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(Full disclosure: At my request, the publisher sent me a free copy of this book for review.)
I just had to laugh when I spotted some reviewers questioning the necessity of a cookbook devoted solely to vegan pizza. Pizza is pretty much the perfect food; potential toppings and topping combos run the gamut, and are really only limited by one’s imagination. Some of my own personal creations of which I’m particularly proud include a Thanksliving Pizza (topped with mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, Tofurky, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce), a Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburger & Fries Pizza, a Mac & Cheese (with bacon!) Pizza, a Kalamata Olive Crust Pizza, and a Lemon Pepper Bruschetta Pizza. And don’t even get me started on pizza variants! (Pizzadillas, dessert pizzas, pizza fries, taco pizza, pizza soup, pizza bread…I could go on and on!) It’s wonder there aren’t more vegan pizza cookbooks on the market!
Maybe I’m biased – I run a vegan pizza tumblog, after all – but yeah. I think this is one niche that deserves more attention than it’s gotten to date. Julie Hasson’s VEGAN PIZZA is only the second vegan pizza cookbook of which I’m aware – the first being Mark Sutton’s HEART HEALTHY PIZZA, published in 2012. (For those who found the recipes in VEGAN PIZZA too unhealthy/reliant on processed cheeses, check out Sutton’s book – all the ingredients are homemade!)
VEGAN PIZZA is roughly divided into four sections: Dough and Crusts, House-Made Meats, Cheesy Sauces and Spreads (including tomato sauce and pesto), and THE PIZZAS (with 32 total pizza creations, five of which are dessert pizzas). I like that Hasson provides recipes for diy meats and cheeses; this is especially helpful for those looking to save some money, or who don’t always have access to the store-bought stuff. The pizza recipes range from “the classics” – Tomato-Basil; Spinach, Onion, Mushroom, and Pepperoni; and Garlic, Sausage, and Onion Pizzas – to more imaginative fare, such as the Tomato, Cucumber, and Caper; Chili Mac; and Muffuletta Pizzas.
So far I’ve tried about sixteen recipes (give or take), including:
* Easy-Peasy Pizza Dough (page 2)
My partner Shane – the resident dough-kneader in our house – found this dough a little harder to work with than our own standard recipe. He reports that it’s difficult to stretch it to fit a 12″ pizza stone, and it tears easily. The dough doesn’t require any kneading – possibly in an attempt to make it as pain-free as possible? – but the end result is quite sticky. After the first batch, Shane experimented with kneading it; this cut down on the stickiness, but it still didn’t stretch quite how he wanted it to. Now that we’re done trying out recipes for this review, he’ll likely return to our old recipe for white crust.
On my end, I thought it was super-tasty: a little on the medium-thin side, with just a hint of sweetness, and crunchy too.
* Cornmeal Dough (page 12)
In contrast to the white dough, Shane absolutely raved about this recipe. We’ve experimented with cornmeal dough in the past, and Hasson’s version definitely tops the list of what we’ve tried. Thin and crispy, with just a hint of buttery goodness, this one’s a keeper.
* Corn, Pesto, Zucchini, and Tomato Pizza (page 54) with Zesty Pesto (page 36)
Simple but elegant, this is the perfect summer pizza. (Summer, I miss you already!) The pesto is basic but tasty, featuring a blend of basil, walnuts, and nutritional yeast.
Since pesto is generally drier than sauce, it can sometimes be hard to spread on a pizza (and can dry out, especially when reheated for leftovers); you might want to experiment with this topping by adding a little water or soy milk to loosen things up. TRUST ME. The Sun-Dried Tomato, Basil, and Arugula Pesto (see below) pretty much changed the way I see pizza-bound pesto!
* Meatball Pizza (page 40) with Nate’s brand meatless meatballs
This pizza is as messy as it is delicious. (“Amazaballs,” you might say.) The sauce is homemade (giving you plenty of room to play with spices and seasonings), but the meatballs and cheese are store-bought (I used Nate’s brand and mozzarella Daiya, natch).
The finished product looks much more impressive if you leave the balls intact, but really you should cut them into halves. Otherwise, a bib’s a must.
Probably this would be more easily edible if stuffed in a calzone – note to self.
* Broccoli and Cheddar Pizza (page 70) with the Cheddary Cashew Cheese Sauce (page 28)
Instead of red sauce, there’s a cashew cheese sauce (which looks a bit like vomit but tastes phenomenal!), followed by cheddar Daiya and broccoli florets. You’re supposed to top it with red chili flakes, but I’m a wimp so I skipped that part. Soft, chewy, super-crispy and uber-cheesy – everything a pizza should be. And the broccoli and nuts make it healthy!
* Scalloped Potato Pizza (page 68) with the Cheddary Cashew Cheese Sauce (page 28)
This recipe also uses the Cheddary Cashew Cheese Sauce, followed by cheddar Daiya and red potatoes sliced razor-thin on a mandolin. The two cheeses give this pizza an extra-rich taste – not to mention, a delightfully gooey middle – and the result is very scalloped potato-y. If you like your pizza stacked with extra carbs, this is the pie for you!
* Valentine’s Pizza (page 49) with the Sun-Dried Tomato, Basil, and Arugula Pesto (page 32)
Though not heart-shaped (I didn’t want to waste any real estate!), the red bell peppers and garden-fresh tomatoes give this pizza a Valentiney feel.
The surprise breakout star is the Sun-Dried Tomato, Basil, and Arugula Pesto (or spinach in my case). The water provided by the greens make this pesto a little saucier than usual, and that makes all the different on a pizza: it’s easier to spread, and even after twenty minutes in the oven, it comes out moist and rich. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this pesto changes everything.
* Smoky Wild Mushroom and Potato Pizza (page 60) with the Smoky White Cheese Sauce (page 30)
This one’s a lot like the Scalloped Potato Pizza, but still funky enough to be its own pie. Again, there’s a cashew-based cheese sauce (with just a hint of smokiness, courtesy of ye old Liquid Smoke), followed by mozzarella Daiya, potatoes sliced paper-thin on a mandolin (you’re supposed to use teeny tiny red potatoes, but we went with plain white and it was just as good!), mushrooms (again white, since we couldn’t find Shiitake or cremini locally), truffle oil, and parsley. The finished product is quite similar to that other potato pizza, but with a slightly different, more richer tasting cheese sauce. Love it.
Plus it was my first time trying truffle oil, and I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s to new experiences!
* Cheeseburger Pizza (page 72) with the Burger Crumbles (page 14)
Pickles on a pizza? More appetizing than you’d think!
The toppings on this pie, from top to bottom: homemade red sauce (Hasson provides a recipe for Tomato-Garlic Pizza Sauce, but I used my own Roasted Red Pepper concoction); homemade cheddar cheese (recipe via THE CHEESY VEGAN; sadly, it doesn’t melt as readily in the oven as it does on the stove top); Burger Crumbles; red onions; and dill pickles. You can garnish it with mustard and ketchup if you’d like, but the sauce did the trick for me.
The Burger Crumbles proved a pleasant (and tasty!) surprise. They’re a little time-intensive to make, but most of that time is spent waiting around: for the TVP to reconstitute, and the quinoa to cook (and then cool). I’m happy to report that the leftovers freeze well, so you can make multiple batches at once, thus cutting down on both dishes and effort.
* Taco Pizza (page 96) with the Cheddary Cashew Cheese Sauce (page 28) and the Taco Crumbles (page 20)
How can you not love tortilla chips on a pizza?
Another in a long and glorious line of white pizzas, the Taco Pizza features (what else?) Cheddary Cashew Cheese Sauce, followed by cheddar cheese (again from THE CHEESY VEGAN), Taco Crumbles, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and tortilla chips to garnish. Talk about yer vegan comfort foods!
The Taco Crumbles, by the by, are much like the Burger Crumbles, with a TVP and quinoa base, but different, spicier seasonings. One thing I like about homemade meats is their flexibility: you can easily adjust the spices to your own palate. Because I’m a big old baby, for example, I cut the chili powder down by three quarters. Blasphemy, I know.
Overall, I love this cookbook! While quite a few vegan cookbooks feature one or two pizza recipes, there are precious few vegan pizza cookbooks on the market. As I mentioned before, Mark Sutton’s HEART HEALTHY PIZZA is another. While I have tried and enjoyed some of his recipes, all are on the healthy side. Great for everyday use, but sometimes you just want something a little junky! While the pizzas in VEGAN PIZZA do include some all-out junk food, Hasson manages to walk a fine line between junk food and good food – and gracefully, at that.
For example, many recipes include a cheese sauce made of nuts and nutritional yeast, in addition to the processed, store-bought stuff. If you’d rather go with a healthier pie, omit the processed cheese! Contrary to what some defensive omnivores would have you believe, pizza doesn’t have to have shredded cheese, dairy or otherwise.
While I’m a huge devotee of Daiya, Follow Your Heart, and Lightlife, I love that Hasson provides recipes for homemade meats and cheeses. The cashew-based cheeses are particularly decadent, and when paired with the store-bought stuff, the resulting synergy is out of this world. I’ve also found that I need to use less processed cheese in combination with the cashew cheese to achieve the desired ooey, gooey effect.
My only real complaint is that I want more! More meat, more cheese, more pizza! If I could wave a magic wand, I’d make a vegan pizza cookbook two inches thick. The size of BETTY GOES VEGAN! No, bigger! I only half kid. I really love pizza, okay.
That said, it’d be silly to deduct a star from the rating because VEGAN PIZZA contains “only” 50 recipes – especially when it says as much on the cover! However, I do wish there was greater variety in some of the topping recipes. For example, the Burger, Pepperoni, Sausage, and Taco Crumbles all use the same base – namely, TVP and quinoa – with the only real different between the four being the spices. I much rather they’d be listed as variations of a single recipe, thus freeing up some space for a different formulation. I’d love to experiment with a grain other than quinoa – millet, maybe, or barley. Likewise, the soy curl and cashew cheese sauce recipes could have easily been condensed into one recipe each with suggested variations.
The dough recipes, while a good start, might have also included some suggestions or prompts for mixing things up. We frequently add seasonings to the dough – basil, oregano, garlic, tomato powder, pepper, red pepper, etc. – to achieve a taste that complements the pizza toppings. You can also add things like spinach or beets for a festively colored crust, or veggies such as Kalamata olives or sundried tomatoes for extra impact. Since it’s the literal foundation of the pizza, I expected to find a greater variety of dough recipes. Where’s the Bisquick Crust, the Beer Crust, the Ramen Crust? Not to mention calzones!
All in all, a strong 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 on Amazon. While it’s not everything I wanted and more, VEGAN PIZZA is a welcome addition to my cookbook pile. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve ever had reviewing a cookbook!