You know what they say, you never forget your first. Fear and excitement intertwined, wondering if it will be a successful venture, and those awkward first fumblings… I’m talking, of course, about cookbooks. When it comes to recipe tomes, I’ve known more than a few. Some were eye candy – more trouble than they were worth, some were returned before they knew what hit them. Others were in it for the long haul. There was the ever-faithful, the tried and true, the sassy and spicy…
But even after all of these years, it was with a fair amount of sentimental value that I pulled out my well-worn copy of Vegan Lunch Box. As I flipped through its splattered pages recently, I remembered what have come to be known as my Bento Days. I didn’t have a child of my own for whom I was making lunches, but regardless, for those few weeks I searched Japanese sales sites, Ebay, and Little Tokyo to find sauce containers, multiple tiered bento boxes, and insulated stacked bento jars that kept the warm food warm-ish. While I never made any lunches that remotely rivaled the cartoon-character creations gracing the bento blogs of the day (often involving black sheets of nori and a delicate touch), I liked to dip my toe in the tamari, so to speak. Then as quickly as the fascination arrived it was gone, but one thing that remained in its aftermath was Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann.
It had been a long while since I made anything from VLB when I recently had a hankering for Ethiopian food. Ethiopian is my favorite cuisine, but finding this culinary treat, let alone of the good and authentic variety, in the middle of Small Town America isn’t the easiest of obstacles. Luckily, Jennifer has recipes for two wats (stews), Split Pea Alecha and Mixed Vegetable Wat, that are made with niter kebbeh (spice-infused oil). The flavorful stews fill the house with the pleasing aromas of garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The split pea alecha has always turned out as more of a soup for me and since one of the best parts of having Ethiopian food is going hands-free, I prefer to reduce the amount of cooking liquid by a cup or so. The vegetable wat can be made using a variety of vegetables, but I often stick with Jennifer’s suggestions of bell pepper, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Jennifer also has a recipe for the spongy bread used for scooping those succulent wats called injera. Since the recipe calls for yeast instead of leaving the batter for days and creating a sourdough-like quality, it has less of a tangy bite. Something I’ve learned along the way about injera: to make beautifully large injera rather than small pancake shapes, don’t be afraid to get your pan hot. Pour a half cup of batter into a hot pan with one hand while the other swirls the pan, getting the liquid to spread evenly across.
Regardless of how many you’re feeding (even if it’s only one or two), I recommend making the full amount on the recipes. They keep and reheat well, and they make for filling and tasty lunches and leftovers. From start to finish – making the infused oil, letting the yeast rise for an hour, getting the split peas to soften, chopping vegetables, and then frying injera one by one – is a long process. You might as well get as much out of it as possible.
What was your first vegan cookbook? Do you still use it today? If so, what are your favorite recipe(s)?