You don’t have to read much of this blog to know that I am not at all opposed to oil in my food. I cook with it, bake with it, and happily eat food others have prepared with oil.
But just as enthusiastically, I like to learn about different ways of preparing foods and ways of accommodating others’ diets. So I was glad to try a new eBook by Veronica Patenaude, aka The Low Fat Vegan Chef: Comfort Soups to Keep You Warm (I got a free review copy). Patenaude’s self-published eBook contains 30 soup recipes (plus some extras), all developed for use without any added oils.
I honestly had a hard time picking which recipes to try first, since the pictures and recipe titles (all viewable here) made a pretty strong case for all of them. I decided to start with the Greek Fasolada (White Bean) Soup, using some beautiful little Orca beans I found at the farmers’ market.
Greek Fasolada Soup, with Orca Beans
I liked the different colors in this soup, and the subtle heartiness of the beans. On the down side, as someone accustomed to foods with added oil, was that I did miss the oil, especially at first. It tasted pretty bland, despite the inclusion of flavorful ingredients like fire-roasted tomatoes and fresh lemon juice. Patenaude points out that some people unaccustomed to low-fat cooking might want to use a little extra salt as their taste buds adjust, and I did find that that helped, especially using a spicy celery salt that added more complex flavor than salt alone could have provided. Indeed, the book typically calls for Herbamare, but offers plain salt as a substitute. Based on my experience, I would not recommend using plain salt in these recipes. Whether you use Herbamare or another seasoned salt blend, I found that that extra element of flavor was really important for compensating for the lack of oil.
I wish that I had held back a serving of the soup to try the next day, since bean soups so often improve in flavor overnight. However, the friends I shared the soup with tried it after a day, and they gave it thumbs up. I will also say that if I hadn’t been full after the generous first bowl I served myself, I would have gone back for more. One friend agreed that he liked the soup more as he ate more of it.
For the next recipe, I went for the Creamy Potato Corn Chowder, made with coconut milk and lime:
Creamy Potato Corn Chowder
This time I resolved to make my own broth, using my own un-recipe (turns out I don’t like the Pacific brand low-sodium broth she recommends if homemade is not available). The chowder takes an interesting turn from traditional corn chowders, using chili powder along with the lime and coconut milk for a unique fusion approach. In general I liked it, though I agreed with my friends that the lime was a little overpowering and made the soup too tangy. A smaller amount would have been just right, I think. The lite coconut milk called for in the recipe did a good job of incorporating the creaminess you want in a chowder–and a mild coconut flavor–while adding a minimal amount of fat.
Finally, I was drawn to the Moroccan Chickpea Soup, with plenty of spices to accompany the beans and vegetables.
Moroccan Chickpea Soup
I used the rest of my homemade broth in this recipe, along with freshly cooked chickpeas. The results–with fresh ginger, cinnamon, and other spices–were a well-balanced nod to Moroccan flavors and ingredients, and an enjoyable lunch for me the past two days. Although it looks similar to the Greek soup due to similar vegetables, the flavors are totally different, and it’s another soup entirely.
I confess that I miss the oil in this one a bit, too, but I do think that has a lot to do with what my palate is accustomed to. For someone already accustomed to low-fat cooking, I think this book would provide a number of varied recipes to try, and for someone interested or otherwise motivated to try more cooking without added oils, there are lots of good tips on technique and ingredients to help beginners. I would not recommend it as an introduction to vegan food for someone accustomed to omnivorous or rich vegetarian fare, as I think such a person would have a hard time seeing past what’s not there to see what is there to enjoy.
Overall, one thing I found frustrating was the wide variation in serving sizes used throughout the book. In her introduction, Patenaude explains that the serving sizes are subjective, based on her recommendation for that recipe. I can see the value in that approach, but it made for some very unpredictable yields. The Greek soup I made said it would serve six, and it produced 3-1/2 quarts of soup. The chowder also said it would serve six, but it only made 2-1/2 quarts. Then the Moroccan soup listed as four servings and also made 2-1/2 quarts. I would say that any of those could be reasonable servings for those soups, but the inconsistency between recipes meant, among other things, that I didn’t know how much fridge or freezer space to plan for once the soups were done.
The eBook is available as a PDF file (also formatted for Kindle and iPad), simply designed but easy to use, with clickable table of contents and easy key word look-ups using the find function. I had no trouble bringing it up on my Android phone, which would be very helpful for quick look-ups while at the grocery store, or keeping the book handy for cooking in someone else’s kitchen. It sells for $19.95 (ETA: I had erroneously said before that this was Canadian, but the book ships from the US and is priced in US dollars), which is on the high end for an eBook, but it does come with a money-back guarantee if you find you don’t like the book, plus notification of any revisions (I did catch a missing ingredient, which I’m told will be corrected for future distribution of the book). You can also try for yourself her recipe for Low Fat Vegan Mexican Black Bean Corn Soup, which just might be next on my list to try.
Patenaude’s writing is conversational but clear, and she takes advantage of the electronic format to err on the side of thoroughness in explanations and introductory material. Because of the format and design, though, it’s easy to skip over those sections when you want to just get to your recipe. I appreciated that every recipe had a (well-done) photograph, which is a huge help for visual people like me in picking what recipe to make. You might notice that my images show “brothier” results than the ones in the book. I’m not sure whether she styled her photos differently in an effort to better show the elements of each soup, or whether the recipes might have called for more broth than would ideally be included. If you try them, you might want to hold back one cup of broth and consider what consistency you prefer as you’re finishing the soup.
In good news for those with other dietary restrictions, the recipe collection is largely gluten- and soy-free (or can easily be modified to be), which made it very easy for me to share the results with my friend who avoids both of those things.
It’s tempting to think that in mid-April soup weather is now many months away, but we in this part of the world know better: there will be “soup days” for months yet, and if you’re looking for a source of low-fat recipes this would be a good one to check out.
And hey, there’s a GIVEAWAY!
Yep, the author is generously making available a free copy of Comfort Soups to Keep You Warm to one of my readers. To enter, just comment with either your favorite kind of soup or a tip you use for flavorful, low-fat cooking (or both, of course, if you want to). A winner will be chosen at random from entries received by end of day (midnight, PDT) Sunday. I’ll announce the winner Monday.