Cookbook author Nava Atlas has penned a series of successful vegetarian cookbooks with a special appeal to families and those looking for simple ways to prepare unique meatless meals. Books like The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet, Vegetariana, and Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons have been go-to books on my shelf since I became vegetarian and her latest, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook is a great addition to her previous publications.
One of the notable differences you’ll find in The Vegetarian Family Cookbook is that while not all the recipes are vegan, there are many expanded vegan options, a difference that reflects a change in Nava’s own life since her previous book. In the lengthy and informative introduction, she discusses soy mayonnaise, non-hydrogenated margarine, and soy milk as well as the reasons she and her family have eliminated cheese and eggs from their diets.
Also included in the introduction are a list of compelling reasons to “go organic,” a list of essential cooking tools, and the best oils to use for cooking.
Onto the recipes.
One of the first recipes I tried was for “Seashells in the Sand,” a simple couscous/bulgur-based dish with small shell pasta. The recipe as it’s listed is quite bland, but the recommendation for “adults” is to season it with fresh herbs or pine nuts. For me, a little marinara sauce did the trick.
A more successful pasta recipe was Pasta with Enlightened Alfredo Sauce. I opened for the vegan version and the end rich was light, yet relatively creamy.
The Baked Tofu Nuggets were tasty, but could have used a bit of a kick. They were made a bit better, though, with an excellent, very easy-to-make vegan tartar sauce on the next page.
One of the best, and simplest, dishes I tried was the Macaroni and Cheese with Secret Silken Tofu Sauce. Why “secret”? Because most people won’t even notice it’s in there. Again, I made the vegan version using Soymage vegan cheddar and the end result was very good. One of those simple, kid-friendly comfort foods that doesn’t require a disgusting packet of powdered cheese. But while this one is good hot, it’s even better cold the next day. This one is served well by some steamed spinach (I needed a whole bag) and some sun-dried tomatoes mixed in. It would probably also work well with some of the new Tofurky kielbasa or Italian sausages chopped up and tossed in.
The favorite around our house, though, was the exceedingly easy but fresh-and-tasty Middle Eastern Pita Bread Salad. With plum tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, parsley, and a few other ingredients, this fattoush is a great go-to meal, especially in the summer when bread salads taste even better with fresh, locally grown vegetables.
The Vegetarian Family Cookbook features over 275 recipes in the normal categories (breakfast, soups and stews—something Nava Atlas excels at, as seen in her excellent Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons, main dishes, side dishes, and sandwiches) as well as a few categories you won’t normally find in “family” cookbooks (tofu and seitan get a thorough treatment as do “wholesome baked goods”).
What’s great about Nava Atlas’ latest effort is that while there are good “family-style” cookbooks and good vegetarian cookbooks, the two categories have not been married in such a successful way to this point. The recipes are simple and while some may be too simple for advanced adult palates, the “Embellish It” tips suggest easy ways for adults to spark up a dish. Who knows, perhaps this cookbook will inspire families to actually eat the same meal, or only slight variations thereof. That would be quite an accomplishment.