Vegan Unplugged: a Pantry Cuisine Cookbook and Survival Guide (Cookbook Review)
Vegan Unplugged takes vegan cooking into the wilds — and also into the power outage, the road trip, and the omni-inlaw weekend visit. This cookbook is a treasure trove of ideas for making tasty, nutritious, resource-conserving vegan meals when you’re out of your normal kitchen groove. With one butane burner and a well-stocked pantry, you can eat vegan gourmet on the road, after the hurricane, in your dorm, or even in your mother-in-law’s guest room!
Storm Tested, Chef Approved
Authors Jon and Robin Robertson offer thoroughly tested advice about cooking off the grid: the Vegan Unplugged concept grew from their own experience of prolonged power outages, following Hurricane Isabel.
In their words,
Whenever you find yourself without refrigeration and having to rely on pantry ingredients, Vegan Unplugged will help you to ‘make the most of it’ when you have to ‘make the best of it’…
It is intended to be the go-to resource for vegans (and non-vegans, too) to make delicious, nutritious meals no matter what situation prevents you from eating fresh food.
Like most excellent cookbooks, Vegan Unplugged offers more than just recipes. It begins with plans for ‘The Five-Day Meal Box,’ a detailed plan designed to feed 2-4 people for 5 days for about $70, in an unplugged-kitchen situation. The meal box fits into a 50-quart lidded container, easy to store in a closet, car trunk, dorm room, boat galley, or similar. Authors also offer good advice on choosing equipment for indoor non-electric cooking, personalizing your pantry stash, and choosing other kitchen supplies that make life easier when you’re cooking unplugged.
Readers will also find good advice for general disaster preparedness planning, including special considerations for children and pets during natural disasters or other disruptive events.
Functional Food Plan, a la Vegan Unplugged
The recipes themselves are designed to conserve both cooking fuel and potable water, so they typically cook in one pot in less than 15 minutes — nearly 20 recipes require no cooking at all. That said, for many dishes there is some prep time involved — it’s not the case that you can completely make every dish in under 15 minutes. Chopping garlic, mashing potatoes, mixing sauces, or other preliminary tasks can add to the overall preparation time, though all the no-cook recipes and many of the others do come together start-to-finish very quickly.
I was very pleased with all the Vegan Unplugged recipes I took for a test drive. Sometimes I tinkered with the seasonings: the Samosadillas, for example, to my taste need a little less spice than called for by the recipe; but to me the the Last Resort Lasagna needs lots more nooch, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, and garlic. I also frequently swapped fresh or frozen foods for canned goods — the recipes (reasonably!) call for lots of nonperishable ingredients, but since I’m not actually unplugged (and try to avoid BPA when possible) I took some liberties there.
Based on potential lack of refrigeration, all the recipes are designed to feed 2 hungry people comfortably but without significant leftovers — so if you’re cooking for a crowd or (like me) practically live on leftovers, and AREN’T unplugged, you may want to double up on recipe measurements.
Unplugged Vegan Nom!
In terms of tastiness, every recipe I’ve tried so far is a keeper. The Last Resort Lasagna (with additional nooch and seasonings added) is amazing, and is my new go-to recipe for fast lasagna. Everyone I fed that night went back for seconds!
The Beat-the-Blahs Black Bean Patties are probably my other favorite recipe (so far!), and are now a staple for fast weeknight meals and quick work lunches. Basically it’s cooked (or canned) potatoes and black beans mashed together, seasoned, shaped into patties and pan-fried. The taste and texture are wonderful, and the patties make a versatile base for many lunch and dinner ideas.
I cheated and used a blender for it, but the Red Pepper-Walnut Spread was a huge hit with our omni dinner guests.
I added some fresh chopped red bell peppers, celery, and parsley to the Old Bay Chickpea Cakes, and oh my goodness they were yummy! Mine turned out just a tad dry, but I did substitute home cooked chickpeas for canned; they probably brought less moisture to the mix, which I’ll compensate for by adding a tablespoon or two of water or oil, in the future. And I didn’t measure the Old Bay or cayenne — the given measurements looked a bit heavy-handed to me, so I just added those spices to suit my taste. But heavens YES, I will make this recipe again!
Served with a sqeeze of lemon and some vegan tartar sauce, they gave me serious flashbacks to the crab cakes I loved in my pre-veg days. Delicious!
Other recipes I’ve enjoyed so far, from Vegan Unplugged:
- Samosadillas (with slightly less curry powder, coriander, cumin, and chili powder)
- Almost-Instant Black Bean Chili
- Polenta Fiesta
- Tuscan Chickpea Stew
- Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce and Walnuts
- High Road Lo Mein
- Corn, Tomatillo, and Red Pepper Salad
- Shitake Happens Mushroom Soup
- Instant Gratification Chocolate Pie
Along with Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap, I would definitely recommend Vegan Unplugged as a great starter-cookbook for people interested in healthy veggie cooking, but with limited resources and/or cooking experience. It also fills a unique niche for plant-eaters, by providing a comprehensive approach to eating well in circumstances that make other cookbooks all but useless.
I recommend playing with recipe upgrades using fresh ingredients, when you’re not actually coping with an electricity-free kitchen. And definitely use given spice measurements as a general guide, not as absolute values: use your own judgment to determine the amount of herbs, spices, or nooch each recipe needs. But overall, Vegan Unplugged scores high on my ‘versatile functional cookbook’ scale — and I’m very glad to have it on my shelf!
Image credit: Creative Commons photo by nickyfern.