The Adaptable Feast by Ivy Manning


I picked up The Adaptable Feast at the library when the subtitle, "Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table," caught my eye.  The author, an omnivore, decided to create this book after growing frustrated with cooking for her vegetarian husband.  In the introduction, she ponders, "So how do you cook for everyone in a mixed-diet family without making two separate meals every night or shortchanging vegetarians or vegans by serving them nothing but tofu dogs or side dishes?"  How indeed.

Her solution involves relying on flexible recipes that can be modified for vegetarian or vegan diets.  Most of the recipes in her book serve 4-5 people with 1 or 2 of those portions geared towards non-meat eaters.  Manning explains in the introduction, "At some point in the instructions while you are chopping, stirring, and prepping each meal, you'll come across a step or steps marked VEGETARIAN.  The instructions that follow (set in bold type) will be specifically for the vegetarian or vegan portion of the recipe so you will know when you are cooking that something should remain meat-free."  (Fortunately, the instructions themselves are less clunky than the explanation of the instructions!)  For some of the recipes, such as Curry Laska, this step is as simple as setting aside one bowl of soup two steps before serving and adding shrimp to the remaining three bowls in the final step.  In more complex recipes, such as Cedar Plank Salmon, it means cooking an alternate ingredient (in this case, portobello mushrooms) for the vegetarian while the meat cooks for the omnivores.  I was impressed by the clarity of the directions and by the depth of options presented.  Some cookbooks attempt to accommodate vegetarians with directions like, "Just leave out the meat for your vegetarian friends!"  However, this book strives to substitute and compensate instead of just omit.

The book includes six recipe sections.  "Appetizers and Salads" includes recipes such as Indian Samosas with Herb-Tofu Dip and Crunchy Salad Rolls with Coconut Peanut Sauce.  "Soups and Stews" includes Savory Springtime Wonton Soup and Chili with Cornbread Biscuit Topping.  "Quick Fixes" includes Spaghetti Carbonara and Philly Cheese Steaks.  "Classic Recipes for Everyone" focuses on flexible but familiar favorites, including Creamy Chicken or Portobello Lasagnas with Spinach Noodles and Pulled Pork or Barbecued Tofu Sandwiches with Sweet and Sour Slaw.  "Foods from Afar" contains mainly Asian-style dishes, including Two-Way Lo Mein Express and Kung Pao Chicken or Tofu.  Finally "Special Occasions" spotlights mostly holiday-themed recipes, including heart-shaped Sweetheart Mushroom Ravioli with Beurre Rouge Sauce and Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake with Dreamy Vanilla Frosting.

The book also features a glossary (I learned about galangal), an "Alternative Protein Primer," and a lengthy explanation of the vegan diet.  It also includes suggestions for stocking a mixed-diet pantry as well as considerate tips, like keeping utensils used for cooking vegetarian dishes separate from those used for meat dishes.

Overall, I was impressed by the creativity and variety of recipes presented in this book. The Adaptable Feast proves that vegetarians and omnivores can happily eat at the same table without the vegetarians feeling cheated or the omnivores feeling bored.  This book could be a helpful guide for families with one vegetarian or for omnivores who host vegetarians.  Its user-friendly format, full-color photos, and imaginative recipes make it an attractive choice for cooks of all backgrounds.