Professional Chef Alan Roettinger is the Speed Vegan. That's because he wields a 12 inch chef's knife at warp speed, wearing chef's whites, while having Fun in the Kitchen. Actually I think this book should have been called The Gourmet Chef's Excellent Vegan Adventures.
There are many intriguing layers to Speed Vegan:
1. The author is a private gourmet chef who has lived and cooked for clients all over the world. He himself appears to be a blend of several nations and cultures, referencing Italian, Mexican, Asian, and Middle Eastern in his recipes.
2. Speed Vegan documents Roettinger's transition to a vegan diet, and he clearly has dedicated his entire being to the enterprise. So there's a strong sense of exploration and discovery, thrilling adventures, and fun in this book.
3. This is a macrobiotic leaning, pretty much gluten free, low carb, no sugar cookbook - something you don't realize on first glance because the recipes are so intriguing. About 1/3 of the recipes are salads - really amazing salads. But Roettinger hasn't given up fat and salt by a long shot. For me at least, those need to be adjusted way downward in almost every recipe. But no big deal!
4. As a professional chef, Alan Roettinger brings a high level of knowledge and skill to the table, which he shares freely with the reader, while staying within the bounds of the book. Just enough knowledge is given out in a casual, anecdotal and fun way that the reader is challenged but never overwhelmed.
5. Alan Roettinger's playful sense of humor generates belly laughs, which is unusual in cookbooks.
For instance, the recipe on page 148, Odd and Ends Redux, A La Deborah: How to create something fabulous from the doubtful remnants in the back of the fridge. I won't tell you more, it would spoil the fun.
6. Speed Vegan kicks you out of your food ruts. It certainly stretches my boundaries. I'm an everyday, family style cook who tends to go the fastest easiest route to balanced meals that everybody will eat. Gourmet cooking is not a consideration.
If the food is fresh, good looking, tasty and fills up the starving masses, I'm happy. If I can make a recipe in 30 minutes using one pot, that's a winner. If I can get all the ingredients in one quick trip to the grocery store, that's as it should be.
So, when Alan Roettinger talks about making big batches of roasted garlic puree, vegan chipotle mayonnaise and rosemary balsamic dipping oil just to have on hand for making his recipes - I say, "Why on earth would I do that? That's not my kind of cooking!" Uh-huh! Says the woman who makes big batches of pesto, hummus, quinoa, brown rice, beans and soup - just to have on hand.
It's the same thing with his chapter on stocking the vegan pantry. Even though it just happens that I do keep many of those items on hand, I found myself balking at the idea of Chinese salted black beans or porcini mushroom powder. Not that I could buy them within an hour of where I live anyway.
But Alan Roettinger redeemed himself completely and captured my heart in the introduction:
"A recipe is just a guideline, the blueprint of a dish's construction, so you can follow along and repeat what someone else did. Don't feel in any way obligated to copy my approach. If anything strikes you as odd or distasteful, change it or leave it out. If an ingredient proves difficult or impossible to find, carry on without it or replace it with something you think might be just as good."
I was with the Speed Vegan all the way when he talked about basic kitchen equipment, especially about having a good chef's knife. Mine is one of my dearest possessions, my most essential kitchen tool. I'm in a state of bliss whenever I use it, which is all day long. However, I didn't agree that the whole world needs a garlic press or a salad spinner.
7. What really hooked me on Speed Vegan was the recipes, which are out-of-this-world delicious! I'm talking food orgasms! You know, where you moan with ecstasy every time you take a bite.
I tested Spaghetti with Olives and Lemon, from page 124. Taking the Speed Vegan at his word, I used ordinary spaghetti instead of brown rice spaghetti, canned olives instead of kalamata olives which nobody likes but me in our house, and sautéed minced garlic in a bit of oil instead of making Roasted Garlic Puree.
I also reduced the olive oil from 1/3 cup to 2 Tbsp, and cut way back on the salt. Instead of using a food processor I minced everything with my trusty chef's knife and added it to the oil. The results were sublime. I can honestly say that I've never had a more delicious plate of pasta.
If I'd followed the recipe meticulously, we might have died and gone to heaven, so it's just as well I didn't.
I also tested Red Quinoa With Zucchini & Corn, from page 125 which tasted divine. I'd use regular white quinoa next time, because the red quinoa took a long time to cook, and the zucchini was a little overdone. But all red quinoa may not behave the same way.
I'm looking forward to trying a bunch of the 40 or so salads, and cereal made with toasted and ground brown rice, more of the pasta dishes, the soups, etc etc. Speed Vegan is quickly developing the stained rumpled appearance of well loved cookbooks. Obviously, there's something to this speedy gourmet vegan cooking!
I credit Roettinger's rigorous standards, perseverance, passion, and humor, along with exceptional editing, for the high quality of this book - 175 pages of total awesomeness.