"Smoked salmon" with fried capers from The Buddhist Chef: 100 Simple, Feel-Good Vegan Recipes by Jean-Philippe Cyr tastes just like the real thing — except better. It's ideal for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack time. Thanks to Appetite by Random House for the review copy of the book.
My first order of business when I went vegetarian 14 years ago was to buy a cookbook to guide my meat-free diet.
Without it, I would have been lost in the kitchen, unsure what to eat and likely to fall off the wagon at the sight of a steak.
The book I bought was the ideal segue into vegetarian life at the time. It’s was loaded with “meaty” recipes but also got me acquainted with the magic of beans. It schooled me in flavourful ways to use tofu. And it taught me what seitan is beyond a meat substitute in desperate need of a name change and flashy PR campaign of kale-like proportions.
That book really was a godsend for all the guidance that it offered and the whole new world of incredible food it got me eating.
If I were making the switch to a plant-based diet today, I would want The Buddhist Chef: 100 Simple, Feel-Good Vegan Recipes by Quebec-based author Jean-Philippe Cyr by my side. The inaugural cookbook by the creator of The Buddhist Chef blog is exactly what it says it is: a companion in the kitchen that offers easy recipes that are a pleasure to cook and pure comfort to eat.
This book is easy to trust, even before rolling up your sleeves to cook from it, because Cyr is a classically trained chef who understands flavours, textures and techniques (and yes, he is a practising Buddhist, too).
Jean-Philippe Cyr. Photo by Samuel Joubert.
Cyr also gets the importance of simplicity. He’s not out to convert anyone with The Buddhist Chef, but he very easily could with how well he demonstrates that plant-based diets needn’t be complicated. It’s a way of eating that depends largely on pantry staples, which Cyr talks about in the book, and basic knowledge in the kitchen. Throughout, he puts aside any chefiness in favour of making an inviting book bound to be a go-to at mealtime.
Even better, for those with more experience in a meat- and dairy-free kitchen, Cyr’s recipes are easily adapted to suit the ingredients or cravings you have.
Take his General Tso’s tofu. It was the first recipe I tried from the book, which draws inspiration from cuisines across the globe, including Chinese, Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern and Korean.
I was out of fresh ginger, green onions and — I can’t believe it — soy sauce called for in the recipe. So I used the ground ginger I had on hand, cilantro in place of the green onions, and hoisin sauce as a substitute for soy. I also had a package of fried tofu chunks in my fridge from the neighbourhood Asian grocery store instead of the block of extra-firm bean curd called for in the recipe. For kicks, I diced up some carrots languishing in the crisper and threw them into the mix, too.
Those aren’t significant modifications but they’re enough to change the dish. The beauty of the recipe is that it worked anyway and to rave reviews. General Tso’s Tofu has been bookmarked as a family favourite.
We also adore Cyr’s portobello Bourguignon. Mushrooms stand-in for beef in this French classic that’s still incredibly meaty and satisfying. Again, it was a straight-forward how-to and so much less intensive than the red beans Bourguignon in that meat and potatoes book I bought years ago. It was also pure joy to eat, served atop luscious egg noodles, with each bite reminding me of the warm and cosy stews and goulashes that were a dinnertime fixture in my home growing up.
Bagels with “smoked” salmon and fried capers is another winner. I love smoked fish and have even caved in to my occasional cravings for it over the years. Now when the hankering hits, I have this recipe to keep me on track.
Best of all, any time I pull out my juicer, I have the main ingredient prepped for it, too: carrot pulp. This recipe impresses for its smart use of something that used to end up in my green bin. It also tastes remarkably like smoked salmon with the help of liquid smoke and maple syrup, and it boasts a texture similar to the salmon salad my mom used to slather on my sandwiches as a kid.
The concoction stores well in the fridge — it tastes better the next day — to make ahead and use throughout the week for breakfast, lunch or snacks. And fried caper berries are nothing short of a revelation.
The real value of this book, however, is in the recipes for meat substitutes, so there’s no need to rely on grocery store versions of pre-packaged faux meat.
Cyr breaks down how to make seitan, sausage, mock poultry for a “chicken” burger, tofu pepperoni, even simple nut cheeses, including spreadable macadamia versions, and an uncomplicated Parmesan made with cashews. All of these are make-ahead items to use not just in Cyr’s recipes but in other family favourites, too.
So few of the vegetarian and vegan cookbooks I’ve acquired over the years offer this kind of resource. It’s these recipes, along with Cyr’s deep variety of breakfasts, salads, soups, bowls, snacks, dinner and desserts, that will keep The Buddhist Chef relevant in plant-based kitchens long after you can cook tofu with your eyes closed.
For the vegan salmon
- 4 cups (440 g) carrot pulp or finely grated carrots
- 1/2 red onion, minced
- 3 tablespoons capers, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- Salt, to taste
For the fried capers
- 3 tablespoons capers
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
- 4-6 bagels, sliced in half
- Sliced red onion, to garnish (optional)
For the vegan salmon:
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, then let rest for 1 hour at room temperature for the flavours to develop.
For the fried capers:
Rinse the capers, then pat dry using a paper towel.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil.
Add the capers and fry for 2 minutes.
Transfer to a paper towel to drain.
Spread the vegan salmon mixture on sliced bagels. Garnish with fried capers and few red onion slices, if desired. Enjoy.