August 04, 2011


Gluten-Free in Five Minutes: 123 Rapid Recipes for Breads, Rolls, Cakes, Muffins, and More. By Roben Ryberg. Da Capo. $17.

Sinfully Vegan: More Than 160 Decadent Desserts to Satisfy Every Sweet Tooth. By Lois Dieterly. Da Capo. $18.

Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet. By Jack Norris, R.D., and Virginia Messina, M.P.H., R.D. Da Capo. $17.

     Special-needs eaters – or, perhaps, special-wants ones – have all sorts of interesting recipe books available to them these days. The main theme of the books is that one need not sacrifice taste, enjoyment, even the “mouth feel” of foods just because one cannot or has chosen not to eat certain food groups. People who cannot consume gluten without gastrointestinal distress, but who still love the sorts of foods in which gluten-containing wheat and other ingredients are typically major components, are the target audience for Gluten-Free in Five Minutes. Roben Ryberg, founder of a gluten-free-food emporium and author of other books saying that gluten-free foods can bring just as much enjoyment as ones containing gluten, here puts an emphasis on speed as well as taste. Narrative material is kept to a minimum, with only a brief opening “helpful hints” chapter and short introductions to sections on breakfast, breads, rolls, sides, cakes, icings, muffins and other desserts. The focus is on recipes, whose ingredients may surprise people without gluten sensitivity and even some with it. For example, the one for a bagel (yes, a single bagel) includes an egg white, canola oil, applesauce, brown rice flour and a little sugar, with Ryberg commenting, “These bagels are better at room temperature than hot. Strange, but true.” Some of the recipes are more than a tad obvious: corn on the cob (one ear of corn plus optional salt and/or butter) and hard-boiled egg (one cup of water and one egg). Others could appear in any recipe book, not just a gluten-free-foods one – the hollandaise sauce, for example (egg yolk, butter and lemon juice). On the other hand, some recipes will be especially delightful for those who cannot tolerate gluten, such as two different ones for chocolate pound cake (one using brown rice flour, the other using sorghum flour; there are similar dual recipes for red velvet cake, carrot cake and regular chocolate cake). The chapter on icing is not entirely necessary – as Ryberg points out, “many traditional, store-bought icings are gluten-free” – but someone already using the book may enjoy having these recipes in the same place as the ones for cakes. And it is nice to have some recipes here for desserts that one would expect to require gluten – apple crisp and peach cobbler, for example. Not all the recipes are quite at the five-minute-preparation level, but most are simple and quick enough to please readers who need to avoid gluten altogether.

     No one needs to avoid meat altogether, and those who select a vegan lifestyle do sometimes come across with a kind of holier-than-thou attitude that non-vegans may find irritating. That makes the title of Lois Dieterly’s Sinfully Vegan fun. What makes it even more enjoyable is that this dessert-focused book suggests easy vegan substitutes for common ingredients (soy milk for milk, applesauce for butter, etc.) and gives many of the goodies interestingly cute names: “orange you glad it has chocolate chips cake,” “rootin’ tootin’ raisin spice cake,” “pucker-up cream pie,” and so on. The names may become a little too cutesy after a while, but the recipes are more straightforward than their titles and are, for the most part, easy to follow. Sinfully Vegan was originally published in 2003; this revised and updated version includes 20 new recipes. Dieterly, a teacher and former baker, has a greater fixation on certain desserts than many readers are likely to have – she devotes a full chapter to Boston cream pies, for example – but she presents a wide enough variety of sweet stuff to satisfy just about any vegan palate. There are dessert tapas, cheesecakes, puddings, doughnuts, smoothies and more – even four recipes for making your own ice cream, all with “absolutely no cream in them” (bananas provide the creaminess). Non-vegans who want to try these recipes may find some of the ingredients a bit bewildering (garbanzo bean flour, Suzanne’s Ricemellow Creme), but vegans who already know where to find their specialty recipe components should have little trouble combining them as Dieterly recommends – and coming up with some tasty treats that satisfy both their sweet tooth and their chosen eating habits.

     People who have not yet chosen the vegan life, but are considering doing so, can get some solid information on what it is like – and how to stay healthy if they adopt it – from Vegan for Life. Registered dietitians Jack Norris, cofounder of Vegan Outreach, and Virginia Messina, an advisor to the Vegetarian Resource Group and the advocacy organization called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, are both longtime vegans and are – like many others of their persuasion – strong believers in the vegan approach. In Vegan for Life, they assert that “vegan diets can – and do—support optimal health throughout the life cycle” and that “a vegan diet isn’t difficult; it’s just a different way of meeting nutrient needs.” They admit that vegan diets “still sit well outside the mainstream” and are associated with a number of beliefs that they say are myths, such as, “When you first go vegan, you’ll experience unpleasant feelings from detoxing and withdrawal from animal products,” and “Plant proteins are missing some essential amino acids.” Vegan for Life is an advocacy book, as are most works written by those seeking to recruit non-vegans to the vegan life or persuade wavering maybe-vegans to “stay the course.” Vegans must take supplements of vitamin B12, for example, and Norris and Messina devote some space to whether that should trouble vegans – since plant foods do not contain this necessary vitamin. They come to a reasonable conclusion, but then immediately overstate their case: “We agree that it doesn’t matter whether a vegan diet is our historical way of eating or not. The fact is, it makes sense now to choose a vegan diet. And whose diet is really natural, anyway?” This sort of speciousness aside, the book does a good, straightforward job of discussing what it means to live as a vegan, with the authors asserting that vegans consume “some of the best food you’ve ever tasted” and that “you can build healthful and appealing vegan meals around convenience foods and easily prepared dishes.” Their section on “stocking the vegan pantry” will be especially useful for those trying to figure out what to buy, and they sensibly (and non-dogmatically) insist that it does not matter that “even seemingly benign foods like white sugar and maple syrup – seemingly vegan – can be processed with animal ingredients, a fact you won’t see on their labels. Some food additives and food colors can be either animal- or plant-derived – and you have no way of knowing.” The authors deserve praise for trying so hard to focus on the health aspects of vegan living while mostly distancing themselves from the morally superior attitude that so many vegans assume. Their sample menus, which include ones for breast-feeding and for infants and children, are a plus, too. Vegan for Life will not likely persuade non-vegans to change their ways. But it is an effective primer for those just starting to live as vegans and those interested in trying the vegan lifestyle but uncertain about its potential benefits.

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