I’ve never picked up a vegan cookbook that didn’t have at least three salads in it. It’s a usual fall-back for plant-based eating; let’s literally just eat a bowl full of plants. And frankly, it’s kind of boring. But Celine Steen’s Bold Flavored Vegan Cooking is notably salad-free. There is not a single salad in the index, not one. Just flipping through the book, the photos of plates filled with colorful dishes told me immediately that I was in for a treat — a spicy, interesting treat. Drawing mostly from Asian influences, Steen’s book is a great look at all of the options at a vegan’s disposal when you’re tired of just eating salads.
The book is divided into four sections: Savory, Spicy, Sweet and Staples. I made the “Quick and Easy Pad Thai” from the Savory section, a favorite dish of my boyfriend’s. We’re generally suckers for Thai food, but when eating out, we always run into the inevitable fish problem: most Thai places use a fish sauce or paste in all of their sauces, so even if you get your curry with veggies and tofu, it’s probably not even vegetarian, let alone vegan. Most recipes for curry you can make at home fall flat; they’re bland and generally flavorless. Very disappointing if you’re looking for the face-melting spice of red curry.
The best part of the pad thai was the discovery of the “Fish-Free Sauce,” a recipe of the Staples section — and the answers to my Thai food problems! It adds that lovely je ne sais quoi that’s always missing from vegan Thai food. The “Red Curry Scramble with Lime-y Broccoli” was equally flavorful, without requiring a ton of ingredients. Both of these are also “In A Hurry” recipes as well, a distinction that’s really nice because a lot of the recipes are pretty involved and require a lot of time and preparation.
This is may be one of the few failings of the cookbook. Many of the recipes take a lot of time and work, so if you’re someone with a full-time job or even someone who doesn’t really want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen, it’s hard to pick something to make. Even some of the “In A Hurry” recipes are a little suspect (I’m looking at you, “Gochujang Kimchi Bowl,” which requires you to make four other recipes). While they probably don’t take a lot of time to prepare on their own, they might require you to make several other recipes in the book before cooking the main dish. I certainly don’t prepare a bunch of things beforehand on the off-chance I’m going to make a recipe that needs them in the future. To be fair, I have this gripe with a lot of vegan cookbooks; this certainly isn’t the only one that does this. And part of it is the lack of readily available vegan options for a lot of foods. You have to make your own because the thing you need doesn’t exist otherwise.
This is a book for people who like Asian flavors, so it’s perfect for me. Even some of the desserts are flavored with miso. Besides a pancake recipe here or a Middle-Eastern dish there, those flavors can begin to feel repetitive. It’s not the kind of cookbook you draw from exclusively; it probably wouldn’t even be my regular cookbook. But if you’re tired of those vegan recipes that taste as embarrassingly bland as non-vegans like to accuse vegan food of being, then this is a great place to find something different.