New normal: Sweet and vegan

(Minneapolis) Star TribuneNovember 20, 2012 

  • PB&J Crisp This crisp is a fun and easy take on the familiar lunchbox combo, and probably will get you more smiles than the sandwich. Now that organic grapes are available most of the year, you can make this crisp in midwinter for a fresh fruit pick-me-up. From “Sweet & Easy Vegan,” by Robin Asbell. 4 cups red seedless grapes, halved 1/2 cup fruit-sweetened grape jelly 2 teaspoons arrowroot starch or cornstarch 2 tablespoon fresh orange juice Topping 2 cups rolled oats 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup granular palm sugar, palm sugar paste, or Sucanat 1/4 cup coconut oil 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter 1/4 cup nondairy milk HEAT oven to 400 degrees. PUT the grapes in an ungreased 8- by 12-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. In a medium bowl, combine the jelly, arrowroot starch and orange juice and stir vigorously until thoroughly blended. Stir the mixture into the grapes. MAKE the topping: In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, peanuts and salt and stir until well mixed. COMBINE the sugar, coconut oil and peanut butter, and mash or process in a food processor until thoroughly combined. Stir in the nondairy milk. Pour into the oat mixture and stir until well combined. Crumble the mixture over the grapes, distributing it evenly. BAKE for 35 minutes, until the juices are bubbling and the topping is golden and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm. Stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, the crisp will keep for about 1 week. Yield: 6 servings

Chef Robin Asbell adds to her roster of healthy-eating cookbooks with “Sweet & Easy Vegan,” 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 the Minneapolis chef how – and why – taking a few extra steps with a recipe is worth it.

Q: Why eat vegan?

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?

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 purees, vegetable purees, 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?

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?

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?

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.

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

PB&J Crisp

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