Plantstrong Cookbooks for the Busy

Home cooking is correlated to better physical health outcomes and well-being.

As physicians, we have busy schedules and might not find time to cook after a long workday.

I’ve chosen two recently published cookbooks, one vegan and one vegetarian but adaptable to both omnivores/flexitarians/reduceatarians, that are intended to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less.  Neither cookbook is intended to be a “healthy” cookbook, but their focus on plantstrong ingredients will start you in the right direction.

 

15 Minute Vegan 
Katy Beskow, Quadrille

This cookbook from popular British vegan blogger Katy Beskow makes the bold claim that its recipes can be prepared in 15 minutes. I was attracted by this idea as well as the beautiful Instagram-worthy photography and accessible, yet creative flavors.

Format: the book is divided into meals: breakfast, light bites, mains, and sweets.

Nutrition Content: there is no nutrition information; this is a straightforward collection of recipes

Level of Difficulty: easy, accessible for beginner cooks

Flavor: The recipes were overall interesting (kind of a vegan Ottolenghi, featuring more flavors from the Mediterranean and Middle East than in mainstream US cooking). I enjoyed the balsamic tomato and red onion tarte, smoky chickpea soup, pea and garden mint fritters (which somehow tasted like fried chicken to my kids!), and the chai tea poached pears.

Assessment: Even for a very experienced cook like myself, most recipes took 30 minutes, not the optimistic claim of 15 minutes. 15 minutes would be possible if all ingredients were prepped ahead of time, but even in those cases, additional cooking time would improve on flavor.  The author includes a page on “How to Cook in 15 Minutes” that may help with the speed of cooking.  One caveat is that you might need to brush up on your British English, with words like courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), and sultana (raisin).

Do the Recipes Work?: the recipes work overall, but benefit from some flavor adjustments.  Despite my reservations, this is a lovely collection of interesting and varied recipes which goes far to dispel the idea that vegan food is bland.  And while the title might be overoptimistic, these are definitely weeknight-doable recipes.

 

Simply Vegetarian Cookbook
Susan Pridmore, Rockridge Press

This cookbook comes from Susan Pridmore, a chef and blogger from Northern California (and a social media friend of mine from Food52.com), who is a vegetarian married to a carnivore.  As such, she has developed a cooking style of vegetarian dishes that can stand alone or serve as side dishes along meat dishes.

Format: the book has an interesting, practical and useful format, and is broken down into sections that make it easy to decide what you want to/have time to cook.  These recipe sections include: No Cook, Thirty Minutes Max, Five Ingredients, One Pot & Skillet, Sheet Pan & Baking Dish, Slow Cooker & Pressure Cooker, and Kitchen Staples.

In addition, for some of the recipes she makes recommendations for converting them to omnivorous or vegan recipes.  She also includes information on how to build and boost flavor; tips for batch cooking; and introduction to vegetable prep and storage; and a list of helpful kitchen equipment.

Nutrition Content: nutrition facts are included for each recipe.  There is also a useful first chapter, Meatless Made Easy, which includes information on vegetarian nutrition, including plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and “carb swaps”: low-carbohydrate substitutions for beans and grains.

Level of Difficulty: easy, accessible for beginner cooks, and very quick for experienced cooks

Flavor: the recipes were tasty, but a bit monotonous, with chickpeas playing a frequent starring role, a fair amount of cheese and other dairy, and many pasta dishes.  In contrast to the recipes in 15 Minute Vegan, this is more of a collection of comfort foods that are easy on the California palate.  I would call this a kid/family-friendly cookbook.  We enjoyed the broccoli and white beans on toast, caramelized mushrooms over polenta, and the Swiss chard and orzo gratin.  I was most intrigued by the recipe for chickpea Bolognese, but think lentils would be a better base.  My favorite? The recipe for lemony breadcrumbs.

Assessment: This is a good cookbook for people who want to explore a more plant-based diet, with mainly vegetarian recipes, most of which can be easily made vegan.  New cooks will find  the opening chapter very helpful, and experienced cooks might find a few tips on how to be more efficient and organized in the kitchen.  This book makes good on its aim to be able to serve a mixed table of vegetarians and omnivores, and many of the recipes can be easily made on a weeknight.

Do the Recipes Work?: These are well-tested and well-developed recipes, easy to follow and reproduce.

 

Bon appétit!

Linda Shiue, MD, Chef
Internal Medicine and Director of Culinary Medicine
Kaiser Permanente San Francisco
The Permanente Medical Group