Southern Delights to Vegan Decadence: 3 Must-Have Cookbooks for Spring

by Laura Grimmer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 18, 2014

Spring often feels like a re-birth, and three new cookbooks are re-introducing traditional recipes and ingredients in innovative and interesting new ways.

The New Southern Table
"The New Southern Table" (Fair Winds Press, March 2014, $21.99) caught my eye immediately because of its practical setup: Food writer and fifth-generation Southerner Brys Stephens has organized his cookbook by ingredient. It's a genius move to make traditional Southern ingredients more approachable for the non-native cook.

Stephens focuses on quintessentially Southern ingredients like okra, collard greens and pecans, first introducing the item with a little history or personal observations. Then, he creates modern uses for these traditional products. The Greek-Style Okra with Tomato, Feta and Marjoram, for example, uses the vegetable in an interesting new way, not to mention providing a new use for Feta cheese in entrées (something I think should always be considered).

Sure, you've heard of pecan pie or pimento cheese as Southern classics. But how about pecan habañero pimento cheese? Made with Monterey Jack cheese instead of cheddar, the pecans and pepper give it a crunch and spice that's irresistible.

The chapter on watermelon alone is worth the purchase price. How many times have you bought a whole melon, only to see it wilt away in the refrigerator? Stephens' Steak Tacos with Watermelon Salsa marries tender skirt steak with zesty watermelon salsa, cotija cheese and shredded cabbage. And the Sicilian Watermelon Pudding garnished with bittersweet chocolate, pistachios and whipped cream is an unexpectedly delightful blend of sweet, sour and bitter.

Make It Lighter

From the UK, BBC Good Food magazine contributor Angela Nilsen makes your favorite recipes a touch healthier in "Make It Lighter" (Hamlyn, April 2014, $24.99). Quick to proclaim "this is not a diet book," Nilsen’s intention is to offer simple ideas that help eat healthier without feeling cheated.

The cookbook was spawned by her monthly column of the same name when she would make over readers’ recipes for their favorite "naughty" but delicious dish. Working hand in hand with a nutritional therapist, Nilsen’s recipes shave fat, calories, salt and sugar while also providing a guide for dishes that supply good stuff like fiber, folic acid, calcium and iron.

Some of the suggestions are somewhat common sense, e.g., replace butter with olive oil, substitute whole milk with low-fat milk, use yogurt instead of cream. But others present new approaches to trim the fat.

The lasagna (yes, with meat sauce, ricotta cheese, mozzarella and Parmesan) compensates for fewer layers of pasta with the hearty filling. A decadent macaroni and cheese goes from 821 calories for the traditional to 503 calories simply by making the sauce without using butter, swapping Parmesan for some of the higher-fat cheddar cheese, and using low-fat and buttermilk in place of whole milk.

The sheer richness and variety of the recipes blew me away (Salmon en croûte? Thai green chicken curry? Beef Wellington?), and the chapter on desserts even includes a crème brûlée that contains fewer than half the calories of the original.

Rawsome Vegan Baking

Speaking of healthy... is raw baking an oxymoron? "Rawsome Vegan Baking: An Un-Cookbook for Raw, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Beautiful and Sinfully Sweet Cookies, Cakes, Bars and Cupcakes" (Page Street Publishing, March 2014, $19.99) offers more than 100 "un-baked" sweets. Emily von Euw of the popular blog This Rawsome Vegan Life has compiled some of her most popular recipes for healthy alternatives to treats.

Armed with a trusty good quality food processor, lots of coconut milk and nuts and dates, van Euw’s creations look spectacular. The photography and styling makes these desserts look as amazing as they taste. The recipes are easy to follow and are a great introduction to raw un-baking.

The Rawified Reese’s Ice-Cream Cake was sinful. Decadent. A little too, delicious. Ditto for the Vanilla Herb Cheesecake with Walnut Crust, Rosemary, Orange Mint and Fresh Fruit.

Van Euw also provides easy instructions to make your own standby ingredients like raw chocolate ("You need this in your life") and coconut cream (critical to vegan whipped cream and frostings).

After such a long winter across most of the United States, it’s refreshing to see such unique takes on traditional recipes, and even nicer to have new things to try as you look ahead to summer.

Laura Grimmer is a private chef and trained sommelier based in New York.


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