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Book Reviews

Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson

Book Review:
Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson

Yes, I admit it. I am an unapologetic fangirl of vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson. She’s as prolific as they come, but it’s not just quantity she puts out: her recipes are always well-tested and inspired. She has an obvious love for food and a true appreciation for cuisines from across the globe, putting them through the Vegan-Conversion-Tron 3000 Recipe Adaptor she keeps in her secret laboratory or the app installed in her brain (these are just theories), and turning them into remarkably consistent recipes that regular, non-Herculean home cooks can recreate in our own kitchens. Her most recent cookbook, Vegan Planet: More than 425 Irresistible Recipes with Fantastic Flavors from Home and Around the World, is a revision of her original Vegan Planet, called the “bible of vegan cooking” and includes more than 500 pages, which includes 50 new recipes and updated favorites. Seriously, does this woman ever rest?

With 20 chapters covering everything from appetizers to breakfast, Vegan Planet is truly the only cookbook you would ever need. Lightened up with expanded sections on the grains and greens that have come into popularity in more recent years (such as quinoa and kale), Vegan Planet also is a great resource for learning foundational recipes as well as very helpful sections, such as how to avoid hidden animal ingredients. Designed to be user-friendly, Vegan Planet has very accessible information generously interspersed throughout, such as a brief primer on salad dressings, smoothie tips, and a cooking chart for grains. She even includes a great collection of sample menus for a wide variety of occasions. So much effort went into this and it’s paid off as a really fantastic resource.

With recipes written with clear, concise directions that even a novice cook could follow with good results and the ingredients that can be found at any large, well-stocked grocery store, this cookbook brings a vegan kitchen within anyone’s reach. While there are no photos, Robin’s descriptions are vivid and full of enthusiasm and knowledge about the variety of cuisines at our fingertips today. From classics like a lightened up Caesar salad to dishes that reflect a love for international flavors, like the creative Chickpeas Vindaloo, Robin has something for everyone, including serving tips and adaptation suggestions. I highly recommend Vegan Planet for anyone who wants to bring more delicious and easy food into your life.

Thank you to Robin for permission to reprint her recipe for Saffron Couscous Cake with Spring Vegetable Sauté that appears in Vegan Planet.

Saffron Couscous Cake with Spring Vegetable Sauté

Serves 4 to 6

Whether this dish is saffron-flavored or saffron-colored will depend on your budget. Made with either saffron or turmeric, it’s lovely served for a spring lunch or light supper. To serve as a first course, you can cut the couscous cake into smaller wedges or place the couscous mixture into small ring molds or individual tart pans instead of the large springform pan. You can vary the types of vegetables according to availability or personal preference.  It’s also delicious topped with roasted vegetables, instead of sautéed. Recipe from Vegan Planet (revised edition ©2014) by Robin Robertson.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 large shallots, minced
2 cups instant couscous
3 cups hot vegetable broth
Pinch of ground saffron or turmeric
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
8 ounces thin asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
1 large carrot, shredded
4 scallions, minced
2⁄3 cup fresh or thawed frozen baby peas
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or other herb

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the couscous and stir to coat with the oil. Stir in the hot broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the saffron, cayenne, and salt to taste. Cover and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Transfer the couscous to a lightly oiled 9-inch springform pan. Press the couscous evenly into the pan and smooth the top. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Remove the couscous cake from the refrigerator, release the springform pan, and cut the couscous into 6 wedges. Place on the prepared baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake until just hot, 12 to 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and asparagus and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot, scallions, peas, tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley.
5. Use a metal spatula to transfer the couscous wedges onto individual plates, top with a large spoonful of the vegetables, and serve immediately.

Photo credit: Zsu Dever

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