When 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.
When 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!
I 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.
A 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!)
The next day I finished off the lentil meat and queso with Ancho-Lentil Tacos, served on whole wheat tortillas instead of corn tortillas.
Next, 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.
(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!)
Finally, 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.
This 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.