Note: I wrote this for VegPeople. Just as soon as I finished, the server over there had a meltdown. While we’re waiting for the site owner to get it back up and running, I thought I’d publish my review here. The picture above is the Happy Trail Mix from the book, a delicious mixture of pretzels, peanuts, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, crispy cereal and pepitas. The trail mix isn’t mentioned in my review, but eight other recipes I made from the book are.
Vegan Unplugged is the first vegan pantry cookbook. The author, Jon Robertson, was prompted to write the book after he and his wife, Robin Robertson, suffered for four days on peanut butter and crackers after Hurricane Bonnie left them without power. You probably know Robin as the prolific author of some of the best-loved vegetarian cookbooks on the market. Jon and Robin were determined not to eat poorly in an emergency again. With her cooking skills, they were ready for the next “big one.”
I live in hurricane territory, and I really could have used this book in the past. I’m grateful for its existence now. Preparing for hurricanes is stressful, and this book takes a huge load of your mind with gentle good humor and tasty recipes.
This book is not just good for emergency preparedness, though. As the introduction notes, the book is also useful for road trips, hotels, and visits home. It’s handy for people who are busy, or don’t know much about cooking. Everyone needs to eat. Students, boaters and campers with limited cooking facilities will find the pantry cuisine here extremely useful. Non-vegetarians will find lots to love here, too. And, as the book notes, the most dangerous foods to consume when the power is out are meat, eggs and dairy products.
One of the most useful features of the book is the five-day meal box. This is a list of pantry-stable food that will feed 2-4 people breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days using recipes from the book. All of the items fit in a single container so that they can be stashed in an RV, boat or a closet.
This brings me to my only quibble with the book. The five-day meal box calls for a package of flour tortillas for the Layered Tortilla Skillet. The flour tortillas sold in Texas and other parts of the southwestern U.S. will get moldy as fast as bread will, if not faster. The recipe in the Five-Day box could be made without, but it would still be a bit unnerving to pull out a package of moldy tortillas. I would stash away a box of taco shells instead.
After the chapter describing the Five-Day Meal Box, the book moves on to general tips about stocking your pantry and cooking pantry cuisine. Then come the recipes, moving from soups, salads, and main dishes to snacks and desserts. Life is just not fun without dessert, right? At the end of the book, the resources section has an additional emergency preparedness guide which looks quite useful.
The book assumes you have a single gas burner to cook on. This could be your gas cooktop, as gas often doesn’t get turned off after storms. These recipes can also be made on the burner of a gas grill or a camp stove. The author specifically recommends a single burner butane stove like the kind used in cooking demonstrations. This has an advantage over a camp stove or gas grill in that it can be used indoors. I made all of these recipes on a single burner on my gas cooktop.
I made three recipes from the five-day meal box. The Curry in a Hurry is an easy, filling dish of canned beans, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes, spiced up with some curry powder and a can of green chilies. I loved the use of the green chilies here. If you can make rice first, and top this off with some raisins and cashew nuts, it really hits the spot.
The Niçoise Salad is a no-cook dish of canned potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, olives and beans. It could not have been easier. Since all of the ingredients are from cans, it was a little less crisp than I’d prefer a salad to be, but if you had fresh potatoes, green beans or tomatoes to use up this would be a first-rate way to enjoy them.
I thought the Kitchen Sink Capellini was company worthy. Angel hair pasta, artichoke hearts and too many delicious ingredients to list made this dish special. I would suggest using a lot less than the pound of pasta called for, though; ten ounces would be ideal.
Vegan Unplugged isn’t just about main dishes. There are also plenty of snacks and desserts to keep you going, as well as a whole chapter devoted to soups. I made the artichoke dip in the snack chapter from a jar of marinated artichokes and soaked sunflower seeds. I was surprised how tasty three ingredients could be.
The Samosadillas are brilliant. Canned potatoes, peas, chilies and spices are cooked in tortilla quarters to make emergency samosas. They don’t have the onions and garlic that samosa filling usually has, so some chutney is really welcome with these.
Canned pumpkin is used in a couple of savory recipes, giving you something that’s not the same old soup or pasta. The Curry-Spiced Pumpkin Bisque was delicious. This was the only recipe I made that wouldn’t fill up four people, though. I added a can of black beans to it and it was still barely enough for the three of us.
When pumpkin is used as a pasta sauce, as it is in the Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce and Walnuts, the result is surprisingly elegant for something so easy. Make this after a hurricane and you might even forget for a minute that the candlelight on your table isn’t by choice.
Finally, dessert! When I read the recipe for Fire-Roasted Blueberry Cobbler I had a hard time believing that you could make cobbler on the stovetop, but it was foolproof, and very good.
So, am I glad I bought this book? Yes! It will be the first resource I turn to when hurricane season comes around this year. In addition supplying specific recipes, it will help me use up what I already have on hand creatively. And when, I hope, the season’s hurricanes pass us by, I’ll be left with ingredients that I can actually cook with, and not just a lot of canned soup.
I give Vegan Unplugged 4 out of 4 forks.