“Smith & Daughters: A Cookbook (That Happens to be Vegan).” By Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse. Hardie Grant Books. $35.00
This cookbook title got it right: These recipes only happen to be vegan.
That was my first thought when I flipped through the cookbook by Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse, who run a vegan restaurant in Melbourne, Australia.
What jumps out instead are the many Spanish-influenced dishes – pozole, sofrito, flan, sangria crumble and paella – that pepper the entire cookbook.
Turns out the cooking half of the duo – Martinez – isn’t even vegan and her people moved to Australia from Andalusia, Spain. As for the vegan thing – it’s as punk rock as Shannon herself. In addition to a passion for a career in cooking, she was married to a professional skateboarder and played in a band for the Vans’ Warped Tour in America.
The restaurant is vegan because Martinez and Wyse wanted to carve out a niche in the hyper-competitive restaurant business.
It’s worth noting that the narrative that accompanies and explains the backstory of each recipe is both endearing and functional. We learn the paella is a fifth-generation recipe and that Martinez’s grandfather studied to be a boilermaker for two years to qualify to emigrate to Australia.
The pan con chocolate is another family hand-me-down.
The pictures tell personal and professional tales. Live shots show the hustle and bustle in the kitchen and the dining room; another shows the list of music Martinez cooks to, from Cuban jazz to Slayer. The edgy vibe continues with food shots revealing her tattooed knuckles (“food” on the right hand, “life” on the left), black fingernail polish and magenta hair.
The recipe instructions are chatty and casual, sometimes admonishing the reader with a stern warning on measurements (see below!).
It makes you want to settle in at the bar and order a gangster horchata, or one of the other vegan drinks that make up an entire section of the cookbook.
In addition to making horchata (summer is coming!) I made Spiced Mexican Flan, in part because the traditional dish is so decidedly non-vegan. Usually made with eggs and several kinds of milk, this vegan version came together beautifully with soy milk, tofu and agar powder. It was a bit denser than traditional flan, but that could have been my heavy hand with the agar powder.
A note on the ingredients: It took a trip to a specialty store to find the agar powder (also available online at Amazon), so check your cupboard before diving in. I also learned a bit about the caramel – heat your pan slightly before pouring it in or, like mine, it will cool too quickly and crackle. But it’s just as sweet.
SPICED MEXICAN FLAN
3 cups soy milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
6 fennel seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 strips orange peel, white pith removed
1¾ ounces caster (superfine) sugar
1 thyme sprig
¾ teaspoon agar powder (no more, no less. I’m serious, this is not a time to be a cowboy)
6 ounces silken tofu
¾ cup caster sugar
You can make either 1 large flan, or 4-6 individual servings.
Place all of the ingredients for the flan except the tofu and agar in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl. Set aside for the flavors to develop for 30 minutes. Wipe the saucepan clean for later use.
To make the caramel, combine the sugar, salt and ¼ cup water in a very clean, small saucepan over medium heat, without stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook until the liquid begins to turn a light amber, approximately 8-10 minutes. At this stage, don’t walk away from the caramel because it WILL turn on you the very first chance it gets! Once the caramel resembles the piece of amber that holds the mosquito in Jurassic Park, you know you’re good to go. Pour the caramel into your desired molds and set aside while you finish the custard. Don’t stress, the caramel will go hard.
Using a fine-meshed sieve, strain the infused soy milk back into the clean saucepan and sprinkle the agar powder over it. Bring the mixture to the boil over medium heat, then reduce to a low simmer and stir for about 3 minutes to make sure the agar is fully dissolved. Set aside to cool a little.
Place the tofu in a blender and pour the soy milk mixture over it. Blend well, ensuring that you have no lumps. If you want to be extra sure that you have a totally smooth custard, pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. If you find that the blender has created a foam on top of the milk and you would rather the bottom of the flan to have a flat, smooth edge, spoon it off the surface if it bothers you. (We do this at the restaurant, but when Shannon’s making this at home, she doesn’t bother.) Pour the custard over the set caramel and cover with plastic wrap.
Set aside in the fridge for at least 2 hours to chill completely. To remove the flan from the mold, place in a sink or bowl of hot water for about 15 seconds to help soften the caramel, making sure you don’t get any water on the flan. Place your serving dish on top, then quickly turn over, allowing the flan to drop onto the dish. Don’t be scared, it’s easier than it sounds!