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Cooking The Books

Our Reviewer is a "Cheatin' Vegan"

I am a cheater.  I take a vegan recipe and sneak in a little milk, butter, even chicken stock.   I am willing to face judgment on this.  Because I like eating and making “plant-based” dishes.  I have eaten at Planta and Fresh.  Isn’t it a good thing to eat more vegetables, even if you cheat a little?  


With that out of the way, let’s talk about The First Mess, an award-winning Canadian blog and now a cookbook.  (The title is taken from a passage by M.F.K. Fisher where she discusses the first planting and “mess” of peas in the spring).  Author Laura Wright lives in the Niagara region but her blog, food photography and recipes are recognized internationally.  


I was very impressed with these recipes, which were clear and reasonably simple.  Most importantly, the food was interesting and delicious, for vegetarians, omnivores and carnivores.  


For breakfast I tried the Maple-Spice Buckwheat Crispies Cereal, a mix of buckwheat groats, coconut, nuts and seeds tossed with coconut sugar, maple syrup, coconut oil and warm spices.  This granola-like dish was great as a cereal or on top of yogurt.  I deputized my sister to make Mocha Hemp Fuel, made of coffee, maple syrup and cocoa, with the protein boost of hemp seeds.  She loved it and it was perfect for a post-workout snack.


For vegan dishes, the main course can be a challenge.  It was cold outside and I made Vegetables, Chickpeas and Dumplings, a hearty aromatic stew covered with spelt flour dumplings.  I cheated by using milk in the dumplings and chicken stock in the stew, but that was because I didn’t have any almond milk or vegetable stock.  


Farro and Pine Nut Chard Rolls are a vegan, Italian riff on cabbage rolls.  I always hated cabbage rolls but this called for ingredients that I love so I decided to give it a try.  The farro was tossed with pine nuts and lemon, rolled in Swiss chard leaves and baked in a tomato sauce.  My chard leaves were too small, with the result that the rolls fell apart.  It all blended together and tasted good, but I wouldn’t want to serve it to company.  Was good with cheese ☺ but was also good without.


Garlicky Winter Vegetables and White Bean Mash with Mushroom Miso Gravy was made of mashed parsnips, cauliflower, celery root, garlic and cannellini beans topped with an umami-rich mushroom gravy.  While the recipe calls for almond milk and olive oil, I used dairy.  Although there was some skepticism in my house about whether this would be filling enough, it was.  


The truth is out.  Eating vegan or even vegan-light can be enjoyable and is worth a try.  The First Mess is anything but.  It’s all good.

Naomi Bussin is a lawyer, mother of three and accomplished cook. Food is her favourite subject and she reads cookbooks in her spare time.