Sunday, January 30, 2011

PPK Cookbook Challenge - Week 3 - Urban Vegan

This week's challenge was from Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage. I had heard and seen some things from this book on the PPK, but this is a new book for me. So I havne't had much time to get to know it intimately yet. In the introduction Dynise gives a nice background on her love of urban life and many things foodie. It makes me want to travel with her and hang out with her. She makes the reader feel comfortable with shaking things up in the kitchen with her recipes. She provides a nice reference for substitutions and a great list for stocking your pantry. The one things I really like is that she reminds the reader that it is best to enjoy foods for what they are, no what you are pretending they should be (e.g. mock meats). She also provides handy icons for low-fat, fast, omni friendly, frugal and kid-friendly dishes. It makes things much easier to navigate if you have specific needs for your recipes.

I had a very hard time selecting my recipes this week, because many of them looked so interesting. I have been a little limited by my quest to lose some weight and quite a few of the recipes were a bit on the calorie dense side (not that there is anything wrong with that). What ultimately guided my decisions this week ended up being what I had in the pantry or fridge. In the spirit of being time savvy I did not want to make another trek to the store.

There is no doubt I have been on a bit of a soup kick. Soups are so comforting and easy to take to work. I love the many flavor, textures and combinations you can stuff into a big ol' pot of soup. But mostly, I know that in another couple of months the desert heat will make eating soup much less appealing. So I'm trying to make things during the winter that would make me melt like a cheap candle in the summer.

First up is the Tunisian Soup (pg. 66). I chose this recipe because I had a giant sized bunch of chard that was fresh and wonderful from the farmers market that I wanted to use. Pro's - Very easy to put together. No special ingredients (well it does call for harissa, but you can sub crushed red pepper which I used). It has your beans and your greens. Con's - for me chickpeas - they do bad things to my digestive system and I am required to sleep outside. I did find the lemon to be very pronounced when the soup was first finished. This mellowed with time in the fridge. The recipes calls for the zest of two lemons but the juice of one. So you need to use the other lemon pretty quickly, but no big deal. This was much more delicious the next day. Next time I will probably sub Cannelini beans. I'd also like to try the harissa.

Next up Roasted Red Pepper and Onion Frittata (pg. 36). This dish certainly did not meet my low cal/fat criteria, but sometimes you gotta throw caution to the wind! - Pro's - the onions caramelized beautifully. This was very flavorful. It was pretty easy to put together. Con's - It takes a couple of pans. I used firm instead of extra firm because I could only get firm in organic. I thought it had cooked plenty long enough and felt firm coming out of the oven, but it was still kind of mushy. I don't blame the recipe, I blame my choice of 'fu. The only downside I truly see is that you have to have plenty of time to let this cool, so you need to plan ahead. My dinner guests were tenative about the cool temp, so I might serve it just a touch warmer next time. We got 6 servings rather than 4 as stated, but we had lots of other food with it. Thumbs up. I'd make this again.

To accompany the frittata I felt it only fitting to carb it up a bit. I served the frittata with Potatoes with 40 Cloves of Garlic - Pro's - Um POTATOES? I think that alone is enough. Hee hee. Actually this was super easy to make. The fresh herbs really make this simple recipe shine. I like the fact you don't have to peel the garlic. Big time saver and a fun presentation. The garlic is sweet and awesome with this. It's a fun way to serve it, so interactive. Con's - I couldn't find any. I will absolutely make this one again. I didn't have fresh sage, so I subbed a smaller amount of rubbed sage. For a potato lover such as myself, this would never make 8 servings as stated in the recipe. Maybe 6. I could probably easily eat half of the recipe myself.

In conclusion, I think I am very much going to enjoy this book. It does have some recipes that require some specialty ingredients. I'm an ingredient/spice-aholic, so I don't find this daunting. But some might. However, there are plenty of pantry freindly recipes to choose from. The recipes I tried were all very well balanced with bright and interesting flavors. I am excited about trying more of Dynise's recipes. I've got my eyes on the Sweet Potato Gnocci with Basil Cream Sauce!


  1. I bought this book the day it came out but have not made much from it. It's good to see them in action! I'm testing for her new cookbook and I'm glad because it's "forcing" me to make a lot of really delicious recipes from her I'd otherwise bypass. I'd love to come back to her book.
    That fritatta especially sounds great.

  2. i can't believe i've tried so many of her more "ingredient heavy" recipes and somehow skipped over the potatatos and garlic. it sounds amazing! the sweet potato gnocchi is my very favorite recipe in the book-- definitely give it a try!

  3. Wow, that fritatta looks awesome! I keep meaning to make one but honestly haven't been that inspired to do so. The caramalized onions sold me, Im making this as part of my vday brunch this weekend. Thanks! Alex