by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond Ten Speed Press, 2009 Review by Jodi Forschmiedt on Sep 8th 2009
As a former vegan with strong vegetarian sympathies, I love the concept behind this book.
Unless you live on a commune with other, like-minded individuals, have easy access to an organic foods store, and never eat out, it borders on impossible to eschew meat without subsisting primarily on processed white flour products. (Sure, most restaurants offer a vegetarian option: pasta.) For those of us who live with carnivorous families, cooking and eating meat is inevitable.
Almost Meatless purports to offer "ingenious ideas for creating delicious, nutritionally balanced meals in which meat is an enhancement rather than the centerpiece." I opened it eagerly, hoping to find recipes that would satisfy me (lots of veggies, please); my husband (meat, with meat on the side); and my children (do not even think about putting anything made of tofu on my plate, Mom). Alas, it's just a cookbook, not a fairy godmother.
Not that there's anything wrong with the recipes. I tried about a dozen of them and experienced no abject failures. The instructions are easy to follow, and if you know your way around the grocery store you won't have any trouble finding the ingredients. I especially liked the Fish, Bean, and Avocado Tacos. The Turkey and Pinto Bean Corn Bread Pie was a big winner because everyone in my family liked it (a sadly rare occurrence). The Spinach and Chickpea Pouches fell flat, but I did tamper with the recipe some, so it may be my fault.
Some recipes don't seem to belong in a book called Almost Meatless. The Philly Cheesesteak, for example, cannot be called low-meat, even if it does have Portobello mushrooms in it. Nor can the Caramelized Onion Meatloaf, containing a pound of ground chuck. And many of the recipes make the helpful suggestion of leaving the meat out if you want a vegetarian dish. Never would have thought of that!
Almost Meatless includes a chapter on egg recipes (not just for breakfast), which is relatively unusual, and an assortment of recipes for stocks and broths to use as bases for other recipes. The index is cleanly laid out and easy to read, and the photos are mouthwatering (though I would have liked to see more pictures).
In general, this is a good cookbook for omnivorous adults. If you are trying to transition to vegetarianism, it won't help you. And if you have picky kids, you may have to be prepared to supplement with PB&J. I'm still hunting for the perfect cookbook, but aren't we all?