Happy Herbivore

I freely admit I mostly bought this cookbook out of curiosity. I’ve never made anything from the Happy Herbivore blog; in fact I don’t even read it. I don’t follow a fat free or oil free diet and have no intention of ever doing so, but I’m always interested in new cookbooks and there was a bit of a fuss around this one came out. I wanted to judge the book for myself and try out some of the recipes. And let’s face it, I’m a cookbook whore and no matter how hard I vow not to buy books I always snap and buy them.

First impressions were good. It’s a nice weighty book with a lot of pictures. The chapters are sensible, going from breakfasts to condiments and including pasta and casseroles, one-pot dinners, burgers and wraps, and tofu and vegan meats. The index seems comprehensive and there’s some nutritional information for those who are interested in that sort of thing (if I was, I’d be far more interested in vitamin, calcium and iron levels, which aren’t present here).

Some of the recipes definitely have a familiar ring to them and I instantly felt like I’d seen very similar versions to many of them before – the frittata, nomelet, sausages, home fries, tuna salad, bacon bits, chimichangas etc are oil free versions of recipes I’ve got already. Having said that, many non vegan cookbooks would include different recipes for the same dish but usually there’d be bigger differences than just spice ratios.

The next thing I’m not thrilled about it is the simplicity of some of the recipes. The cover says there are over 175 recipes; I counted 176 but some of them are not what I’d call recipes – things like breadcrumbs, fruit sauce and baked tofu are more like tips. I don’t mind seeing them there but I wouldn’t expect them to be included in the count. Similarly a few of the recipes are very basic like mixing salsa with beans and putting in a wrap which I’d normally want just as a tip or option, not taking up a page.

I decided to make 5 recipes from the book, each one coming from a different chapter so I could give them a decent road test. I vowed not to add any oil to them whatever my instinct told me, to try them as they were meant to be. There aren’t many recipes that use storebought meat subs but typically the first couple of recipes I was drawn to included subs I can’t get here – the Cajun meatloaf and the breakfast sausage patties being two of them. But most of the recipes do offer other ideas and recipes for some of the subs like bacon bits, mayo and sour cream.

(The green thing isn’t from the book)

The first recipe I tried was the red lentil dal. We both love dal and I’ve made and eaten loads of versions of it so I was really keen to try this oil free method. Unfortunately this was the least successful of all 5 recipes and not a good introduction to the book. We eat a lot of very spicy food but this just had too much spice for the amount of lentils; they didn’t meld together at all; they weren’t toasted properly and it was very unpleasant. I didn’t throw it out but I didn’t enjoy it at all and I wouldn’t want this to be anyone’s first experience of beautiful dal.

Next up was the chorizo, quinoa version, and this was a huge hit, especially for us because neither of us are real fans of quinoa. We used this first night tucked into tacos and the leftovers went great in a lunchtime burrito the next day. Great texture and taste and I would make this again and again. (I did swap half the ketchup for tomato paste since I often find ketchup too sweet for me).

Third was the nomelet. This wasn’t oil free since it used a greased baking dish but it intrigued me as I don’t have good luck at all with fried tofu omelets. I hoped the baked version might answer my prayers, but alas, even with a greased dish it stuck horribly to the bottom. I was able to scrape it out and it tasted good in an English muffin sandwich, but if I’m going to have a broken omelet I may as well save myself half an hour of baking time and fry it.

Next came a dish from the pasta chapter – broccoli pesto pasta. This was quick and easy, and similar to something I have been whipping up for years except I would normally use quite a lot of oil. I liked this fine but thought all the silken tofu made it a touch claggy. I’d probably make it again if I had these ingredients all needing using at the same time, but I’d use less silken tofu and maybe add a bit of pasta water if I wanted to keep it oil free.

Finally, I made the chocolate chip cookies. I’m not famous for my baking or love of sweets but I thought I’d better try one to really get the measure of the book and I had all these ingredients in. They weren’t the texture of cookies that I know at all and were far more cake like but my husband put them on the table for some friends and they disappeared!

So a fairly mixed reception for the recipes I’ve tried, but overall it wouldn’t stop me trying more. I don’t agree with the message that we shouldn’t be eating oil but I’m happy to eat oil free dishes sometimes. I find it a bit odd that the author is so focussed on eliminating oil (and doesn’t even include nuts or avocadoes in the book) but doesn’t seem to mind quite a lot of sugar, maple syrup, ketchup, teriyaki sauce and other sugary things.

Most of the recipes are very quick and simple so they’re good for working people, new vegans or inexperienced cooks. If I’m trying to eat more healthily with a big range of veggies, pulses and wholegrains, I would recommend Appetite for Reduction or Yellow Rose Recipes over this book – I always favour a moderation approach rather than an elimination one – but the quinoa chorizo is a gem and there may be others elsewhere in the book yet.

Just a word of warning – if you intend buying this book, make sure you order the right one, and not this book with the same title that was released over 30 years ago!

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