Whether you're vegan or just want to make some healthier sweets, a new cookbook points toward a new normal.
Minneapolis chef Robin Asbell adds to her roster of healthy-eating cookbooks with "Sweet & Easy Vegan" (Chronicle Books, $35), but don't get too hung up on the V word.
"I'm hoping this book is very much a bridge -- that it appeals to moms wanting to make healthy treats for their kids, as much as vegans," said Asbell, whose other cookbooks covered whole-grain, vegan and vegetarian recipes. We asked her how -- and why -- taking a few extra steps with a recipe is worth it.
Q Why eat vegan?
A As Michael Pollan ["The Omnivore's Dilemma"] said, people should just eat more plants, and one way to do that is to eat vegan because it's just plants. By going vegan or just eating more vegan, you're enjoying a whole food that's a natural food -- that doesn't contain any cholesterol or animal fats. A lot of people are turning to it because they want to reduce their carbon footprints. You can feel better about your impact on the environment.
Q What's a key concept to keep in mind when baking vegan, for either new vegans or someone who just wants healthier desserts?
A Since the recipes have it all worked out for you, you don't really have to worry about how to substitute for, say, an egg. I like to use ground flaxseeds, which have essential fatty acids and really good fiber that forms a gel that can work in a similar way that eggs do. We've been doing it for years, quietly over in the alternative baking world.
Otherwise, we use a lot of fruit purées, vegetable purées, use a little more leavening, some different techniques. You don't have to be a vegan to use this book. It's for people who have a sweet tooth to enjoy a treat without feeling they're eating too much refined food, while getting some added nutrition, as well.
Q Some ingredients, such as Sucanat, are a little unusual. Where do you source them?
A They're getting much more common. It used to be sort of the bane of my life going from store to store, but now you can find Sucanat, which is a brand name for sugar cane natural, and other alternative sweeteners at most grocery stores. If you want to try palm sugar [sometimes called coconut sugar], you'll need to go to an Asian market, but it's so worth the trip. It's got this wonderful caramelly flavor.
Q Did you learn something new in the course of developing these recipes?
A I learned that these were very popular recipes! Giving them to my husband to take to work, or sharing them with friends, I was delighted that people ate them right up. It's really an ancient diet.
Q What do you love to make?
A I make granola often. And I made these recipes to be easy -- practical and easy -- but also with a fun appeal. The PB&J Crisp is a twist on the familiar sandwich. I hope it's a way for eating vegan or vegetarian, even just from time to time, to be the new normal.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185