Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vegan Family Meals Cookbook Review + Niçoise Salad Recipe + Giveaway!

Let me state for the record, this family is not vegan, and not even vegetarian (see: husband slow-cooking six pound pork shoulder for twelve hours last Sunday).  However, we appreciate meatless dining, and have definite vegetarian leanings.  With a lactose-intolerant husband, and a budget and family history of high cholesterol which logically point to eating less meat, I was thrilled to receive a copy of vegan chef Ann Gentry's new cookbook Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone as part of her summer blog tour.  Ann is the owner of Real Food Daily in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, as well as being a successful blogger and author, and her new cookbook is just gorgeous in every way.
I'm a visual person and a sucker for a good layout and typeface, and so this book had me at the minute I took it from the envelope.  The photography is stunning, and I love the funky fabric on the binding.  But when I opened it and started examining the recipes, I really fell in love.  This cookbook is definitely going to be my go-to source for vegetarian cooking going forward.  The recipes are accessible and well-explained, and every one doesn't call for obscure vegan ingredients that average people wouldn't have on hand (sure there are a few chia seed/nutritional yeast selections, but by and large, I think this cookbook really is, as promised, for everyone).  The book includes everything from basic breakfasts with amped up nutritional stats to special-enough-for-company dinners, and I appreciate that range.  I think Ann might even be my LA/Vegan answer to Ina Garten.  And that's saying something. I couldn't wait to get cooking.

As part of the blog tour, I volunteered to prepare Ann's "My Niçoise Salad". 
Photo from Vegan Family Meals
I'll warn you in advance, this is not a weeknight recipe, unless you prepare each element in advance.  I was determined to make the salad on a Wednesday, though, despite a very busy week, because my mom was coming to stay with us and she really appreciates vegan cuisine and I thought this recipe was right down her alley.  So, I sprinkled parts of the recipe into times of the day when I was in the kitchen:  setting up the tofu to drain and trimming the haricots verts while the little guy ate his breakfast, throwing together the dressing and prepping the Tofu Chevre while he ate lunch, baking off the Chevre while I worked in the afternoon, and quartering potatoes and steaming veggies during happy hour.  If you aren't within an arm's reach of your kitchen, though, I'd save this recipe for a Saturday.

The completed recipe, despite my lack of a professional food stylist and adequate lighting, was absolutely beautiful.
First of all, the shallot-Dijon-thyme dressing is just spot on.  It brightens the whole dish and gives it an herbacious bite.  I'll definitely make this vinaigrette again just to have on hand for our weeknight salads.  This is also the perfect time of year to construct a salad like this one.  The organic cherry tomatoes, new potatoes and haricots verts were at the peak of their season and tasted that way. And the Tofu Chevre is really something special.  It took awhile to make, but was worth the effort (I didn't peppercorn-crust mine, you might notice.  I had to draw the line somewhere.  It was Wednesday!!!).  Rich, creamy, and perfectly salty from the miso, it is a healthy protein powerhouse masquerading as a fatty, dairy treat.  Its only downfall would be that despite following the instructions literally to the letter, my "chevre" was pretty creamy and gloppy, whereas, as you can see from the professional cookbook photo above, Ann's version slices neatly into little disks and actually appears to be goat cheese.  I don't know how she did it!  None of us really cared how it looked, though, because it was just so delicious.

Sitting around my table last night were three very tired, very maxed out people who were in desperate need of some good nutrition and a little pampering.  I was happy that I took the time to make such a special, beautiful dinner that made us all feel nourished and spoiled.  We lingered around the table picking at beans and dragging our forks through the chevre again and again, and all agreed that the salad was superb.

I highly recommend Vegan Family Meals based on my adventures with it thus far (I made killer Szechuan noodles from it on Tuesday, so we're now two for two + extra points for just being so darn pretty).  And I'm so happy to say that...

One SMJ reader will win a free copy of Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone!
Just leave a comment below, and I will pick a winner at random next Tuesday, August 9. 

If you don't win or feel like waiting until next week, I'd definitely suggest scooting over to Amazon and grabbing a copy.  Also, check out Ann's blog for more healthy recipe ideas and inspiration.  And at the very least, make this salad!  You'll be glad you did. 
Happy vegan dining...

Ann Gentry’s My Niçoise
Serves 4
8 ounces slender green beans (such as haricots verts), trimmed
4 medium red-skinned potatoes (about 1 pound total), cut into ½-inch-thick wedges

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large head butter lettuce, leaves separated and larger leaves torn in half
3 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges, or 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 log Peppercorn-Crusted Tofu Chèvre (recipe follows), sliced into rounds
1/3 cup olives or kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1½ tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1) Cook the green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until they are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and submerge the green beans in a bowl of ice water just until they are cold. Drain the green beans again and pat dry. Set aside.
2) Place the potatoes in a steamer basket set in a saucepan filled with 1 inch of simmering water. Cover and steam until they are just tender and still hold their shape, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.
3) Vinaigrette: While the vegetables are cooling, whisk the lemon juice, shallot, mustard, thyme, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the oil to blend well.
4) Salad: Arrange the lettuce on a serving platter or in a large shallow salad bowl. Place the green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette to coat, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the beans, potatoes, and tomatoes atop the lettuce. Arrange the tofu cheese slices amid the vegetables. Sprinkle the olives, capers, and parsley over the salad. Spoon more vinaigrette over the salad and serve immediately.

Tofu Chèvre
Makes 1 (13-ounce) log
1 (12-ounce) container waterpacked extra-firm tofu, drained and halved
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons yellow miso
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

1) Pat the tofu dry with paper towels. Set the tofu in a colander and set the colander over a bowl to collect all the liquid that drains from the tofu. Cover the tofu with plastic wrap, then place 3 heavy cans, each at least 14 ounces, on the tofu to weigh it down. This weight will help extract all the excess liquid from the tofu. Refrigerate the tofu for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2) Mince the garlic in a food processor. Pat the tofu halves with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture, then add the tofu to the food processor. Add the miso, 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, and the salt, and blend until the mixture is very smooth, stopping the machine occasionally and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl.
3) Lay a sheet of plastic wrap flat on the work surface. Scrape the tofu cheese onto the center of the plastic wrap, then wrap the cheese, forming a log. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
4) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Unwrap the cheese log and place it on a baking sheet. Brush the log lightly with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Bake just until the cheese is warmed through, but the center is still creamy, about 25 minutes.
Serve warm or cold.


  1. My family is also not vegetarian or vegan, but I'd say about 90% of my cooking is. This cookbook would be a great way to get more ideas!

  2. You've just answered an unknown prayer of mine. I'm always jealous when my carnivorous friends order a nicoise salad, because I know it's de-lish! This recipe sounds amazing, and I'm really tempted to make the vegan goat cheese, even though I have nothing against eating real cheese. :-) Thanks SMJ!

  3. Have not heard of her - will go check out her blog! Thanks for the recommendation.
    Just finished A Homemade Life by woman who blogs at Orangette and really enjoyed it. Each chapter reads like a long blog post that ends in a recipe.

  4. I'm always looking for yummy recipes which will be healthier for Nick & I...especially with some recent issues he has been having. And I'm always on the look out for another awesome food blog!!

  5. Just what the doctor ordered! Thanks for another great find, SMJ.

  6. I love to cook with tofu but have never made such an interesting looking salad! I'd have to give it a try on a Saturday. It looks delicious.

    Thanks for another interesting giveaway.

  7. As the lucky someone who got to try the SMJ salad, may I modestly say that SMJ works miracles. This salad not only picked up the energy level, but made me feel calm. It was light but filling and beautiful to behold. One of the best signs of love is when someone prepares a meal with you in mind. Thanks.