooked up with a beef flavoured stock cube. It wasn’t the most exciting combinations but it was good and hearty.
The vegan cheesy beefy penne bake was a lovely rich and creamy pasta bake. I used a packet of smoked tempeh for the beefy element and swapped out the penne for macaroni. I made my own marinara sauce and mozzarella too, but this could be thrown together very quickly if using jars and packets of things.
I’ve mentioned earlier that we’ve trying to reduce our packaging here and one step in that direction has been to buy dry beans from our local zero waste shop. It takes a little more planning and effort, and I found it can be a bit of problem when I was cooking the arroz con no-pollo. We’ve not got many pots and pans in our kitchens so cooking rice, beans, and the vegetable base for this dish made for a bit of a juggling act. It was all worth it in the end for a tasty rice dish. I used seitan as my chicken alternative and pinto beans over black beans as that’s what I could find.
The idea of a quesadilla always sounds exciting and appealing but I normally feel a bit let down when I do actually order one. I was undeterred by this, and decided to go ahead and make the mushroom and pepper quesadillas. This was pretty easy to make, the cheese sauce was simple and tasty. I cooked some peppers in with my mushrooms rather than the suggested addition of roasted peppers, and I managed to roll out and cook my tortillas whilst this was all going on. The end result was a delicious and well filled quesadilla.
The easy-peasy mac ’n’ cheezburger was the last thing I cooked from the book, and once again I was up against the strict publishing deadlines of Ms HH. I just about managed to sneak it in before the deadline, and it made for a tasty and hearty meal. I used some rye pasta shapes rather than macaroni, and double the recommended amount so it’d last us for a few meals. The cheese sauce was tofu based and packed plenty of flavour, the bread crumbs baked on top gave it a nice crunch, but the soya mince I used in the filling got a bit lost, maybe I needed more of it or maybe something a bit chunkier. The baked variation was nice but it won’t be replacing our regular mac and cheese.
Chocolate and Other Pleasures: A little of What you Fancy Does you good
I didn’t really go into the sweet section of this book, as we’ve been trying to eat fewer sweet things, but Ms HH requested a baked good to wow her colleagues and I couldn’t say no. I opted for the chocolate crinkle cookies as they were described as having a brownie-like texture. From the recipe I couldn’t really picture how they were supposed to look and cursed the lack of pictures in the book, but I managed to track down the blog for the person who contributed the recipe and that helped me put it all together. They were supposed to be rolled in icing sugar before baking, but I didn’t spot it in the cupboard so settled for granulated sugar alone and coconut on a few at the end after I was struck by inspiration. These were easy to make and delicious, firm and crunchy on the outside and with that advertised brownie-like texture on the inside.
That’s the end of my August cooking odyssey for another year. This certainly wasn’t my favourite cookbook and I don’t think I’d really recommend it. As it’s a collection of recipes from different contributors it doesn’t really have a unified voice. Some recipes call for things to be made from scratch, whilst others seemed to be little more than throwing a lot of things from a packet into a bowl. I was also disappointed by the lack of pictures in here. I feel that if you’re aiming your book at relatively new and inexperienced vegans you need more pictures to guide you. I made some tasty food, but I don’t know if anything will sneak its way into my regular cooking rotation. [But what about the breakfast burrito?! And the penne bake? AND THE COOKIES? I thought these three dishes were truly excellent. – Ms HH]