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NOW THAT VEGAN food has entered the mainstream, it’s easier to track down dairy-free recipes. But abundance does not guarantee quality. For that, we turn to the chefs who’ve been working with vegan ingredients and recipes for years. Or, in Solla Eiríksdóttir’s case, decades.
Eiríksdóttir, who was eating vegan long before it was a popular lifestyle choice, has been at the forefront of the raw food movement in her native Iceland, where she owns four restaurants and frequently appears on television. In 2016, she published her first English-language cookbook, “Raw,” written with her daughter, Hildur. In that volume, Eiríksdóttir, who studied at the Living Light Culinary Institute, a raw vegan cooking school in Fort Bragg, California, shared insights from her training in building flavors from the freshest ingredients. Now she’s back with “Vegan at Home,” a comprehensive, beautifully photographed book that feels tailor-made to a kind of dietary spring cleaning that so many of us crave.
In “Vegan at Home,” Eiríksdóttir writes that even after vegetarianism became more widespread in Iceland — she worked part-time at the country’s first vegetarian eatery while raising her daughter — it was not always possible to find vegan staples at the market, so she learned to make her own. Now, she can’t imagine any other way. “When I’m in my kitchen making something homemade, such as tofu or nut cheese,” she writes, “it always surprises me how easy it is and how much better it tastes than the store-bought alternative.” She’s also motivated to make her own when she sees how many additives are included in foods claiming to be “natural.”
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Eiríksdóttir’s expertise comes through in the breadth of recipes she shares here, which encompass the building blocks of vegan cuisine. Recipes for nondairy milks in “Vegan at Home,” for example, range from the usual almond and cashew to the more surprising: sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, and black- or white-sesame seed milk. Following a few of these recipes, I discovered how satisfying it is to make some of the things I spend a pretty penny on at the grocery store, like coconut yogurt (which is a cinch to prepare at home) and cashew cream cheese. And it’s exciting to think about trying some of the recipes that sound impossible in vegan form, like “Melty Cheese,” tzatziki, and pesto.
Eiríksdóttir’s porridge- and yogurt-centric breakfast recipes are inspired by Icelandic and Scandinavian cuisine. I bookmarked the “Oat Porridge with Rhubarb, Kale, and Cardamom,” “Beet Toast,” and “Longevity Green Smoothie.” For lunch, there are numerous riffs on the hippie grain or vegetable bowls many of us know well, and Eiríksdóttir encourages experimentation with ingredients: “You can simply choose your favorite protein source, combine it with the roasted vegetables you are most into these days, pick something fresh, a delicious sauce, and finish it with something crunchy on top.” And Eiríksdóttir has home cooks covered on condiments: There are recipes for mustard, ketchup, multiple varieties of mayonnaise, chutney, and more. She also offers a chapter on afternoon snacks — some pleasing, like crunchy seed crackers and “Almond and Rhubarb Muffins,” and others potentially daunting to the natural-foods novice, like a “Black Sesame and Charcoal Smoothie.”
At the beginning of her robust chapter on dinner, Eiríksdóttir shares the story of a meal she ate with her boss in one of Reykjavik's best restaurants in the mid-1980s. Her boss ordered a steak. When Eiríksdóttir told the waiter she ate a plant-based diet, he brought “a big plate of canned red cabbage, some orange slices, and raw cauliflower florets…!” This is how it used to be, “at least in Iceland,” she writes. (It’s probably safe to say it was like that in many places where a meat-heavy omnivore’s diet is king.) Experiences like these taught Eiríksdóttir the importance of an appealing main dish. The dinners and desserts in “Vegan at Home,” like the rest of the book, offer a vibrant corrective to the long-held attitude that plant-based food is unexciting. Dishes like “Spaghetti in Red Lentil Sauce with Vegan ‘Parmesan’” and “Black Bean Spaghetti, Jerusalem Artichokes, and Goma Sauce,” as well as sweets like “Cheesecake with Hazelnut Butter and Raspberries,” are proof that almost anything can be made in a colorful, textured, and beautifully vegan version.
Toward the end of “Vegan at Home,” Eiríksdóttir ups the joy factor by including a chapter called “Celebration,” which focuses on brunch and “small bites” that can be made for a group. For a festive night in, she even offers two dinner-party menus composed of recipes from the book (one more fine dining; one more casual), designed to wow vegans and nonvegans alike.
While we are fortunate to be living in a time of ever-increasing plant-based food options, “Vegan at Home” proves that when it comes to upping your vegan cooking game, it pays to listen to the experts.
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Nina Renata Aron is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Hildur Ársælsdóttir is a photographer based in Iceland. She has assisted her mother, Solla Eiríksdóttir, in writing her cookbooks since 2000. A classically trained violinist, Hildur is also a founding member of the Icelandic band amiina.
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