There’s a new cookbook in town, and it’s all about the power of plants
When you open The Plantpower Way by ultra-distance endurance athlete Rich Roll and his chef/musician/yogi wife Julie Piatt, you’re greeted by a section called Pure + Whole that introduces you to their vision of a plant-based diet. With information on their top ten superfood picks (like chia seeds and Pu-erh tea), essential pantry items and handy kitchen equipment, this newest addition to the plant-based cookbook world starts off with a slightly overwhelming bang.
It’s a beautiful book that boasts color pictures, a host of unique recipes and a collection of essays from both Rich and Julie that paint a picture of an idyllic way of life. Passion and compassion radiate from each tidbit as the couple covers subjects such as health, nutrition, vitality and the impact of food choices on the environment and the world. It’s a bit of a trip at times with vibrations of a new age mentality that seeks to link food with spirituality as well as community. However, one goal of the book stood out to me as particularly important, and that is the idea of making food fun and enjoyable, turning meals back into family affairs and celebrating the nourishment and flavors that plant foods provide.
A quick flip through the pages reveals the standard sections found in most vegan cookbooks, and indeed cookbooks in general: Breakfast + Brunch, Soup + Salad and Mains + Sides. Rounding it out with a little variety and ingenuity are sections with recipes for smoothies, juices, nut milks, nut cheese, teas and lattes. With few exceptions, all the recipes are made using whole food ingredients. (Yes, that does mean healthy lattes.) Though some of the dishes do call for small amounts of honey, the authors address the environmental and ethical issues involved in its production and recognize why vegans avoid it. Coconut and olive oil also show up here and there with the note that people suffering from heart disease should omit them and all other oils. It’s surprising, then, that Rich and Julie don’t seem to have a problem with using Veganaise on occasion, especially in light of the book’s focus on superfoods and the power of plants for vitality.
Because, when you get right down to it, this really is a superfood cookbook. Ingredients like hemp and chia seeds, quinoa, sprouts, goji berries and maca powder abound. Drinking smoothies, juices, teas and lemon water is encouraged, as is starting each day with “salad in a glass.” There are even four suggested “lifestyle paths” at the end of the book that show how to choose recipes for specific purposes such as energy, power and transformation. In an essay entitled “Kalelujah!” near the beginning of the book, Julie encourages readers to “let go of your kitchen fears” and “begin the journey,” noting that living the Plantpower Way is possible for everyone.
Despite this, for those of us who don’t live in areas where these types of foods are readily available, The Plantpower Way may seem more like a foreign country than a journey. I’ve been plant-based for the better part of six years and have dabbled in everything from super-simple recipes that can be made with grocery store ingredients to complex dishes that take half the day to make, and even I found the premise of the book to be overwhelming. The lifestyle that Rich and Julie talk about living is something I could only manage if I had a great deal more time to devote to food preparation (in addition to the 2-3 hours I already spend on it every day) and unlimited access to a selection of fresh foods more diverse than is possible to find in upstate NY.
There are some incredibly straightforward preparations, including hemp milk and “one bowl” meals, but to me it seems like most of the book requires a trip to a co-op or specialty store before spending a good chunk of time in the kitchen going through multiple steps to put the food together. Not that I mind being in the kitchen–it’s just about my favorite place to be–but it makes me wonder how many people looking for a guide to the plant-based way of living would feel like they were in over their heads should they pick up this particular title.
Usually I try three recipes from a cookbook before I review it, but due to the specialty nature of The Plantpower Way, I only had time to test out the first one that really jumped out at me: Roasted Tomato Cacao Sauce Over Penne.
Being half Italian, pasta was always a biggie in my house growing up, and my mom and I still enjoy a good pasta dish. What struck me about this one was the inclusion of Brazil nuts and raw cocoa nibs in addition to more traditional Italian ingredients such as cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and pine nuts.
I found a huge package of grape tomatoes at Trader Joe’s and wound up using those since, alas, cherry tomatoes aren’t in season here yet. And on my shopping trip, silly me forgot to put Brazil nuts on the list and was panicking until I remembered that we have a jar of raw Brazil nut butter in the fridge–which is really the same thing. The pine nuts and cocoa nibs came from the bulk section at the co-op, so I was all set.
I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Pan-searing the tomatoes made them pop and sizzle as they softened, and the cocoa nibs added an interesting depth of flavor that, oddly enough, had no hint of chocolate or cocoa. Both types of nuts were light enough to add creaminess without overpowering the tomato flavor, and the basil offset the slight bitterness from the cocoa. You’re supposed to blend the sauce and just pour it over the pasta, but I wound up mixing it all together and warming it up in the pan.
A garnish of sliced tomatoes and viola! Dinner. If you want to give this recipe a try for yourself, I’ve reprinted it (with permission!) below, along with the recipe for the chickpea veggie side dish also pictured here. The only thing I noticed is that the serving size for the sauce is on the small side. Though it says it serves four, I could easily eat the entire recipe myself on days when I’ve been highly active. I suppose it depends on what else you’re serving it with and how many “garnishes” you want to throw on top.
There are several other recipes I’d like to try, some of which I have the ingredients on hand for and others, like many of the recipes in the book, that will require some specialty shopping and advanced prep work:
- Cacao mint avocado tart
- Easy crunchy peanut butter chocolate cookies
- Ginger turmeric latte
- Hash browns tower
- Veggie burgers
- Sprouted mung kitcheri
- Ultra energy bars
- Tempeh chili
If they’re all as good as the pasta, it will be well worth the effort!
Roasted Tomato Cacao Sauce Over Penne
Reprinted from The Plantpower Way by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,
A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2015, Rich Roll & Julie Piatt
Ripe cherry tomatoes, nuts, and cacao all blended into one creamy sauce take regular pasta sauce to a whole new level. This recipe is an antioxidant powerhouse of flavors. Lycopene may reduce your risk of heart disease, improve vision, and lower bad cholesterol. Super-nutritious cacao nibs add a real depth of flavor.
- 1 cup organic cherry tomatoes
- 6 large basil leaves
- 3 dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 Brazil nuts
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon cacao nibs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (QV note: Water works, too!)
- 1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Gluten-free penne or other pasta
- 2 cups organic cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish
- ¼ cup pine nuts, for garnish
- 1 sprig fresh thyme, for garnish
1. In a wok or cast-iron skillet over high heat, no oil, slightly blacken the cherry tomatoes. If the pan is hot, this should take no more than 5 minutes.
2. To a blender or Vitamix, add the cherry tomatoes and all the other ingredients; blend on high for a full minute.
3. Pour over gluten-free penne or your favorite pasta.
4. Garnish with cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, and thyme.
Rich and Julie recommend serving this penne with a side of their Warm Mushroom Salad (also found in the book), but I served this Simple Chickpea Spinach Scramble instead. It’s a bit of a variation on my breakfast chickpea scramble (recipe coming soon!), and it adds some protein and greens to balance out the fats in the pasta sauce. Together it makes an enjoyable, healthy meal with all of your “macros” and a bunch of antioxidants to boot. If you’re pressed for time, I think wilting some spinach into the pasta sauce would also taste pretty good.
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1½ cups sliced red bell pepper
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 15.5oz can, drained & rinsed
- 8 cups chopped fresh spinach
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- black pepper to taste
- Place the garlic and bell pepper in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and the pepper is softened, about 5 mintues. Add splashes of water to the pan to prevent sticking if necessary.
- Stir in the chickpeas and cook for a couple of minutes until they just start to brown. Add the spinach along with a splash of water and stir to begin the wilting process. Cover the pan again and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the spinach has cooked down.
- Stir in the grated carrots and black pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the carrots are just softened and warm. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, give it a stir and serve as a side dish or over hot cooked grains for a filing meal.
In many ways, The Plantpower Way is the antithesis of what most people need when starting a plant-based lifestyle. But on the other hand, the sheer faith that Rich and Julie have in what they say and how they live is encouraging. Reading this book makes you feel like you can be amazing, super and powerful if you take the time to nourish yourself. It challenges entire families to stop eating in a mindless way and come together to prepare and share food that’s actually food (or even superfood). In these respects, the lifestyle that it details is very much within reach for anyone who wishes to embrace a more “Plantpower”ed Way.
The PlantPower Way will be released by Avery Books on April 28th.
For more on this supercharged take on plant-based living, you can follow @richroll on Twitter or check out The Rich Roll Podcast on iTunes.
Follow Julie at @srimati.