Cover of Book

Title: Fresh and Fast Vegan
Author: Amanda Grant
230 pages; Softcover $15.95 US/$20.00 CAN
Publisher: Da Capo Press Lifelong Books, 2010
Reviewed by, Jill Gibson, November, 2010

The review--- There has been a lot of discussion lately about decreasing the amount of meat we consume in our daily diet. The Omnivore’s Dilemma intensified the conversation, and now even a chef like Mark Bittman is following a partial vegan diet. Amanda Grant’s latest cookbook, Fresh and Fast Vegan, offers a collection of simple and quick dishes for both “aspiring and devoted vegans.”

The 144 recipes in the cookbook are not complex, and with the exception of the occasional hard-to-find ingredient (kaffir lime leaves, orange-flower water, dashi-konbu) in a few of the recipes, the majority of your shopping list can be procured at the local grocery store. The preparation time for most recipes is under 20 minutes, with cooking times equally brief. While the directions assume some culinary knowledge, the sidebar on each recipe offers useful hints on the ingredients as well as nutritional information.

I tried three recipes: Moroccan Pilaf, A Very Modern Waldorf Salad and Caramelized Oranges with Cranberries. The pilaf recipe was a keeper, an excellent vegan dish that could also be used as a side dish to lamb or chicken for non-vegans. Both the salad and the oranges were delicious, although I would make minor technique and ingredient changes for simplicity.

The book’s standard quality paper, black and white color scheme and lack of photos speak to the book’s focus on time saved rather than time spent in the kitchen. Accomplished cooks might find the book too simple to keep their interest for very long, but anyone looking to change their diet or get dinner on the table quickly without sacrificing nutrition would be well served by Fresh and Fast Vegan.

Moroccan Pilaf
serves 4
preparation time: 15 minutes
cooking time: 45 minutes

The great thing about this dish is that you can pop it in the oven and forget about it until the rice is cooked—just remember to set a timer, or you may come back to overcooked grains. I love the way Moroccans use citrus fruit and cinnamon in savory dishes. It makes a welcome change to dishes such as pilafs that can otherwise seem very similar.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup (1 3/4 ozs.) whole almonds, roughly chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
approx. 1 cup (7 ozs.) long grain rice
1/3 cup (13/4 ozs.) currants
1/4 cup (13/4 ozs.) dried apricots
grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups water
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

to serve, large handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
large handful of fresh chives, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Heat the oil in a large Flameproof casserole dish. saute the almonds over moderate heat for a few minutes, until golden. Add the onion, carrots and cinnamon. and saute for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and golden. Add the rice, and cook for 1 minute, stirring, to coat the grains. Stir in the currants, apricots, orange zest and cayenne pepper, and pour in the water. Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.

Transfer the casserole dish to the oven, cover, and cook for 40-45 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Scatter fresh cilantro and chives over the pilaf, and serve.

A Very Modern waldorf Salad
serves 4
preparation time: 15 minutes

I have always loved the combination of fruit and nuts and many of my recipes contain both ingredients in many diffrent guises. This salad Is easy to make, but very effective. It is often difficult to get the balance of ingredients in a simple recipe right so that the flavors complement, rather than compete with, one another. The crunchy pears and nuts contrast with the soft raisins, and the carrot adds color as well as being a good source of vitamins. Serve the salad with a fruit bread.

juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (4 fl. ozs.) water
4 ripe peers, cored and sliced
4 sticks celery, thinly sliced
3 carrots, grated
1 1/4 cups (4 1/2 ozs.) walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups (5 1/2 ozs.) raisins
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

for the dressing

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the lemon juice and water in a large Add the pears, and toss until they are coated. let sit for 10 minutes, then drain.

To make the dressing: Put all the ingredients in a screw-top jar, and shake vigorously until thoroughly blended. Set aside.

Put the celery, carrots, walnuts and raisins in a serving howl Add the pears and fresh mint. Pour the dossing over the salad, and serve.

Caramelized Oranges with Cranberries
serves 4
preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 2-3 hours chilling time
cooking time: 10-15 minutes

Dried fruit (such as cranberries) is available year-round and is well worth keeping in the cupboard at all times: Throw a handful into scones, biscuits or sauces such as this one. The dried berries have a very intense flavor. Because the water has been removed, the sugar is concentrated, making the berries deliciously sweet. Make sure you remove all the hitter white pith when you peel the oranges.

1/2 cup (2 ozs.) dried cranberries
9 medium-size juicy oranges
1 1/4 cups (8 ozs.) turbinado sugar
10 fl. ozs. water
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or brandy

Put the cranberries in a howl. Squeeze the juice from 1 orange, and pour it over the cranberries. Remove the zest from 4 oranges with a zester or vegetable peeler. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, add the zest, and blanch for a couple of seconds. Drain. Add the zest to the soaking cranberries. Set aside.

Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the skins and pith from the remaining oranges. Carefully follow the curve of the fruit, working in small downward sections. Hold the oranges over a bowl as you work to catch any juices. Slice the oranges into rounds (discarding any seeds), and put them in a bowl.

Put the sugar in a saucepan with the water. Swirl the water around in the pan to make sure all the sugar is immersed. Heat gently. until the sugar has dissolved, swirling the pan occasionally. Bring to a boil, and continue to boil until the syrup is golden. Watch carefully if the caramel is too dark, it will taste bitter. Let cool slightly.

Arrange the orange slices in a serving dish. Carefully stir any juices left in the bowl, as well as any juices left over from peeling the oranges, into the caramel. Stir in the Grand Marnier or brandy. Let the caramel cool for another 10 minutes, then pour it over the oranges. Add the cranberries, and mix carefully. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving.

From the book Fresh and Fast Vegan by Amanda Grant. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2010.