Simply Vibrant, Simply Tasty
Plant-based meals from Anya Kassoff’s home kitchen
“I still consider recipe writing a true art, but a dish that allows its ingredients to be used in other meals carries a special sort of elegance,” author Anya Kasoff says in the introduction. This kind of economy in her cooking is passed down from her grandparents, who lived and cooked in the USSR during the ’30s and ’40s, when fresh produce was hard to come by and processed items like cheese or bread were luxuries. Cooking with the seasons also ties into this kind of efficiency, she says: “At its core, the idea of cooking seasonally goes hand in hand with practicality. When it comes to seasonal produce, utilizing the most available resources leads to easier, tastier and more affordable meals.” Cooking efficiently and seasonally may not sound very sexy, but it can make for some very tasty meals.
I’ve only had Simply Vibrant for a short time, and it’s already changed the way I cook pretty drastically. So many of the recipes in this book largely use staples that I already have in my pantry or keep on-hand regularly that it typically only takes one or two pieces of produce from Smith’s to make a meal. This keeps the “I could have just gone out to a restaurant for this much money” frustration to a minimum, and encourages readers to keep coming back for more.
While some plant-based cookbooks involve specialty items that send readers back endlessly to the natural foods store with expensive shopping lists, Simply Vibrant is sparing in its use of obscure ingredients. When a recipe does call for something out of the ordinary, Kasoff is quick to tell you what it is, where you can get it or how to make it yourself. Perhaps because she’s a home cook and not a professional chef, she’s sympathetic to the real-life budgets and time constraints of regular cookbook-reading people.
All of the recipes in Simply Vibrant are vegetarian and most of them are vegan. There’s very little use of faux meat throughout, though, and more of a focus on plant-based dishes—things like roasted yam and collard green enchiladas, millet polenta with spring vegetables, and daikon radish pad thai. Generally very healthy and hearty stuff, and fairly simple to put together.
The first dish I tried my hand at was the spring bowl (page 44), a very template-style recipe for a dinner salad that uses whatever combination of grains, greens, veggies and dressing you like, or whatever you happen to have in your fridge. I cooked some farro to start off, added some baby spinach, then layered on some sliced radishes and carrots. I blanched a handful of sweet peas, then cooked some beets to go into the salad, then was conveniently able to make the beet tahini sauce (page 304) as a (brilliantly pink) dressing. Since the dressing recipe made more than enough, I was able to later put it on top of more salads, a stir fry and some griddled tofu later in the week. I’ve never been much of one for meal prep, but so many of Kasoff’s recipes naturally feed into each other—using many of the same ingredients, giving ideas for how to best use leftovers—that it feels easy to plan several days of meals in one go. Since that first salad voyage, I’ve made two other tahini-based dressings from the book for some Kasoff-inspired salads.
On a slow and sleepy morning I made the creamy steel-cut oats with rainbow chard and pine nuts (page 40). The creaminess comes from coconut milk, an ingredient that I’ve since been cooking into my breakfast grains on a regular basis because there is nothing that smells better than simmering coconut milk, if you ask me. Toasting the oats and the pine nuts in coconut oil before cooking them added a nutty note to the dish, while the rainbow chard—especially since it’s perfectly in season during these winter months—was a pleasant change from the typical sugary additions to breakfast oatmeal.
I made the plum upside-down cake recipe (page 278) for the Alibi office just today, and was pleasantly surprised with how easy to make it was (making a cake usually feels like an all-day commitment). The consensus seems to be that it’s quite good. “It’s vegan?!” asked Maggie, our Resident Vegan, incredulous. Yes, it’s vegan, and it’s really tasty as well. Though most of Kasoff’s baked goods call for spelt flour, it’s simple to make a one-to-one replacement with all purpose or cake flour, if you’re not fancy enough to just keep spelt flour around. Other fruits you could use in this recipe: oranges, apples or, of course, the canonical pineapple. Don’t expect it to look as pretty as in the photograph—that’s a pretty consistent rule throughout the book.
I’ve already bought a copy of this book for my mom, which is perhaps the highest recommendation one could give for a cookbook. I suggest you order a copy for yourself and your mom, too. You can buy Simply Vibrant on Amazon or roostbooks.com.