I first discovered Samah Dada (@dadaeats on Instagram) when my sister sent me one of her recipes over DM and said, “Finally, some vegan dessert recipes that actually look appetizing!” Quarantine had just started, and we, like everyone else, had turned to baking to pass the time. After making a batch of her vegan chocolate chip cookies, I felt like I had found someone who truly understood plant-based cooking and didn’t rely on obscure substitute ingredients to obtain great texture and taste.
I purchased her debut cookbook two days after it was announced on Instagram. While I love making my own recipes and experimenting in the kitchen, I was in desperate need of inspiration. “Dada Eats Love to Cook It” was the plant-based cookbook every vegan and vegetarian was searching for. Dada’s recipes pick up on flavors and ingredients from her Indian heritage as well as her time spent in London and her undergraduate education at UC Berkeley. Combine all of those influences together and you get 250 pages of fresh, comforting and innovative recipes with mouthwatering photos to match.
“Dada Eats Love to Cook It” has detailed instructions on how to make homemade hummus and crackers, chana masala, biryani, brookie pie and 95 other delicious things. While I’ve tried many of the recipes, here are a few favorites that really stood out to me.
If you’re looking to change up your typical breakfast, try making the “One Banana Only” Banana Bread Muffin Tops (page 56). They’re the perfect crossover between a cookie and a muffin, plus you can make them on a traditional baking sheet. While the recipe calls for one egg, I substituted the egg for a chia egg (1 tablespoon of water and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds). Filling and slightly sweet, the muffin tops will keep you satisfied throughout the morning and keep well in the fridge.
I’m a huge fan of stews, soups and porridge because they only require one pot and they’re essentially foolproof. Before reading this book, I had never heard of khichdi, a comforting dish with rice, lentils and vegetables for chilly, fall evenings (page 83). This recipe requires very little preparation and does not require much attention while cooking. I love stews like this because the flavors develop more in the days after you cook it, and one batch can last several days, meaning you won’t have to cook dinner every night.
I really admire how Dada creates complex flavor profiles in her recipes without adding an excessive number of instructions or extra cooking time. A great example of this is her Masala Cauliflower & Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro-Mint Chutney (page 104). The rich blend of spices paired with the freshness of the herb chutney makes this a restaurant-quality dish. To make this recipe more of a complete meal, I served the vegetables with white rice and chickpeas.
While Dada’s recipes look elaborate, several of her recipes take under 15 minutes to prepare. The Avocado Cream Pasta (page 156) truly blew me away when I first tried it. Store-bought sauces just cannot compare to the creaminess of the fresh avocado. I really loved the pairing of the slightly acidic, roasted tomatoes with the bright and garlicky avocado sauce. The pasta and grain section of “Dada Eats Love to Cook It” elevates everyday staples and turns them into easy yet flavorful meals that you will actually enjoy eating.
How could I review a book by Samah Dada and not comment on the dessert section? I was tempted to make her classic banana bread, but instead I branched out and baked the Coconut Sugar Halva Strawberry Crumble Bars (page 191). Usually I stray away from desserts with many layers and components out of laziness, but making these crumble bars has changed my mind. While many people do not already own almond and coconut flour, these alternative flours made the most delicious crust that tasted almost buttery while using no dairy at all. The tahini used in the crumble that is sprinkled on top of the bars helped to dampen the sweetness of the strawberry and coconut sugar filling. I never thought I’d love tahini in a dessert recipe, but Dada really worked some magic in developing this recipe.
There’s something very special about owning a cookbook rather than always finding recipes online. I think of a cookbook as something you can always rely on when you aren’t feeling creative in the kitchen. Growing up, I always thought recipe books had to include dishes that took hours of preparation and very specific ingredients. As someone who follows a plant-based diet, it’s so refreshing to finally see a vegan-friendly cookbook that includes some recipes I know I’ll love and others to try when I’m feeling more adventurous. All I can say is “Dada Eats Love to Cook It” brought back my excitement toward cooking.
A version of this article was featured on p. 12 of the October 21, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.