B.C. cookbook author Dreena Burton keeps it wholesome with Let Them Eat Vegan!
A lot has changed since Dreena Burton put out her first vegan cookbook. Over the decade since The Everyday Vegan was published in 2001, veganism has emerged from relative obscurity and embedded itself into mainstream consciousness, and the author’s cookbooks are now just a few in the cornucopia of vegan titles on bookstore shelves.
“It was so fringe when I started eating vegan and cooking vegan,” Burton told the Georgia Straight by phone from her home in White Rock. “It was so completely fringe, and it was odd. If you mentioned the word vegan you usually had to explain it, and it was really frowned upon.
“Then it became like a really cool, interesting kind of food,” she continued. “But I think it went through a period where it was a little unhealthy. All the substitutes came out, and it was sort of about showing that we could have the most decadent food, just like the other food, and making it as rich and decadent as it could be. Now it’s starting to shape up to be healthier again.”
Burton, a 41-year-old mother of three daughters under 11 years old, followed up her debut cookbook with 2004’s Vive le Vegan! and 2007’s Eat, Drink & Be Vegan. (All three were issued by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press.) This week marks the release of her fourth title, Let Them Eat Vegan!, which is being published by Da Capo Press under its Lifelong Books imprint.
Subtitled “200 Deliciously Satisfying Plant-Powered Recipes for the Whole Family”, the 308-page paperback is easily Burton’s biggest cookbook yet. Its 11 chapters cover breakfast, salads, sauces, soups, sides, mains, burgers, pasta, cookies, desserts, and ice cream. The colour photographs are by Hannah Kaminsky, who herself is a successful vegan-cookbook author (My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, and the forthcoming Vegan à la Mode).
Burton noted the recipes in Let Them Eat Vegan! rely on unprocessed and whole foods, and therefore don’t call for products like soy sausage or white flour. Her favourites are the Moroccan bean stew with sweet potatoes, jerk chickpeas, kale-slaw with curried almond dressing, and chai peanut butter ice cream.
“My recipes have just come to be known as the wholesome, crunchy-granola, healthy, good-for-you recipes, but still really nutritious,” Burton said. “I think that’s why people come back to my recipes, because they want something that’s going to be good for them, good for their families, but also taste good.”
All of the recipes in the book either are wheat-free or detail wheat-free substitutions. Many of them are also gluten-free and soy-free, and there are several raw recipes. Indeed, Burton prefers baking with spelt, oat, and kamut flour.
“It’s pretty easy to find recipes that are wholesome using, say, whole-wheat flour in a muffin, but it’s not as easy to find them wheat-free,” Burton said. “The results are just as good using spelt flour and nonwheat alternatives. Sometimes they’re better than using wheat flour.”
Unfortunately, for several recipes, the helpful labels indicating whether a given recipe is wheat-, gluten-, or soy-free were laid out incorrectly in the first printing of the book, according to Burton. A reprint to correct the errors is planned soon.
“I think anyone who is gluten-free would look at it and see it’s a mistake and know, but it’s not right to have the book out there with that mistake,” Burton said. “But the recipes themselves are intact, and everything is good with that. It’s just something that happened with design that went awry.”
While Let Them Eat Vegan! is largely aimed at families, Burton maintains it’s also fit for young single people and anyone looking to eat healthier, whether they’re vegan or not. Her recipes offer substitutions for allergens and tips on how to tweak flavours for adults’ and children’s palates.
Burton often tells the story behind a recipe and how it relates to her family. For example, in the instructions for BF (blueberry-free) blueberry muffins, we find out that Burton is baffled by one of her daughters’ dislike for blueberries.
Useful sections explain how to use ingredients like almond meal and tempeh, how to make green smoothies, and how to prepare and cook vegetables. There are also sections on raising a vegan family, which deal with making baby food and school lunches. As a vegan parent, Burton has faced questions about going through pregnancy and feeding her kids on a plant-based diet.
“It’s funny. Over the years, people do question at times, and yet I don’t question them about taking their kids to McDonald’s,” Burton said with a chuckle. “So it’s interesting that they would question that they’re eating hummus instead of a ham sandwich for lunch.”
The fact that Burton’s original plan was to put together a cookie cookbook is reflected in the 29 recipes contained in the cookie chapter of Let Them Eat Vegan! Now, Burton is winding down her Eat, Drink & Be Vegan blog and preparing to launch her new website, Plant-Powered Kitchen, which will feature her blog posts and recipes. But, with four cookbooks under her belt, it sure doesn’t sound like this one will be her last.
“I think it’s in my blood,” Burton said. “I’m already writing new recipes now, after this one. So I’m not sure why I don’t stop. But I just love it. I love to create and evolve with my own cooking.”