More and more people are choosing to embrace a vegan diet — for reasons focused on personal health, environmental concerns, as well as distress over the unethical treatment of animals. For whatever the reason, once the choice is made it can be a huge challenge to relearn how to cook and eat. Thinking back on my own decision to become a vegetarian, over a decade ago, the hardest thing was to change my mindset on what I knew about food and nutrition. What I really appreciate about Leah Vanderveldt’s First-Time Vegan is how approachable she makes cooking and enjoying whole foods.
What this book is not is preachy. She’s not trying to convince anyone to change their diets or ideologies, she’s there to support anyone who has already made the decision to become vegan — whether it’s those looking to introduce more vegan recipes into their weekly meal planning or for those making a 100% change to their overall diets. Most people who have never considered veganism are concerned about how their enjoyment of food will be limited but one thing I’ve come to realize with Vanderveldt’s philosophy is that a vegan diet is diverse and delicious. Never about what you’re giving up, always about what you’re gaining.
The recipes found within First-Time Vegan are a culmination of Vanderveldt’s greatest hits. If you’re familiar with her other cookbooks — The New Nourishing and The New Porridge — then you may recognize the recipes. Recipes from both of her books have been brought together in her newest book that is focusing on how to best support the decision to become vegan. It’s no secret if you’ve already read my reviews of her other books — The New Nourishing and The New Porridge — I really love her recipes! She begins with fresh, whole ingredients and builds her meals around them. I appreciate the fact that while her recipes support a vegan diet, they also work to encourage home cooks to become less dependant on processed food.
First-Time Vegan is organized into seven chapters: How To Begin, The Basics, Breakfast, Snacks + Light Meals, Soups + Stews, Big Bowls + Main Meals, and finally, Bakes + Desserts. At the start of the book she carefully outlines the essentials — meal planning, prep, ingredients/vegan substitutes, helpful kitchen tools, advice on nutrition and eating out. Throughout the chapter, The Basics, she delivers foundational recipes. One of my all-time favourites is the recipe for Barbecue Black Beans, which are a perfect addition to any Taco Tuesday meal, her Vegetable-Loaded Nachos, or the perfect quick and filling lunch when I feel like I don’t have time to make anything. With these basic recipes she shows that wholesome food is easy. For anyone who hasn’t made their own plant-based milks or nut butters she gives simple recipes to get you started.
I find myself reaching for First-Time Vegan when it’s late afternoon and I’m at a loss on what to make for supper. Since her recipes rely on basic fresh ingredients and pantry staples, I always seem to have the right ingredients to make one of her quick meals. While my mom was visiting us last month there were times that I’d rather have been visiting than cooking. So, I would make recipes — such as the Leek, Cauliflower and Fennel Soup or the Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chilli — because I could have a delicious and vibrant meal ready within the hour. You would think that a cream soup relies on dairy for its velvety texture but with Vanderveldt’s recipes it goes to show that’s not the case.
Some of the recipes offer a way to batch cook and freeze so that you can have an off-the-cuff meal waiting without much planning or prep. One recipe that I depend upon for this is her recipe for Sweet Potato Falafels. They’re baked — a huge plus in my book because I hate the mess of frying — and they can be frozen and easily reheated — another win in my book! It’s also a meal that can be customized. While I enjoy eating the falafels deconstructed in a salad both my husband and daughter prefer theirs in a wrap with all the fixings. A recipe like the Baked Strawberry, Banana and Oat Squares can be made ahead of time and offer a quick breakfast, snack, or dessert with a quick zap in the microwave.
Being vegan does not mean having to totally give up on your favourite meals! As Vanderveldt shows with her recipe for Nicoise-ish Salad Bowl a simple switch and the right ingredients become a reimagining of a classic dish. Her vinaigrette here is simply mouth-watering and I love how lentils become the star protein of this plant-based version. Even the classic breakfast sandwich gets a makeover! In her Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich roasted squash and avocado become the stand-ins for the egg and cheese. With a good dose of her Tahini-Harissa Dressing and barbecue sauce this version is just as warming and comforting. Vanderveldt proves how important flavour and texture really are when trying to satisfy the need for vegan versions of familiar comfort foods.
Leah Vanderveldt’s First-Time Vegan offers a tangible way to make lasting and healthy changes to your diet. Whether you’re looking to become vegan fulltime or just to increase the number of plant-based meals you’re enjoying each week she has delicious, vibrant recipes that are easy to prepare using pantry staples and fresh ingredients. If you’re curious about other recipes I’ve tried then checkout my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ryland Peters & Small for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.