I haven’t done a lot of cookbook reviews (particularly solicited ones), but I’m pretty excited about Christy Morgan’s cookbook Blissful Bites. It seems like it’s everywhere lately, so it’s probably not even that new to you, but if by chance you haven’t heard about it, then you’re in luck! (You can order the book here, as well as other places on the web and in-person at your local bookstore.)
I was given a free copy of Blissful Bites by the publisher to review and first of all, I think it’s important to note how colorful and gorgeous this book is at first glance. The sections are color-coded by season, there are photos on most pages, and the design and layout is fresh and light and vibrant. Which, it turns out, is a lot like the foods inside.
There is a concise, but informative introductory section going over veganism/macrobiotics/organics, and basic kitchen tools and techniques. Most of the recipes are macrobiotic-influenced, as well as low-fat and low-salt. Additionally, none of the recipes contain onions or garlic, which I’ve come across in some other cookbooks; as an avid garlic- and onion-lover, this is a bit of new territory for me, but most of the time I didn’t miss it.
While I certainly haven’t made all the recipes I want to from Blissful Bites, I think I have a pretty good base to draw from. The first recipe I made was the Coconut Bliss Granola and Key Lime Soy Yogurt Parfait (p 35). Despite realizing upon further inspection that I’d actually forgotten to add oats to the granola (a user error, entirely), there was enough other fun stuff like puffed rice, coconut flakes, and nuts and seeds to make me entirely forget that. The granola was dominated by the flavors of the dry ingredients, rather than by sweetness or oiliness or spices, which I rather liked. It went really well with the flavor of the lime soy yogurt, although I always find a trace of grittiness after blending silken tofu with strong citrus juice, so I’d probably stick to a non-soy-based yogurt in the future.
Ahh when the days were warmer…we enjoyed an outdoor breakfast a couple of months ago featuring Christy’s Tempeh Bacon, alongside some sauteed kale and wild rice-spelt pancakes topped with Peanut Butter-Like Mousse (except that I made mine with almond butter instead of soynut butter). The tempeh was pretty salty, despite cutting back on the amount of tamari, but since it was mostly a side I didn’t mind so much, though if I were to make it again I would probably cut it with more vinegar or water. The mousse, however, was divine! I braved my fear/dislike of silken tofu yet again to make this, and the other flavors and the texture of the almond butter I used made me forget there was silken tofu in there. We ate these with pancakes, as dessert at a summer picnic, and by the sneaky spoonful from the fridge. Rich and filling, it lasted us a really long time.
I made the Nectarine Cobbler Smoothie by subbing some of the aforementioned key lime soygurt for the storebought kind. It was simple and tasty, and a good way to use up the soygurt; but since I don’t buy vegan yogurt very often I would probably wing a simple “creamy” smoothie in the future. Also in the breakfast department but not pictured, are the Maple Almond-Pecan Scones. These were dense and crumbly (in a good way), and the flavor was out of this world – cinnamon-y and maple-y complex! I have tweaked these since to include some more fat, which is how I roll, but they really are delicious.
The first savory item (beyond the bacon) I tried was the Macro “Mac and Cheeze.” This is the only recipe where I felt the oil-free, macrobiotic direction of the book and my own culinary experiences and preferences really diverged; I ate a few small servings but had to toss the rest. Granted, I’m rather picky when it comes to vegan mac n cheese and have never successfully made a from-scratch version yet, but I would have liked more fat (both for flavor and to keep it from drying out so quickly) and maybe an additional spice or flavor element like garlic/onions or cayenne.
The Mac N’ Kale Salad, on the other hand, was delicious! I’ve made this salad several times. The fan of kale that I am, it would be pretty hard to mess up, but I really enjoyed the combination of avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, and nutritional yeast with my favorite leafy green. Serious yumtown!
Last, but not least, I got to try a new vegetable (burdock) by making the Burdock, Squash, and Brussels Stir-fry. I discovered I really like burdock root; it reminds me a bit of a cross between jicama and rutabaga, and I like that you can eat it raw or cooked. Despite the incredibly short list of ingredients (besides the vegetables, only sesame oil and salt are included), this was a really delicious and lovely dish. I think my appetite is bigger than the recipe would indicate (I could eat almost the whole recipe in one sitting), but more veggies is never a bad thing in my opinion.
Some other things I’d really like to try are: Daikon Canape with Sweet Miso Sauce, Pineapple-Cucumber Gazpacho, Fried Lotus Chips, Kale Salad with Curry-Coconut Sauce, Not-So-Forbidden Rice Salad, and Blueberry-Hemp Drops. In summary, I like to start with the cons and move to the pros with books that I like as a whole:
Cons: Though soy-free recipes are indicated by an icon, it seemed like a majority of the recipes I was drawn to include soy (that might otherwise seem soy-free); I don’t eat a lot of it generally, so if you don’t or can’t either, you might need to make substitutions (sometimes I use coconut aminos or blended cashews in place of silken tofu). I also have to take a bit of a leap of faith with the low- or no-fat recipes; sometimes they surprise and delight me, and other times I really miss the fat, especially living in a northern, mostly cold climate where dietary fat is a large part of my staying hydrated from the inside out. I think I’m a decent gauge of when I will want more than a recipe calls for, but it’s still something to consider when considering making a new dish for both myself and my partner, who is drawn to more “traditional” comfort foods. This same consideration goes into effect with the lack of onion and garlic in recipes; I’m more willing to try recipes without these ingredients, but my partner would surely miss these ingredients in certain dishes.
Pros: Blissful Bites is beautiful and inspiring, and based primarily on whole, unprocessed foods, most of which are easy to find at a natural foods store and somewhat easy to find at a regular grocery store. I enjoy the simplicity of the recipes which lets the natural foods’ flavors come through (and makes for a simple grocery list, too). There are plenty of raw recipes, which I really like as well. The tone of the book is encouraging and persuasive without being judgmental, and despite being geared a bit towards the “beginner” chef, I learned a few new things about technique, equipment, and food. (I ended up buying a pressure cooker, largely after reading Christy’s promise of amazingly prepared brown rice – it is no lie!) I still want to try many more recipes from the book, which I think says a lot about Blissful Bites and its ability to be a lasting fixture in my cookbook collection.
This is the kind of cookbook I’m drawn to: healthy, unprocessed, whole foods cooking, and would make a great addition to anyone’s collection who enjoys the same.