Recipes by Bryant Terry
Da Capo Press -- 2009
Buy it on Amazon
It's almost impossible to think of soul food without thinking of pork, butter and drippings, and equally improbable to imagine a vegan who would voluntarily consume any of these things -- or anything else containing animal products, for that matter.
So Bryant Terry's "Vegan Soul Kitchen" would appear to be both a novelty and oxymoron, something Terry himself admits when he writes "I do realize that veganism ... .is antithetical to the way that African-American and Southern cooking has been constructed in the popular imagination over the past four decades."
A deeper look, however, reveals that prior to the industrialization of the food industry, the traditional African-American diet included plenty of fresh produce, and as Terry demonstrates with his book's 150 recipes, those fruits and vegetables can still play a central and innovative role in dishes ranging from Creole Hoppin'-Jean (a bacon-free twist on Hoppin' John, the traditional black-eyed pea and rice dish) to Savory Triple-Corn Grits, which substitutes creamed cashews for butter. In other words, as Bryant writes, think "Alice Waters meets Melvin Van Peebles," a farm-fresh update on a rich and soulful tradition.
See what we tested and whether the book's worth buying after the jump.
Takeaway tips: While this is first and foremost a cookbook, Terry also weaves autobiographical details into the introductions to each of his recipes, as well as musical selections. The soundtrack pick for Chilled and Grilled Okra, Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad, for example, is "Relax Max" by Dinah Washington, while the suggested accompaniment to Upper Caribbean Creamy Grits with Roasted Plantain Pieces is "Tie My Hands" by Lil Wayne.
Quality of pictures: Eh. Many are in black and white, which does nothing to showcase the vibrancy of the produce-based dishes. There is an insert of color photographs, but the over-reliance on very shallow depth of field may lead you to mistakenly think it's time for bifocals, not dinner.
We tested: Chilled Citrus-Broccoli Salad
Though we didn't follow Terry's soundtrack suggestion, Nicola Conte's "Bossa Per Due," (we settled for NPR instead), and lacked the agave nectar called for in the recipe (we substituted a bit of non-vegan-friendly wildflower honey), the recipe still yielded a bright, refreshing salad.
The combination of lemon, lime and orange juices -- along with some fresh basil and garlic -- made a great partner to the barely cooked broccoli, which was pleasantly crunchy. This is an ideal salad for the summer, when broccoli is in season, and would make a great accompaniment for any meal, vegan or otherwise.
Worth the investment: For vegans looking for new and innovative directions to take their cooking, this is an excellent resource. And for non-vegans who are looking for ways to introduce vegetables into their diet -- in a way that is worlds removed from the stereotypes (bland, piously healthy) that bedevil vegan cooking -- this is also a worthwhile investment.