Review: Isa Does It

Isa Does It Chandra Malai KoftaWhen I was a kid, I greatly preferred activity books to coloring books.  With coloring books, you could get a bit creative with the shade of the pictured cartoon dog or smiling cat.  But with activity books, you could make things.  You could form ornaments or fold cut-outs into baskets and boxes.  You could scrawl circles on word searches and decipher crossword puzzles…   Even though it was something you essentially did on your own, there was an interactivity to it.

As an adult, that is something I love about cookbooks.  Not only do you gain a vantage point into the way another person experiences food, you get to pull out your knife and cutting board and follow along.  And after the activity has been eaten, I return to the cookbook to make notes – what substitutions or changes I made, how much I enjoyed it or didn’t, what I would do differently in the future…  And every time I make it, I adjust again depending on what I have on hand, what’s in season, or what kind of mood I’m in.

If you look through my cupboard, it’s very easy to tell which cookbooks have been the most loved Velveteen Rabbit-style.  They are splattered, stained, and scribbled on with notes aplenty.  The most loved recipes fall open right to that page from lengthy sessions in the cookbook holder.  And some of the most battered and beloved cookbooks I own were written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (often in combination with Terry Hope Romero) of Post Punk Kitchen fame.

When I first went vegan, Vegan with a Vengeance & Veganomicon were my training guides – showing me the ropes of how to prepare foods that were entirely new to me like tofu, tempeh, and seitan.  Before VWAV, I’d never made a tofu scramble.  I had never purchased nutritional yeast flakes.  Things that are second nature to me now were introduced to me with those cookbooks, which hold a special place in my heart, because they were so intimately a part of my process of learning to cook things from scratch and learning to cook extensive vegan meals.

Isa Does It cookbook coverWhen I heard about Isa’s newest book, Isa Does It, I couldn’t wait to add it to my collection.  The book focuses on meals with a minimum amount of fuss that can be put together any night of the week without hours of preparation or hard to find ingredients. The hefty book is over 300 pages, hardcover, and packed with over 150 recipes.  There are loads of cooking tips and tricks, a section on stocking a pantry, and lots of helpful pictures for those visual learners amongst us.  (You can currently see lots of the recipes, style and design with the Look Inside feature on Amazon.)

Something that really sets Isa’s cookbooks apart in my mind (in addition to the crazy delicious food) is her sense of self that comes through in all of the recipes.  It’s a cookbook that not only makes you want to grab a spatula and skillet, but also makes you laugh.  You get a real sense of her sass and attitude, which makes it feel like you’re cooking with a friend.

But you know my whole spiel about writing in cookbooks and making lots of notes?  This one doesn’t make it easy.  It is gorgeous.  With photographs throughout the book by Vanessa Rees, one of my favorite food photographers, I didn’t know how I was going to defile the book with my scrawlings.  A cookbook is always more inviting with lots of big, well shot photographs.  And what I love about Vanessa’s pictures is that she really sets a scene and mood.  The pictures have an “action shot” quality, like they are taken right in the middle of putting it all together.  (Plus, on her blog she regularly features her orange cat, and you know I’ve got to love that.)

Luckily, while I was making the first recipe I tried, I splattered some curry sauce by accident onto the page.  It’s like getting a scratch on your new car.  You’re sad but kind of relieved.  Now you can just use it.  Let the notations begin!

I really have only dipped a toe in as far as all of the recipes I am eager to try.  I’m sure there will be many more posts about all of the creations from Isa Does It that are coming out of my kitchen.  However, I couldn’t wait any longer to share some of the goodness with you!

Isa Does It Down Home CurryIsa Does It Down Home CurryI started with the Down Home Curry with Tofu & Broccoli.  (You may notice from the picture that the broccoli in my curry is strangely pea-like.  When I pulled the broccoli out of the refrigerator, I realized it had become a sad, slimy mess.  Frozen peas to the rescue!)  I never put tofu in my Indian curries, but it added a wonderful toothsome bite that was a nice change of pace from chickpeas.  Additionally, the spicy coconut milk sauce was filled with potatoes and carrots.  As is so often the case, this filling curry was even better the next day when all of the flavors had melded.

Isa Does It Nacho NightA couple of days later, we celebrated with Nacho Night.  I didn’t make every listed component.  (Maybe next time, Pico de Gallo & Guacamole!)  However, I did make the creamy and endlessly satisfying Queso Blanco, made with cashews, miso, nutritional yeast flakes, and spices.  It was poured over chips with hefty spoonfuls of lentil meat, made with lentils, tomato paste, and spices.  I always forget about lentils when it comes to taco night, but it was a tasty alternative to black or pinto beans.  The lentil meat calls for ancho chile powder, but I had to use regular chile powder.  (After visiting three grocery stores, I gave up.  I did find it this past weekend, though, at a local Mexican market for a future taco night!)

Isa Does It Ancho-Lentil tacosThe next day I finished off the lentil meat and queso with Ancho-Lentil Tacos, served on whole wheat tortillas instead of corn tortillas.

Isa Does It Pizza BowlNext, I made the Pizza Bowl with greens, sausages, and olives.  In lieu of homemade vegan sausages, I simplified by using Field Roast apple sage sausages.  The sausages were piled on top of brown rice and served alongside garlicky kale and black olives.  The whole shebang was covered in a creamy roasted red pepper sauce.  The sauce was so good, after I was finished with the bowl, I had to snag a couple more spoonfuls before putting the sauce away.

Isa Does It Pizza Bowl(FYI: Isa notes throughout the book that people without high speed blenders should always have cashews soaking, so that creamy sauces are only minutes away.  However, I have a Vitamix, and so soaking is wonderfully unnecessary.  That means that the many rich and creamy sauces didn’t require any pre-planning on my part.  If you’re short on time and don’t have a high speed blender, before I had one, I regularly used a coffee grinder to grind the whole cashews into a flour first before blending, and that works well too!)

Isa Does It Chandra Malai KoftaFinally, I made the Chandra Malai Kofta.  This dish is basically Indian meatballs (made with zucchini, chickpeas, almonds, breadcrumbs, and lots of spices) in a creamy cashew and coconut milk sauce.  The zucchini meatballs have to sit for at least a half an hour in the refrigerator to set up, and so it would be a good thing to make the day before for an easy dinner the next night.

Isa Does It Malai Kofta ballThis dinner party-worthy meal had wonderful contrasting textures with the crisp-on-the-outside kofta and creamy curry sauce enveloping them.  Isa notes that the recipe makes a generous amount of sauce, enough for covering additional piles of steamed or roasted vegetables.  Since I didn’t make any sides to go with it, we had sauce aplenty, enough that I’ll probably halve the sauce recipe next time if I’m only cooking for two.

(Update:  I froze the leftover sauce, and it thawed and reheated beautifully.  The texture was just as smooth and silky as it was fresh.  It made for a quick dinner by just adding some steamed broccoli, potatoes, and cubed extra-firm tofu.  Chickpeas would also be delicious instead of the tofu.)

In combination with the book release, Isa has released a new video series called Make It Vegan, featuring recipes from the book that are short and hilarious.  You should definitely check them out if you haven’t already!  (I have my eye on this Dragon Noodle Salad, and these Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies would be great for the holiday season.)

If you have Isa Does It, have you made anything from it yet?  If not, what are you most eager to make?

Disclaimer:  I was given a review copy of Isa Does It from the publisher, Little, Brown & Company, but the thoughts and opinions are totally my own.  There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.

47 thoughts on “Review: Isa Does It

  1. Are you in Iowa? If so you should join Vegan Omaha and plan a trip on a meet up night. Isa brings treats most of the time. She did a signing/reading last week and brought her rosemary chocolate chip cookies. Freakishly amazing.

    • Great idea, Kelly! I’m going to do that. I live in the eastern part of the state, and so it would be a bit of a jaunt. However, it would be fun to go to Omaha for a long weekend. I haven’t spent much time there at all, outside of going to the airport.

      • Omaha is turning into quite the Vegan mecca of late. We’ve had 6 or so new restaurants open with specific Vegan food options. Our meet ups are pretty fun and definitely tasty. Isa is opening a restaurant, too. She’s hoping the location she has will work, there’s a city code issue, but I think she’s planning Februaryish to open. Heck,you know us Iowans, I even have an extra bedroom I’d let you use if you aren’t anti-cat or cat sensitive.

        • That’s awesome that the vegan options there are multiplying. It gives a person hope! Omaha is so lucky to be getting Isa’s new restaurant. I can’t wait to check it out once it’s open!

          That’s sweet of you to offer a place to stay. I’m definitely not anti-cat. I have two of my own! :)

  2. OMG that malai kofta! That was my favorite pre-vegan dish. I tried to find this book at two local bookstores last weekend to no avail. It might be time to stop messing around and log in to Amazon… Thanks for the review!

    • You’re really going to love it then! I’d never had malai kofta before, and so this was my first introduction. It was incredibly good.

      If you’re still unable to find the book at a local bookstore but don’t want to wait for Amazon, I saw the book prominently featured at Barnes and Noble. Although, it’s a lot cheaper on Amazon, of course.

  3. I may have to rush out tonight to find this book because tomorrow is National Nachos Day and it needs to be an Isa Nacho Night too! Thanks for the review…supercool to know that there are other cookbook splashers/scrawlers/doodlers out there. I don’t know how I’d ever transition to ebooks in the kitchen. I love real cookbooks. :)

    • It’s National Nachos Day?!! Where are my decorations? This could become my favorite holiday of the year.

      Do you know if e-readers have the option of making notations? If I could virtually scribble on the sides, I might be okay with the move! Another plus to an e-reader would be that several times I’ve been out running errands and wished I had the book with me, so that I could decide on the go what to pick up at the grocery store. Maybe if I had an e-reader, it would have just been in my purse waiting for me!

  4. The Bistro Beet burgers are great, Baked Tofu addictive!! The tofu stroganoff is good, just a little rich, I added steamed greens to the ww noodles. LOVE this book

  5. What a great review! You’re making wish I had more days in the week to cook! I’ve made one thing so far from Isa’s book and it was wonderful. I’d like to make a few more before writing my review, and it looks like just about anything I choose will probably be great. The Chandra Malai Kafta looks especially amazing. (Love the analogy of the splash and the scratch.)

    • It has been really tough to decide what to make next. Too many good looking options! Luckily, so far it seems like there’s not a bad choice in the bunch. I’ll look forward to reading your review!

  6. i bought the book just last week. i have to make those nachos and pretty much all the bowls. i went through all sorts of emotions once i opened up the book. i was like wowza.. thats a whole lot of recipes, ooh and i will like almost all of this stuff.. gosh those gorgeous pictures, then oh god I can never write a cookbook anymore, it will be nowhere near this, :D .
    i wish the font was a little larger and darker, but otherwise the book is gorgeous and awesome!

    • I hear you! But on the other hand, remember what Theodore Roosevelt said. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Isa’s book is wonderful because it is so totally Isa. Your book will be wonderful, because it will be so totally Richa!

  7. Great review, Cadry! All of the recipes you featured sound awesome, but the Chandra Malai Kofta is at the top of my list to try. :) I’m very excited to check out Isa Does It, and I agree about Vanessa Rees – her photography blows me away every time. She is ridiculously talented.

    • Yes, the Chandra Malai Kofta is something special. I look forward to making it for guests sometime in the future. It’s one to impress for sure! Yes, Vanessa’s pictures take food photography to a whole other level. They are a beauty to behold.

  8. Obsessed with this book, and especially the photos, though I haven’t gotten to cook out of it yet (time has been absurdly short the last two weeks). I’m super-excited to make each of the 9478987 recipes I flagged with sticky notes, but one that does stand out off the top my head is the Lentil-a-roni!

    Also, just the other day it occurred to me that, even though I started with a base of knowledge, Veganomicon really was what taught me how to cook. I think it is a direct result of Isa’s gift in recipe-writing. It’s not just a list of ingredients and steps, but a primer on how to prepare each ingredient properly. And it’s done in a subtle and seemingly effortless manner. I really would buy anything she published!

    • I’ve heard the lentil-a-roni is a good weeknight recipe too – quick and easy! You’ll have to keep me posted on what you make!

      That’s so sweet that Veganomicon was influential in your growth as a cook as well. I’m only missing one of Isa’s cookbooks – Vegan Cookies Take Over Your Cookie Jar. I gave it to my cookie-obsessed niece as a gift (and she loved it), but I still haven’t picked up a copy for myself!

  9. No surprise that everything you’ve shared from Isa’s book looks mouthwatering, down-to-earth, yet creative. My shelves are loaded with her previous cookbooks, too – they’re like old, dear friends.

  10. Yay! I LOVE all of Isa’s book (and all of Isa & Terry’s books! And just Terry’s books!). Haha. Love them all. I’m actually going to Atlanta VegFest this weekend to do a cooking demo/signing, and Isa will also be there demo-ing and signing. So I’m waiting to get my signed copy from her!! So excited!! That Pizza Bowl is so up my alley.

    P.S. Love the scratch-on-a-new-car analogy!

    • Have fun at the VegFest this weekend! That’s cool that you’re going to have Isa sign your copy. Although, then it would be even harder to make notes in it and splatter it with curry sauce! :)

  11. Veganomicon was the first cookbook I bought after going vegan! Love Isa and her sense of humor. I want all her cookbooks, especially the cookies and pie ones. I have cookbooks that are falling apart, literally, from being used! There are so many that I want and so little time to cook from them all. I am impressed that you’ve made so many meals already. I barely have time to cook a few days per week!

  12. my boyfriend is dying for me to make the nacho night dish, haha. Yrs looks great. Well, everything does. Kudos on making so much already. I’m with you on adding notes to my cookbooks – a splattered & scribbled book is a much loved book. But others in my bookselling field find it blasphemous :)

    • Well, if your boyfriend is dying for nachos, it’s the least you could do… you know, to help him out in a completely selfless manner, of course! ;)

      I used to keep my cookbooks pristine, and then a friend of mine told me how she always made notes in hers. Before that, I just tried to remember what changes I made or what I did or didn’t like. And after she told me that, it was like a revelation. I figured, why am I saving my cookbooks for somebody else? I might as well really get my use out of them!

  13. I don’t have the book, but I’m totally getting it now! Side note: I thought I didn’t have to soak my cashews, since I have a Vitamix. But Isa said to, so I did. Surprisingly, the sauce gets even creamier! Now, I always soak my cashews before blending.

  14. I’m glad to have finally read your review, after you’d mentioned on Instagram compiling a solid recap of the recipes you’d tried thus far. This was excellent! I also haven’t seen anyone on the blogosphere try this set of recipes yet, so the comments are worthwhile. I am presently holding off on buying my copy — I recently bought 3 or 4 new cookbooks and really haven’t delved into them too much. I’m afraid if I buy Isa Does It now, they’ll soon collect dust!

    • I know how you feel, Jared! Every Christmas I get several cookbooks as gifts, which I love, of course. However, I always have the hardest time focusing, because there’s just too much goodness to explore!

  15. Everything looks so tasty. I’m still sadly waiting for my copy and drooling over everybody’s photos on social media. The book looks beautiful on the outside, from the font to the photo. Can’t wait to be able to actually get my hands on the darn thing!

  16. What a lovely book review! The Down Home Curry with Tofu & Broccoli & Nacho Night both look delicious! Wow, the Pizza Bowl looks fantastic, too, I think I saw it on Jojo’s IG. Everything looks wonderful!

  17. I’ve been so excited about this book, and I can’t wait for my copy to come in. I’ve long been a fan of Isa’s recipes, and if the sampling you’ve shown us above is any indication, the book is a true treat. My mouth is watering over here!

  18. I was being really good and not buying any new cookbooks and now you’ve gone and torpedoed all my good intentions! I really like the look of the kofta and the pizza bowl. The PPK cashew sauce is my go to cheese sauce!

  19. My copy finally showed up on Friday, I’ve yet to make anything but I’m super impressed by the layout of the book. I think I’ll be devastated the first time I spill something on it! Great review of the recipes you’ve tried, I’ve seen photos of that pizza bowl floating around and I think I’m going to break in the book with that recipe.

  20. I made the Down Home curry tonight and was wondering if it was supposed to be creamier (I’m maybe an advanced beginner in cooking-always doubting myself). I was thrilled to find your picture and see mine looked similar. Anyways, it didn’t matter too much since it tasted delicious. I didn’t specifically have sweet curry, so I do wonder how that would taste…I would not have minded a bit more sweetness to this. The broccoli did come out very nicely, just so you know for next time…I nibbled most of it out of the leftovers as I let it cool down. Your photos are terrific. Now I REALLY want to make the kofta.

    • I didn’t use sweet curry either. I’ve been meaning to pick up Isa’s preferred curry powder from Penzey’s. My favorite curry powder is also from Penzey’s, though. It’s their hot curry powder.

      Good to know that the broccoli came out nicely with it. Hopefully my broccoli won’t fight against me next time, and I’ll be able to make it as written. :)

      Thanks for the kind words about my photos! Much appreciated! Thanks for stopping by, Julie!

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