Christina Pirello's recipe book, Cooking the Whole Foods Way, is chock-full of time-consuming, complicated, and overly expensive organic vegan recipes. Be prepared for your food budget to sky rocket, especially if you have a family. Even the most basic beloved comfort foods like chocolate chip cookies (pg. 321) have way too many "far-out" ingredients that your local grocery store will most likely not carry. Granted I live in Mebane, NC (aka: Where the hell is that?) and the only two grocery stores in town don't carry most of the ingredients Christina touts as essential. I suppose if you live in Carrboro, Portland, or San Francisco then you won't have any problem with busting your bank account for avocado oil, carob powder, brown rice syrup, umeboshi plums, and a different array of seaweeds. The only redeeming fact this book has is the recipes ARE incredibly healthy and you will drop weight in no time (just avoid making any of the deserts near the back of the book). However, I'm far more inclined to believe that if you make low-fat recipes and avoid refined sugar, there's no need to go this extreme.
I came across this book in a Border's bookstore when I decided to go from vegetarian to vegan. I wasn't familiar with Christina or her show on PBS. What attracted me to her book is the introduction where she explains how her diet saved her life from cancer. It's a bold statement which I don't believe 100%. But solely changing your diet will help out if you have high cholesterol, diabetes, or heart disease. When I took the book home and thoroughly read the introduction, I was surprised when Christina readily admitted her vegan diet put her into another life-and-death situation. Christina writes on page 4:
"One bright April afternoon, I suffered a brain stem aneurysm, landing me in the neuro-trama intensive care for eight days. Test after test revealed that while I had suffered a rupture, the bleeding had stopped and the vein healed itself, leaving me with a pool of blood at the base of my brain and excruciating head pain. The brain surgeon told me that my condition was the result of a diet too low in fat and protein and vitamin B12, which created elevated homocysteine levels, resulting in the hemorrhage."
Christina goes on to say that she started to incorporate more fat, protein, and B12 in her diet. But the message I took home is that you need to be careful on a long term vegan diet, because you might not get the sufficient amount of nutrients your body needs. This part of the introduction is harrowing because I felt like I needed to be extra careful when choosing recipes. The level of scrutiny concerning my diet became obsessive partly because being vegan means being careful about what you eat. But I also had to be careful to eat the appropriate things so I wouldn't land myself in an intensive care unit.
I took this book home and read it from front to back in less than a couple of days. Along the way I wrote down recipes I was interested in making. My initial reaction was shock because all the recipes required a multitude of crazy oils, vinegars, and sugar substitutes. I dismissed this as what I had to do in order to be full-fledged vegan. I knew a diet change meant buying different stock from the grocery store. For the next 4 months I made long trips to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. My grocery bill was astronomical. When I came home and prepared a recipe, I discovered there were multiple steps like taking food from the stove top and putting it into the oven. And often the end result was an overcooked flavorless mess of vegetables. I'm sure Christina has it down to a science when she's cooking it herself, but I felt lost and overwhelmed with many of her dishes. After making her vegan meals for about a month I started to flip through the book looking for the most simple recipes that required the least amount of ingredients. One such recipe is her Baked Brussel Sprouts and Shallots on page 149. This recipe calls for:
2 to 3 cups fresh Brussel Sprouts, trimmed and left whole
3 or 4 shallots, halved
2 or 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
2 TB extra-virgin olive oil
2 TB balsamic vinegar
This recipe is great but it does require an hour or more of cooking time. Let's look at something that is more complex like Chilled Asian Rice on page 46:
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed
1-2 tsp light sesame oil
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 TB fresh ginger (see Note, page 164)
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown rice vinegar
1 TB brown rice syrup
spring or filtered water
7-8 snow peas, cut into thin slices, blanched
1 celery stalk, cut into large dice
1/2 red bell pepper, roasted over flame, peeled, seeded and diced (see Note, page 262)
2 cups cooked medium- or long-grain brown rice
2 tablespoons minced, pan-roasted walnut pieces (see Note, below)
1-2 fresh green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish
This recipe is a complete joy to make! Imagine draining tofu and pressing it with paper towels while cutting each veggie to perfection after making sure one is roasted just right (placed over an open gas flame or under a broiler, transferred to a paper sack, sealed tightly, allowed to steam, rubbed with your fingers, cut, and diced) and another is blanched (boiled briefly). Then take into consideration that brown rice has to simmer for at least 45 minutes before its done. Don't forget to look at all of Christina's notes in the recipe (See Note this and that) for making ginger juice (grating ginger and then squeezing it) and roasting the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium to medium high heat. If you were to just skim over the recipe you would think it would take 10 to 15 minutes. Don't be fooled into thinking any of her "simple" recipes are easy by any means. Ignore her in the introduction when she writes:
"Natural cooking seems to be shrouded in mystery, reputed to employ strange, exotic ingredients cooked in bizarre ways, like stirring in a clockwise direction while standing on one foot under a full moon. Well, as much fun as that sounds, the fact is your can purchase most basic whole foods in your neighborhood supermarkets. You may need to supplement your weekly shopping with occasional trips to a natural foods store, but for the most part, you'll be able to find all that you'll need in your local market."
LIES. Absolute lies. Most of her recipes take copious amounts of time and energy. My advice is to use VegWeb.com. Everything on that site is easy to make and FREE.