October 11, 2012
(+++) COOKING FOR HEALTH
You Won’t Believe It’s Salt-Free! 125 Healthy, Low-Sodium and No-Sodium Recipes Using Flavorful Spice Blends. By Robyn Webb. Da Capo. $17.99.
The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe: 150 Plant-Based Makeovers of Classics from France, Italy, Spain…and Beyond. By Mark Reinfeld. Da Capo. $18.99.
Cause cooking and niche cooking are all the rage these days. Whatever your beliefs about food, whatever dietary restrictions you may have been given for medical reasons or may have imposed on yourself for sociopolitical ones, there are plenty of books out there to show you how to cook in accordance with your concerns – ostensibly without giving up any flavorfulness of the dishes. You Won’t Believe It’s Salt-Free! is for people who have been told to restrict salt in their diets, or who are simply concerned about the amount of it they consume – although the vast majority of salt in American food is not added during cooking or at the table, but is included in prepared foods. People concerned about salt intake will get a great deal more benefit by avoiding processed and canned foods than by using Robyn Webb’s recipes to reduce the salt added in their own kitchens. Webb offers some of the science supporting salt reduction at the start of her book, but does not mention where the primary salt sources really are until a small “Did You Know?” box on page 35 – an unfortunate downplaying of the real culprits in higher salt intake (although it obviously makes sense from a sales standpoint to imply that reducing salt in cooking, using this book’s recipes, will have a major impact on salt consumption). In any case, the point of this book is not science or medicine but food, and Webb’s notions of using spice blends instead of salt are attractive even for people who simply want meals that taste good in different ways from those that incorporate salt into the instructions. Webb delves into dried herbs, fresh herbs and exotic herbs (such as Chinese five-spice powder and Indian garam masala) as she presents recipes for starters, snacks, marinades, main dishes, sides, soups and desserts. She specifically advises against using salt substitutes – a good recommendation, since they tend to give food a not-quite-salty taste that is not particularly pleasant. Webb lays out the recipes clearly and well, with very brief introductions, clear preparation instructions and basic information on nutritional values. There are quite a few dishes here in which people will surely not miss salt at all: Caribbean-style Pork Tenderloin with Melon Salsa, Mango Cashew Bundles with Sesame Quinoa, Thai Shrimp Soup, Fresh Peas and Zucchini, and all sorts of desserts, from Caribbean Citrus Pineapple to Strawberry Lemon Granita. The book does not include breads – in which it is usually simple just to omit salt, anyway – but the Orange Macadamia Nut Bread, in the section on desserts, attractively blends savory spices with sweet ones. As with all cookbooks, it makes sense to thumb through this one before buying it to decide whether the recipes are ones you will really want to try and will be willing to spend time making – time that, in this case, may include searching for some less-than-familiar spices. Reducing salt in cooking will not by itself have a significant impact on most people’s total salt intake, but every little bit does help for those trying to cut back; and Webb’s book does offer some tasty alternatives to cooking with sodium chloride.
If health is the “cause” underlying Webb’s book, advocacy of a plant-based diet is the foundation of Mark Reinfeld’s The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe. Reinfeld, coauthor of several other books on vegan cooking and eating, spends no time advocating the vegan lifestyle, simply assuming that anyone buying his book will already be among the converted. He does partake of some of the New Age-y atmosphere surrounding vegan eating – “Preparing food can be a sacred and healing time for you to connect with nature in your own kitchen” – but true believers will have no problem whatsoever with this. The plan of Reinfeld’s book is a good one: he says that labor time for recipes is almost always less than 30 minutes, even when cooking, baking, freezing or refrigerating time is longer. This gives cooks a good idea of how much time to set aside for preparing most of the foods here. The book is arranged by country, not type of food or portion of meal, which makes it somewhat awkward to use: there are sections for Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, United Kingdom and Ireland, Greece, Germany, and Europe fusion; you go to a section and meander through individual recipes to assemble a full meal. Most sections begin with soup and end with dessert, but there are few choices within each category: just one soup for Germany and two desserts for Greece, for instance. More than most cookbooks, this one requires some browsing before buying, because the once-over-lightly culinary views of Europe, vegan style, may not provide enough depth or variety for many people. If you like Italian and Spanish food but not German or British, for example, then you will be using only a small percentage of the recipes here and will have to decide whether you will make them often enough for the book to be worthwhile. Vegan fans of French food will likely be happy to find such staples as French onion soup, pommes frites and asparagus Hollandaise, for example, but dishes from elsewhere, such as German tempeh sauerbraten, Dutch stamppot and British champ with crispy onions, may not get prepared very often except for vegan aficionados of those countries’ cuisines. As usual in vegan cookbooks, many ingredients will be familiar to vegans but not to others; but this is not a book intended to convert people to vegan eating – only to expand the horizons of those who already choose this kind of diet.