What comes to mind when you think of the word “vegan”? If you’re like me, your first thoughts don’t immediately go to words like “tasty”, innovative”, or “satisfying”. As a little girl in the 70’s I remember going to a few vegan restaurants with my mom and her friends…let’s just say I wasn’t anxious to return! Of course, over the years I’ve come to learn that vegetarian and vegan recipes use the same fresh produce, herbs and spices I use in my everyday cooking, with a few tweaks and replacements here and there. My perspectives became even more positive when I had the opportunity to read Vegan: The Cookbook.
Meeting acclaimed chef Jean-Christian Jury at a recent Melissa’s Produce media luncheon was an opportunity to hear his story of how he decided to become a vegan, and how he has brought vegan recipes (that are as far from bland and boring as one can get) to the world – first through his restaurants and then through his books. His newest tome is Vegan: The Cookbook, a collection of 450 incredible recipes from 150 countries.
This is a hefty book that’s packed to the gills with information, a thorough section on pantry essentials (you’ll be surprised to see how many recipes don’t require special ingredients) and even recipes from guest chefs. Once you’ve paged through, it’s easy to go back to the recipes you like with a general index, and indexes of recipes by country, types of food, and course. (You can also go old school and use a gazillion post-it notes to mark the pages, like I did!)
Originally from Toulouse, France, Jury was a chef in London, working a relentless schedule and pairing his long hours with an equally unhealthy diet. In 2004 he experienced heart failure twice in six months. Warned by his doctor that the consequences would be dire if he did not change his lifestyle, he transitioned to a vegan diet and began to exercise. After just a few weeks of his new lifestyle he had lost weight, felt better and had more energy.
Jury loves to showcase the healthy and flavorful sides of vegan cooking. He shared that when he began cooking vegan the word did not have a good connotation, so he decided to call it plant-based. Intense research helped him recreate the way he cooked and thought about cooking, which translated into a highly successful restaurant that put Berlin on the map as the best vegan destination in the world. He is now preparing to open a state-of-the-art vegan cooking school in Thailand as the executive chef.
Of the delicious dishes we sampled at the media luncheon, I really loved the Five-Spice Stir-Fried Soba Noodles. Fresh veggies are stir-fried in a sweet and spicy sauce, served over soba noodles. Five-Spice powder is one of my favorite spice combinations, readily available in most markets; although you’ll find some variation between brands, it’s typically a mixture of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel seed. It adds an earthy, warm flavor with just a little heat, perfect for this dish.
Getting everything prepped is pretty quick – chop the vegetables and make the sauce. I used a little less than the teaspoon of dried chile flakes and it still had quite a kick.
I found these already cooked soba noodles (Japanese thin buckwheat noodles) in the refrigerated section of the market – with wonton wrappers and such. It saved a couple of steps since they just needed to be heated up in the microwave. (I saved the sauce that came with them for another use.)
The vegetables cook for a few minutes…
then you stir in the sauce and let it thicken.
When the mixture is ready it gets tossed with the noodles in a big bowl. This dish has great textures and flavors! Taking my cue from Jean-Christian to be creative, next time I’ll garnish each serving with chopped cashews and parsley or cilantro, and add some freshly grated ginger to the sauce. (It would be fun to serve it in take-out boxes too, don’t you think?)
To serve the leftovers, I whisked together another batch of the sauce (without the pepper flakes), heated some olive oil in my stir fry pan and tossed in the noodle-veggie mixture, stirring for a few minutes. I added the sauce and stirred until it thickened and everything was heated through…I think it was even better the second time around!
Jean-Christian encouraged everyone to try the recipes and expand their home kitchen repertoires …”even if you don’t envision yourself becoming a vegan.” He also cautioned us, “Don’t become vegan because it’s the trend. Become vegan because it makes sense for you.” Whether you decide to eat a totally vegan diet or just increase the emphasis on plant-based foods for better heath, Vegan: The Cookbook will help you with an extensive collection of recipes that will pique your interest and your tastebuds.
The only limit you have creating food is your imagination…there is no reason why vegan food can’t be as delicious as non-plant-based cuisine! When food is fresh and brimming with flavor, it will leave you feeling sated. Jean-Christian Jury
Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Vegan: The Cookbook to cook with. I was not compensated in any other way and all the opinions expressed are my own.