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Practical, sweet %u2014 and vegan: New cookbook points toward a new normal

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Modified: November 24, 2012 at 9:56 am •  Published: November 24, 2012

Minneapolis chef Robin Asbell adds to her roster of healthy-eating cookbooks with “Sweet & Easy Vegan” (Chronicle Books, $35), but don’t get too hung up on the V word.

“I’m hoping this book is very much a bridge — that it appeals to moms wanting to make healthy treats for their kids, as much as vegans,” said Asbell, whose other cookbooks covered whole-grain, vegan and vegetarian recipes. We asked her how — and why — taking a few extra steps with a recipe is worth it.

Q: Why eat vegan?

A: As Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) said, people should just eat more plants, and one way to do that is to eat vegan because it’s just plants. By going vegan or just eating more vegan, you’re enjoying a whole food that’s a natural food — that doesn’t contain any cholesterol or animal fats. A lot of people are turning to it because they want to reduce their carbon footprints. You can feel better about your impact on the environment.

Q: What’s a key concept to keep in mind when baking vegan, for either new vegans or someone who just wants healthier desserts?

A: Since the recipes have it all worked out for you, you don’t really have to worry about how to substitute for, say, an egg. I like to use ground flaxseeds, which have essential fatty acids and really good fiber that forms a gel that can work in a similar way that eggs do. We’ve been doing it for years, quietly over in the alternative baking world.

Otherwise, we use a lot of fruit purées, vegetable purées, use a little more leavening, some different techniques. You don’t have to be a vegan to use this book. It’s for people who have a sweet tooth to enjoy a treat without feeling they’re eating too much refined food, while getting some added nutrition, as well.

Q: Some ingredients, such as Sucanat, are a little unusual. Where do you source them?

A: They’re getting much more common. It used to be sort of the bane of my life going from store to store, but now you can find Sucanat, which is a brand name for sugar cane natural, and other alternative sweeteners at most grocery stores. If you want to try palm sugar (sometimes called coconut sugar), you’ll need to go to an Asian market, but it’s so worth the trip. It’s got this wonderful caramelly flavor. 

Q: Did you learn something new in the course of developing these recipes?

A: I learned that these were very popular recipes! Giving them to my husband to take to work, or sharing them with friends, I was delighted that people ate them right up. It’s really an ancient diet.

Q: What do you love to make?

A: I make granola often. And I made these recipes to be easy — practical and easy — but also with a fun appeal. The PB&J Crisp is a twist on the familiar sandwich. I hope it’s a way for eating vegan or vegetarian, even just from time to time, to be the new normal.


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