Review: “The VB6 Cookbook,” Mark Bittman

Pros: Delicious healthy recipes!
Cons: Not for everyone
Rating: 5 out of 5

 

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

The VB6 Cookbook: More than 350 Recipes for Healthy Vegan Meals All Day and Delicious Flexitarian Dinners at Night posits an interesting way of eating. The idea is that until 6 pm you eat vegan, and after that you eat vegetable-heavy meals with a more flexible set of ingredients, including occasional ‘treats’ (cheese, meats, fish, non-whole grains, ice cream, etc.). There are lists of unlimited fruits and vegetables–things you can eat in any amount. It’s for people who want to eat better, but don’t do well with ‘diets’. That definitely describes me. I’ve bought vegetarian cookbooks before even though I have no interest in going vegetarian, simply because I’d like to eat a lot more vegetable-centric foods, and that’s an easy way to do it. So the VB6 concept is comfortable for me, even though it takes things further than I would have on my own.

One of the things I was really looking forward to in Mark Bittman’s cookbook were the breakfast and lunch recipes. I need quick breakfasts and easy-to-pack lunches to keep my husband well-fed around his work, and most cookbooks don’t touch on those areas. We now have smoothies from the VB6 cookbook nearly every morning, which has nicely also cut down on my tendency to get beignets at our local cafe. One of my favorite features of this cookbook–something that far too few cookbook authors indulge in–is a willingness to include variations on each recipe, along with lists of further ideas to mess with. This helps you adapt recipes to your tastes, and means that the cookbook contains much more than it looks like it does.

This goes back to those smoothies I mentioned: the smoothie recipe includes four basic recipes as well as suggestions for varying seasonings and flavors beyond that. The basic smoothie recipe is for one serving, but is easily multiplied. It uses 1/2 cup of plain non-dairy milk (I love it with almond milk) or silken tofu (4 oz), a small amount of a flavoring, 1 cup or so of fruit, and ice as necessary. I liked the melon lime smoothie, although if I had it to do over I’d use the silken tofu instead of the almond milk; melon is watery, so the smoothie was very thin even with the addition of ice. The strawberry balsamic smoothie is really delicious. My favorite, however, is the cherry vanilla smoothie. Where most vegan smoothie recipes that I’ve tried clearly would work better with milk–the non-dairy milk is obviously a substitute–this recipe is truly meant to work with the non-dairy milk. The almond milk flavor works perfectly with the vanilla and cherry; I tried it once with regular milk and it was actually better with the almond milk. Besides the smoothies there are some other delightful offerings–I admit I needed to add a little extra sweetening to the Autumn spice baked oatmeal, but I’m hoping to gradually work my way out of that need. It’ll definitely be a matter of taste, but then it’s really easy to add a little syrup or honey over top.

Other breakfasts include “chorizo” tacos (made with spiced tofu); no-bake pumpkin custard (I must try this one!); broccoli scramble; orange-peach parfait; and grain nuts with fruit.

Autumn Oatmeal

Autumn Oatmeal

My favorite of the lunches is a very easy-to-pack Sweetgreen Quinoa Salad. It includes corn, grape tomatoes, and fresh basil. I absolutely love it, and it lasts well. Not all of the lunches can be saved for later; many are meant to be served right away. Some can be reheated; others can at least be refrigerated for a few hours. The recipes are delicious and not overly complex. Some examples are caponata mixed rice; curried spinach and tofu; vegetable pot pie; eggplant meatballs; and peas and carrots salad.

The snacks chapter provides more items that I like to include in a lunchbox, or of course snack on in the middle of the afternoon when I’m trying to hold out until dinner. I look forward to trying the cocktail chickpeas, as I’ve tried spiced snack chickpeas before and have quite enjoyed them. The cucumber quickles came out very well–vinegary, spicy, and just a little sweet. There are variations provided for pickling other vegetables as well (cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, radishes). What a great way to make things more interesting when you’re used to snacking on plain veggies. I also particularly like a chipotle tofu-based ‘mayo’ meant to go with carrots. Spicy and delicious.

Cucumber Quickles

Cucumber Quickles

Bittman doesn’t go halfway on the dinners, definitely taking advantage of their more flexible nature. There’s a red paella with scallops, for example; mussels in coconut broth; chicken with fennel salad (variations include chicken cutlets with celery and watermelon salad, and pork medallions with fennel and apple salad); crisp pork on green papaya salad; vegetable curry with lamb.

The desserts chapter is pretty good too. I should note that I find many vegan desserts are still clearly substitutes, that need to be taken on their own merits rather than compared to their ‘normal’ equivalents. I quite enjoyed the gingery mango pudding made with silken tofu. It’s never going to be the same as a richer, sweeter pudding made with dairy, but if you’re trying to stick with things that are good for you then it’s a delicious alternative. I do find that the stated number of servings in his recipes lead to generous servings, which, when you’re trying to get people to switch to less fatty, more vegetable-heavy foods is a good way to go. You’ll also find desserts in here like avocado chocolate mousse, peanut butter bonbons, and cherry clafoutis.

There’s a ‘building blocks’ chapter that includes things you can make in bulk and have on hand to help you throw recipes together in a few minutes: homemade salad dressing; big-batch cooked vegetables, whole grains, or beans; pico de gallo, nut butters, tomato sauce, vegetable stock, and so on. They’re meant to help you stay on track even when things are hectic, and I think they do a good job of it.

I truly enjoyed Mark Bittman’s “VB6 Cookbook,” and we plan to keep using it–in particular for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. As for me, I have a batch of quickles in the fridge that will get me through my snacking this week!

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