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Afro-Vegan, Bryant Terry (Ten Speed Press, 2014)

Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry - review by

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Having grown up in Ft Worth with a mother and grandmother who cooked “traditional Southern” for the most part, this book was a walk down memory lane for me in many ways – minus the ever present can of bacon fat on the stove that was added to most everything!

About the recipes. . .

I turned to the chapter on “Greens, Squashes, Roots” first and looked for Terry’s version of collards, knowing that it couldn’t be better than mine!  When we tried the recipe from “Collards and Cabbage and Lots of Garlic”, it was quite different from mine yet delightfully yummy.  Yay, another way to love collards!   We also tried the Spinach and Peanut Sauce (served over rice) and it was a delightful surprise.  The Black Bean and Seitan Stew recipe was good and this is the only time seitan is used in this book.  I found that to be a wonderful respite from constant seitan and heavily processed foods recommended in so many cookbooks in recent years.

About the author . . .

Bryant Terry is a food activist, working for food justice.  He believes that everyone should have access to healthy clean food, fresh from the garden and that truly nourishes us.  He strongly believes in sustainable food systems.  Living in Oakland, he surely can see the great disparity in the availability of clean fresh food from one neighborhood to another, a fact that is sadly true in all of our cities.  This book supports Terry’s beliefs and his work beautifully and shows how simple and delicious the best food can be.

About the book . . .

This book is organized in a non-traditional manner (no chapters labeled Appetizers, Main Dishes, etc.), and it works beautifully, given the food.  In addition to the chapters mentioned above, titles include “Grits, Grains, Couscous”, “Okra, Black-eyed Peas, Watermelon”, “Spices, Sauces, Heat” and many more.   It may help newer vegetarians in thinking of meal planning in different ways.  The author also offers menu suggestions by season and for different types of holidays and celebrations.

There is no nutritional information provided and that will bother some people.  I don’t mind that as the main ingredients in these recipes are such good food, foods from the garden.  Terry uses very few processed foods and the recipes sparkle as a result.  He does use too much oil, salt and spicy hot seasonings for my preference, but those are very easily remedied by simply using much less of each.  The spicy hot seasonings are not a surprise, given the subtitle of the book “Farm-fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed”, and he provides recipes for your own versions of heat if you prefer to make them fresh rather than buy them prepared.

Terry uses a format that he has used in prior books that includes music (and sometimes book) suggestions with each dish.  Those who are old time jazz fans (can you say “John Coltrane”?) will appreciate this and perhaps be intrigued enough to listen to newer artists.  He writes personal comments with each dish and this creates a cozy feeling of being in his kitchen with him.  Terry uses ingredients that are easy to find and his instructions are less complex than in prior cookbooks.  These two features will likely make this book appeal to more people than his earlier books may have.

Review by Justina Walls (5/1/14)