More than a collection of recipes, this is really an interactive summer read. You settle into the comfortable chair in the backyard with your new cookbook, a glass of iced tea, and maybe the kiddie pool for your feet. Bryant Terry pulls up a chair, dips in his toes, and tells you about his family and some movies he likes. As the conversation inevitably turns to food (the book is called Vegan Soul Kitchen after all), he asks you in disbelief, "What? You've never roasted plantains?" And you hop up and run to the store to remedy the situation. Before you know it, you've also downloaded four hours' worth of music and have moved to the kitchen for an afternoon of cooking. You had to. Bryant Terry made you do it. The plantains are now in the oven. The grits are bubbling on the stove and the house smells like cinnamon and coconut and corn and caramelizing bananas and you are so glad that you and Bryant Terry have become friends.
This is the sort of cookbook that you will want to read from cover to cover. It is just so personal and impassioned and inspiring. Every recipe comes with a suggested soundtrack accompaniment ranging from Al Green to Lila Downs. With its emphasis on healthy whole foods updates of soul food classics, you will also want to do some cooking.
But some of the recipes just don't quite live up to the promise of the book as a whole. Some seem overly fussy. I love the idea of the good green tempeh packet - it's tempeh and greens en papillote or wrapped in a little packet and thrown in the oven. Great. I'll just whip up some grains and dinner is sorted, but halfway through reading the recipe, I give up. There's the mushroom stock to make, and then the tempeh simmers for an hour, and then gets roasted in the oven, before it ever joins forces with the blanched greens and other ingredients to make those cute little packets that then get cooked again in the oven. A lot of this is weekend cooking.
Which is great if it pays off with phenomenal food, which it just doesn't always do. Those grits with the roasted plantains? Amazing. But after about four bites, I had had enough. They were just too rich, too sweet, too much. It would be a nice dish to serve as part of a big brunch spread. The pan-fried coconut tempeh cubes with creamy celeriac sauce were good, but not great, the sauce a touch grainy.
And every time I flip through the book, I find something else I want to try. There are spicy dill pickles and succotash soup with garlicky cornbread croutons, and why haven't I made the chocolate pecan pudding pie yet? Doesn't that combination of words warrant an immediate trip to Skylight or Vroman's or Amazon (where my friend Erin alerted me to the fact that it's crazy on sale right now, and thus motivated me to finally finish writing this review. Thank you.).
Johnny Blaze Cakes
Yield: 12 cakes
Soundtrack: “Bring the Pain” by Method Man from Tical
These crispy corn cakes are all-purpose. I sometimes serve them as an appetizer topped with Rainbow Chow Chow (page 182); as a main dish, I like them with Chilled and Grilled Okra, Corn, and Heirloom Tomato Salad (page 68) heaped on top; and of course you can’t go wrong serving these with Strawberry and Slightly Hot Pepper Jam (page 177) for breakfast.
11⁄2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1⁄2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne
21⁄2 cups boiling unflavored rice milk
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
• In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne. Set aside.
• In a small saucepan, bring the rice milk to a boil then slowly pour it over the cornmeal mixture, stirring as you pour. Add the jalapeño to the batter, mix well, and refrigerate the batter for 20 minutes.
• Preheat the oven to 250°F.
• Warm a large, nonstick skillet or a griddle over medium-high heat and grease well with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add 1⁄4 cup of batter to the skillet per cake. A large skillet should comfortably fit two to three. After about 1 minute, when the bottom starts to set, reduce the heat to medium-low, and use a wooden spoon to shape the cakes, pushing them in and up so that they are about 3 inches wide and 1⁄2 inch thick. Cook the cakes for 8 to 10 minutes per side, adding more oil after turning, until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside (do this in several batches). Transfer the cooked cakes from the skillet to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven until all the cakes are cooked.
From the book Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009. Find out more at www.dacapopresscookbooks.com.