In July I celebrated my one year anniversary as a vegan. This was a HUGE deal for me because I've spent 18+ years of my life as a vegetarian, and though my goal was always to go vegan I had issues getting there. To celebrate this milestone I bought myself presents. One, a nice empty recipe book to fill with my favorite vegan recipes from friends and the web and two, an awesome cookbook, Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family. Buying a new cookbook was a big deal for me. I own many older vegetarian cookbooks, but until now, I've yet to find a vegan cookbook I felt was worth buying. Most vegan cookbooks I've seen contain WAY too many expensive specialty ingredients, are time consuming or contain maybe one recipe that look like something my hyper picky son might decide to taste. I'm also
cheap thrifty; as in paying more than $5 for thrift store jeans or $3 for a used book gives me a heart attack. In short, I do not buy new goods lightly and I find most cookbooks lacking. The fact that I not only bought this book new at a local bookstore, but paid full price ($27! OMG my heart!) should tell you that I think this book is worth a good look. Keep reading to see what I think of this vegan cookbook and snag a free delicious sample vegan recipe too!
What’s this vegan “Betty” all about?
A little history: Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family is written by vegan couple Annie and Dan Shannon. Long before I got this cookbook, I was already enthralled with their blog, Meet the Shannons. The inspiration behind Meet the Shannons was the book/movie Julie & Julia, which I haven’t seen, but apparently it’s about a gal who cooks her way through an entire Julia Child cookbook in a year. After seeing the movie, Annie told Dan something akin to, “We should cook our way through The Joy of Cooking” only vegan style. After hunting for an old copy of The Joy of Cooking, Annie and Dan found it contained too many meat recipes to veganize, but while at the bookstore, they were drawn to a copy of an iconic red and white Betty Crocker cookbook and history was made. For the last few years, the Shannons have been cooking their way through the Betty Crocker cookbook, only they’ve shaken things up by turning all the dishes vegan. Eventually, Meet the Shannons gained many fans, the attention of a publisher, and in February 2013, the book Betty Goes Vegan hit the scene.
About the book: Betty Goes Vegan is your one-stop guide to becoming a vegan “Betty,” with over 500 vegan recipes for classic family dishes. The comprehensive guide features recipes inspired by The Betty Crocker Cookbook, as well as hundreds of original, never-before-seen recipes.
Types of vegan recipes
This cookbook offers some 500 vegan recipes including main meals, snacks, desserts and holidays too. Plus lots of little extras like sauces, salad dressings, dips, condiments, beverages and more. Since the recipes are based around the classic Betty Crocker cookbook, you’ll see recipes you’re well used to, but also some nice surprises. Below is a small sampling of the sort of recipes you can expect.
- Fried eggs (I swear they’re vegan)
- Breakfast tacos
- Scrambles galore
- Spice apple waffles
- Biscuts and gravy
- Egg and cheese breakfast sandwich
- Denver omelet
- 5 bean chili
- Chicken po’boy
- Beefless sesame noodle salad
- Chicken Caesar salad
- New England chowder
- French dip
- Mediterranean salad
- Minestrone soup
- Ruben sandwiches
- Cheezy crunchy chicken strips
- Pot pies (many)
- Chicken and kale quiche
- Pumpkin gnocchi
- Shrimp scampi
- Cajun blackened tofu
- Sweet potato risotto
- Pasta in fresh basil sauce
- Temphe tacos
- Tuna casserole
- Spanish rice
- BBQ pizza
- Bacon cheeseburgers
- New York style pork chops
- Meat lovers pizza
- Mac n cheeze
- Chow mein
- Rainbow quinoa
- Penne with vodka sauce
- Twice baked cheesy potatoes (these are AWESOME – and I usually hate vegan cheese in anything AND I served these to heavy anti-vegan folks and they loved them too)
Appetizers & Snacks: Tons of creative ideas like caramel corn, skillet nachos, kale chips, avocado dips, potato skins, salsa, sundried tomato hummus, homemade veggie chips, hot wings, and more.
The best perks: friendly style, nice design and NO preaching
Zero preaching: One reason it’s been hard for me to find a go-to vegan cookbook is because I just want some flipping recipes. I don’t need someone preaching about why I should go vegan, I don’t want a slideshow of animal cruelty and I don’t need pages and pages of nutritional info. I’ve been vegetarian for 18+ years, vegan for one and I admin the biggest vegetarian forum on the web. I get it. Vegan = good! All I want to do is cook some vegan food, you know, and Betty allows you to do so sans the speeches. Other than a few vague mentions of vegan issues, this book is just like reading any other cookbook you’ve seen – the focus is on the food, where it should be.
Casual style: You know above, when I said I never owned another vegan cookbook, well, I just realized I lied. I bought a vegan cookbook once, but it was so annoying that I gave it away and apparently forgot it existed. Said annoying book had story after story (seriously PAGES) about the author’s family plus way too many “cute” pictures of the kids. There’s not enough good recipes in the world to balance that out. In Betty Goes Vegan, there’s a little intro for each recipe, but they’re not annoyingly long and each story fits the dish perfectly and makes you eager to cook it. Plus, the Shannons’ writing style is perfectly casual, like you’re standing in the kitchen chatting. This couple speaks to you, not at you.
Design aspects: The awesome hardcover sturdy vintage look of this book begs you to pick it up and flip through it, and thanks to a decent design, this is a snap to do. Recipes are well organized, with nice font and good use of color so that reading isn’t a pain.
What I loved about the book
There’s a lot to adore about Betty Goes Vegan, but here are some of the highlights.
- The recipes are 100% recognizable. Everyone, meat eaters, vegans and others will be delighted, not confused by the recipe selection.
- More recipes than most vegan cookbooks means you’ll never run out of meal ideas.
- The recipes are VERY easy. But not so simple that long-term cooks won’t like them. There’s a nice mix of easy vs. more advanced.
- If you’re already vegan, you should have most, if not all the ingredients you need to make the recipes in this book on hand. If you’re not vegan, there’s little you’ll need to buy to make these recipes.
- There’s a very nice pantry list included in the book in case you need a rundown of vegan ingredients.
- Unlike other vegan cookbooks, Betty doesn’t ask you to purchase any crazy (or weird) expensive ingredient and only use it ONCE. This cookbook utilizes the same sort of inexpensive ingredients dish in and dish out.
- They offer a round up of kitchen tools you may need which is handy.
- The dishes are not at all scary. I like baking and I’m an ice pop making champ, but when it comes to real meals, I’m not a super creative cook. Most vegan cookbooks I pick up are terrifying. Weird dishes and stuff that doesn’t even look like food. It’s like vegans think they should be overly fancy. Simple is good. Betty is simple.
- The dishes are hyper non-vegan friendly. This cookbook is packed with food non-vegans will enjoy, so you can cook and impress all your non-vegan pals.
- The recipes taste great. I’ve only had a chance to try about 6 recipes so far, but they’ve all been massive hits at my house and at my house we’ve got 2 vegans, 2 vegetarians and one stout meat lover (two of them are picky kids too). So the recipes do appeal to a wide range of folks.
- You can change these recipes up easily to meet the needs of your family, plus you’ll get ideas for creating your own recipes.
Stuff that could be better
This book doesn’t have many flaws, but it’s not perfect. Here’s what to be aware of going in.
#1 con – not enough images: There are only a small handful of images in this book. I’m not a creative cook, so it helps when I can see what a recipe should look like. Images also inspire me to actually get off my rump and try something new. My son likes to read, but like me, he also tends to pick recipes based on images first, so this isn’t a book he’s likely to rummage through due to the lack of pictures. If your child isn’t reading yet, he also won’t get much use out of this cookbook. I really wish there were more images. On a side note, the blog, Meet the Shannons DOES have images a plenty, so if you get this book, you can look some of the images up online.
Not totally kid-friendly: The recipes in this book aren’t overly complex, just not stuff kids might be into at first glance. This is especially notable if you have a picky eater. I found food in here the kids at my house will eat for sure, but also a lot I bet they wouldn’t try without some adjustments. That said, the recipes are VERY flexible, so just because you have kids, don’t be scared of this book. It’s still family-friendly, just not 100%. I’ll also add, that pictures or not, all the kids were enthralled with the vegan egg section (vegan eggs, who knew?) and the vegan doughnuts.
The index disaster: I can’t blame this on the authors, because publishers tend to set up indexes, but I will say this – Betty Goes Vegan has the most confusing index I’ve ever used. I can’t find anything I’m looking for half the time and it doesn’t help when the term “vegan” is used in front of half the recipes. Frankly, don’t we know the recipes are vegan? All those “Vs” make searching a pain. It’s not a deal breaker, but I wanted to point this flaw out because you should bookmark your favorite recipes so you can find them again later.
Not eco: I don’t think this book was printed on recycled content (don’t quote me on that). But there is a digital version available if you want to go paper-free.
CALM DOWN PEOPLE
The biggest complaint I’ve seen about this cookbook (like in Amazon reviews) is that the cookbook has too many recipes with mock meats and mock cheese. I get it. I like whole foods too. But, I think people are seriously overreacting. You don’t have to make these recipes with processed fake meat. Use homemade tofu, tempeh, seitan or whatever you like. Omit the vegan cheese if you want. It’s a cookbook not written law. The whole “mock food is unhealthy” argument is moot, because what’s the alternative for people who like these foods? Real meat? Real dairy? Now those foods are unhealthy! Plus, it’s not like you have to eat the mock food dishes every night. Change it up. Have a salad for dinner. Mock foods in moderation is ok.
More importantly, as a vegan who hangs out with non-vegans and lives with THREE non-vegans, here’s what’s hard – feeding everyone. The non-vegans I know are simply more likely to try mock vegan meals that look like food they’re used to. I’m guessing the people complaining about the mock foods are only feeding themselves. I’ve got kids, friends and family who are really scared of vegan food. I have to feed them and this cookbook is a swell solution. Also, many of the recipes don’t have mock foods. Most can be adapted to be more whole food based. It’s NOT a big deal. What is a big deal is getting people to eat fewer animal products, right? The more vegan foods people try, the more likely they are to change up their diet. Bottom line. If you only want whole food recipes or recipes made 100% from scratch at all times, don’t buy this book. If you want to be creative, open-minded and have an arsenal of food you can make for non-vegans and vegans alike, get the book and then adapt as needed.
The bottom line
Overall, minus a few forgivable flaws, I LOVE this cookbook. Betty Goes Vegan is exactly the vegan cookbook I was looking for and one I expect to use over and over again. It’s packed with recipes for vegan food, not speeches about vegan issues. All of these recipes sound delicious, are easy and utilize ingredients you already have in your pantry for the most part. The recipes are also extremely approachable, not so unique they scare you – good news if you have non-vegan family and friends you like to cook for. All of this, along with the excellent casual and friendly writing style, makes this cookbook a long-term usable winner. I’d highly suggest every vegan family get this for their kitchen. If you’re still not sure, test out a few of the recipes at the Meet the Shannons blog. This will give you a nice idea of what to expect. Or you can head to the last section of this post to get a yummy sample recipe.
Image © Jennifer Chait
Sample Vegan Recipe: Mock Chicken Salad
This is an excellent vegan chicken salad recipe (best I’ve had). When I made it, my family wanted to eat the whole batch right then and there vs. having one sensible sandwich each. Overeating – not ok, but it does highlight when a recipe rocks. One of my taste testers noted, “We could sell these sandwiches and make a million dollars.” I don’t know about a million dollars, but this recipe is delicious, easy and perfect for a quick dinner or as a take-along to a picnic. NOTE: When possible use organic ingredients.
Gather up the following (makes enough for 4-6 people):
- 2 cups mock vegan chicken – I used Gardein chick’n scallopini, but you can use any vegan mock chicken you like, so long as it’s firm. If you’re not a mock meat fan, consider subbing in pressed, firm lightly seasoned organic tofu, which I think would work too, it just won’t have the same “chicken” texture.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Dash of Liquid Smoke
- 1/2 cup Veganaise or other favorite vegan mayo
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 and 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
- 2 pinches of celery seed
- Pinch to 1/4 cup of dried parsley
- 2 medium stalks of celery (chopped)
- 1/2 large red onion (chopped)
- Crushed pink Himalayan salt and black peppercorns (to taste)
NOTES: I skipped the Liquid Smoke and pepper because I was out and I skipped the salt because I only add salt to food when it’s 100% necessary (still, this recipe rocked).
- The night before you make your salad, heat up the Liquid Smoke and olive oil in a cast iron skillet or pan, over medium heat.
- Toss your defrosted vegan chicken into the pan, cook until hot and crispy. Allow it to cool, chop into small pieces, then place in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, combine the chicken with all the other ingredients (except salt and pepper) in a bowl. Mix well.
- Add salt and pepper to taste if you like.
The Shannons suggest you serve this on toasted vegan bagels with whatever fixings you like. I served mine on cracked wheat bread with tomatoes and lettuce, plus fruit on the side. You can also eat this atop lettuce or just straight out of the bowl, which trust me, you’ll really want to do. This was so good after our kitchen taste test that we’re lucky this salad even made it to the table.
All images courtesy of ©MeetTheShannons.com unless otherwise stated