Friday, January 11, 2013

The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry

Chef and food activist Bryant Terry describes his cooking style as "ingredient-driven." In The Inspired Vegan, as in his earlier Vegan Soul Kitchen, Terry explores "Afro-diasporic" cuisine with imagination and social consciousness. Terry's inspiration comes from the comforting home-cooked meals of his childhood in the American South. He writes, "I also think it is important that these recipes chip away at the deep-fried stereotypes of "soul food." We are talking vegan here -- no meat, no dairy, no eggs -- and lots of fresh produce. Especially lots of leafy, dark green vegetables, which I happen to adore.

The menus are organized by the four seasons; Terry is the kind of chef who refuses to serve asparagus out of season. 16 pages of appetizing photos in the middle of the book are the only ones in full colour. The food presentation is rustic and hip, served in mismatched plates and glasses, and displayed on weathered wooden surfaces.

Individual recipes are accompanied by a suggested soundtrack, book, or film, and often contain historical information. For example, Ida B. Limeade "is dedicated to one of the fiercest freedom fighters of the twentieth century -- Ida B. Wells-Barnett. She was an early leader in the civil rights movement and a vocal anti-lynching activist. She was also instrumental in the women's rights and women's suffrage movements. The sour juice of freshly squeezed limes is combined with cayenne and raw cane sugar. It is finished off with a tablespoon of beet puree to give this drink a beautiful light fuchsia hue." The soundtrack for this drink is "Strange Fruit" by Nina Simone remixed by Tricky and Tool from Verve Remixed, the book is A Sword Among Lions by Paula Giddings, and the film is The Show directed by Cruz Angeles. Multiply by 50 or so other recipes and you have quite an impressive discography/bibliography/filmography.

I enjoy reading cookbooks in general, without necessarily testing the recipes. The Inspired Vegan tempted me sufficiently to try several. The Sparkling Rosemary-Grapefruit Water was a hit at my book club last month. It's made with rosemary-infused simple syrup, freshly-squeezed ruby grapefruits, and sparkling water. I've made the Sweet Potato-Cornmeal Drop Biscuits with Maple Syrup enough times to consider it a new staple in my repertoire. (The recipe calls for chilled coconut oil. Storing it in my cupboard is all I need to do in order to have it rock-hard at my house. Just a little reminder that I'm not in Oakland, California, where Terry lives.)

Terry does mention his friends in the text... and he only seems to know people with distinctive names, like Breeze, TiTi Layo and Kalalea. I would likely find him intimidating in person, but I like the way he stimulates my thoughts about food culture and the role of good food in everyday life.

The layout is the main drawback in The Inspired Vegan. In the section on basics, where he shares his foundations for kitchen creativity, pages of recipes interrupt the flow of general text at awkward places, sometimes mid-sentence. Also, the title index to the recipes (called "Interlude") is located on pages 34-35. They are categorized into: drinks; bites; salads; mains; and sides. I ended up placing a bookmark there because it was hard to find otherwise. The recipes are also in the general 10-page index at the back of the book, but that one works better if you are looking for something by main ingredient. Still, I enjoyed dipping in and out of this book and feel like I've learned a few things too.

Now, I think I'll go cook up some Red Beans with Thick Gravy and Roasted Garlic for lunch. Yum!


Claire G said...

1. I was delighted to find that Auckland Libraries has this - and that all seven copies are out on loan, though that means I'll have to wait for it.

2. I never realised the terrible significance of 'Strange Fruit' until I read a novel that quoted it - then I listened, really listened, to my Nina Simone recording. Wow.

Lindy said...

Yes, that song moves me to tears. I first heard Strange Fruit on a Billie Holiday recording. I listened to some techno remix versions on YouTube, looking for the one Terry suggested, but didn't find the same power there.