Whether you’re hoping to go full-tilt vegan, thinking about trying something new, or are just looking to cut back on meat and dairy, Niki Webster’s Be More Vegan: The Young Person’s Guide to Going (A Bit More) Plant-Based! (Welbeck, 2021) is the book for you.
The “young person” in the title suggests this book is just for teens, but adults will also find much to love in this upbeat introductory guide. Webster, a certified holistic health coach, food consultant, and acclaimed vegan food blogger, establishes from the outset that veganism doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-or- nothing choice. Being “more vegan” — regardless of how you choose to define “more” — is a positive step towards personal well being, animal welfare and a thriving planet.
The book opens with Webster introducing herself and explaining why she’s a vegan. As a child, she didn’t like meat and refused to eat it. She just felt eating animals was wrong. After developing a milk intolerance, her “fussy eater” diet became even more restrictive, so in her teens she began cooking for herself, experimenting with and discovering foods she liked to eat.
She then goes on to cover the basics: what is veganism and why embrace it? What constitutes a balanced diet, what are the key nutrients to be aware of, and what are some good plant-based sources?
Animal welfare is at the heart of what it means to be vegan.
Being vegan is about more than what you eat, it’s a lifestyle “that seeks to avoid cruelty to animals.” So, in addition to a diet free of meat or anything that comes from animals (eggs, milk, other dairy products), it also means staying away from clothes, cosmetics and household products made from or tested on animals.
Yes, it sounds daunting, but Webster is quick to reassure readers that it’s unlikely anyone can be 100% vegan in today’s world (there are just too many everyday objects made with animal products). But every small thing you do counts and makes a difference — whether putting oat milk in your coffee, or eating one meat-free meal a week.
How can eating less meat help save the planet? When you consider how much land, water, and other resources are needed to mass produce meat via industrial farming, not to mention all those greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, going vegan makes good sense.
But is it just a fad?
Webster thinks that’s unlikely. Since the late 2010s, veganism has gone mainstream, with more and more people adopting an environmentally conscious mindset. Increased demand for plant-based food products has resulted in a wider variety of available options and the overall quality is better.
Take plant-based milk, for example. When I developed a lactose intolerance in my 30s, I was hard pressed to find a reasonable substitute for cow’s milk. Lactaid milk wasn’t available yet, and soy milk was chalky and undrinkable. Fast forward to 2021 with its explosion of plant-based milk. Take your pick: rice, almond, oat, cashew, coconut — and soy milk actually tastes good. No need to go to a special health food store either. They’re available everywhere.
Webster discusses these milk substitutes and more in Part Three, “The Vegan Kitchen.” Need to add creaminess and richness in place of dairy cream or yogurt? Try coconut (a dream ingredient) — “it adds a huge amount of texture and flavor to vegan food, and a little goes a long way.”
Since I like to bake, I was especially interested in learning about egg substitutes that effectively bind ingredients. Webster suggests flax or chia “eggs,” mashed bananas, peanut butter or silken tofu.
With a list of pantry essentials (lentils, seeds, nuts, tahini, beans, tomatoes, olive oil, vegetable stock, Indian and Middle Eastern spices, nutritional yeast, fresh herbs, frozen veggies), along with directions for making your own plant milk and nut cheese, you’re good to go.
The 50+ recipes are divided into five sections: Breakfasts, Lunches, Mains, Snacks & Extras, and Desserts. They’re all simple to make with common pantry ingredients, and you don’t need any special equipment aside from a blender or food processor.
Best of all, there’s a color photo for every single recipe in the book! How often do you see that?! The layout of ingredients and instructions with “Niki’s tips” scattered throughout make for a very inviting, user friendly experience.
You can forget the myth of vegan food being boring or bland, with everything either tofu or beans. Webster has come up with some very creative ways to celebrate the basic goodness of fresh fruits and veggies, factoring in what she’s gleaned from her travel experiences.
Teens new to cooking will enjoy being adventurous with recipes like Quick Creamy Chickpea and Sweet Potato Curry, Meatless Balls Tagliatelle, Harissa Falafel Burgers, Hoisin Jackfruit Burritos, or Black Bean and Lentil Bake with “Cheesy” Sweet Potato Mash.
Wondering about dessert? Several recipes call for dates as a primary sweetener, along with vegan brown sugar or maple syrup. Gooey Chocolate Cake with Biscoff Frosting, Millionaire’s Shortbread Slices, or Carrot Cake Mug Cake, anyone?
So, if you’re curious about or want to be more vegan, there’s no better time. I do like Webster’s encouraging, apolitical, non-judgmental approach. Do what you can, what makes sense in your own life. Moving towards veganism should be an enjoyable adventure of discovery undertaken at your own pace.
She’s included just enough basic information in her three part overview without overwhelming the reader, and none of the recipes appear intimidating for beginning cooks.
Finally, the small trim size ( 7” x 9”) makes the book easy to handle and store. In addition to developing all the recipes, Webster also did her own food styling and photography (with the exception of her author photo).
Shall we eat?
🍅 Speedy Smoky Tomato & Bean Soup 🍅
There’s nothing that hits the spot like a hearty bowl of soup on a chilly fall day.
The resident bear chefs were happy to see two soup recipes in the Lunch section of Niki’s book — Creamy Sweet Potato and Speedy Smoky Tomato and Bean. Since they liked the idea of making a speedy soup that didn’t require blending/puréeing, they went with the tomato and bean.
The recipe calls for cannellini and butter beans, though this is just a suggestion and any kind of beans will do. We opted for a can of mixed beans (kidney, black, and pinto) along with a can of cannellinis.
The recipe is called “smoky” because it calls for one tablespoon of smoked paprika as the primary seasoning. The soup came together quickly once we did a little prep (chopping onion & tomatoes, grating garlic).
We enjoyed a bowl with some store bought naan for lunch. Yum!
Speedy Smoky Tomato & Bean Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato purée
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 can cannellini beans, drained
- 1 can butter beans, drained
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white wine/cider vinegar
- 2 handfuls of spinach
- Roughly chop the onion, and finely chop or grate the garlic.
- In a large pan, cook the onion in the oil on a medium heat for about 7-8 minutes until soft.
- Add the garlic and paprika to the mix, and cook for a further minute.
- Now add in the chopped tomatoes and tomato purée, then cook for a few minutes until they are soft.
- Add the stock. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add in the beans, spinach, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook for a further few minutes until the spinach has wilted.
BE MORE VEGAN: The Young Person’s Guide to Going (A Bit More) Plant-Based!
written by Niki Webster
published by Welbeck Children’s (March 2021)
Cookbook for ages 12+, 128 pp.
♥️ Visit Niki Webster at Rebel Recipes for lots more vegan recipes and information about her other cookbook, Rebel Recipes: Maximum Flavor, Minimum Fuss: The Ultimate in Vegan Food (Bloomsbury, 2020).
*Interior spreads text and photos copyright © 2021 Nicola Webster, published by Welbeck. All rights reserved.
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***Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.