Review: Steve Brill’s “Wild Vegan Cookbook”

NYC forager, author and icon Steve Brill

If you’ve ever harvested wild plants or mushrooms and then wondered what to do with them, NYC forager Steve Brill‘s new wild food cookbook is for you. Designed to find ways to slip free, nutritious wild foods into a conventional yet wholesome home-cooked vegetarian diet, Brill’s done the hard work of matching the sometimes unusual flavors in wild foods to the conventional cuisines that are best enhanced by them, and his combinations are creative and delicious. For instance, Brill suggests that the bitterness in late fall dandelion greens fits well in a curry stir-fry and that the lemony astringent kick in yellow dock makes a nice accent to quinoa. From acorns to day lilies to oyster mushrooms, he’s got it all in this 528-page paperback Bible of wild cooking.

While it’s built entirely around wild food, the full title is “The Wild Vegan Cookbook: A Forager’s Culinary Guide (in the Field or in the Supermarket) to Preparing and Savoring Wild (and Not So Wild) Natural Foods,” which hints at the fact that the recipes very often require a trip to the store to buy special ingredients like lecithin (an emulsifier) and exotic spices. Also, you should know that almost everything is designed to be prepared from scratch, down to the sauces. This is great stuff if you happen to be a culinary whiz who likes to take your time, but if you’re like me — super simple in your cooking, the sort who only makes things that take under 15 minutes to prepare and spends as little money as possible — then many of the recipes can seem intimidating. (If you’re ambitious, you’ll like that he does include a helpful overview of basic cooking techniques in the introduction). The good news is that all of Brill’s ideas can be modified into easier, quicker, more accessible versions of themselves. I made the dandelion leaf curry, for instance, with a bottle of sauce from Trader Joe’s — and it was awesome!

One of the most exciting ideas in the book is acorn ice cream — where else can you possibly taste that?! Unfortunately, my attempts to make it fell through in a most unexpected way. After gathering a bucket full of red oak acorns (as I mentioned in an earlier post), my plan to leach them (get rid of the tannins) in a cold stream was thwarted when an armed robber took to the woods, creating a dangerous fugitive situation that outlasted the acorns. (Damn!)

So, the bottom line? I really like this book. It’s a great investment, particularly as a unique reference tool you can thumb through for inspiration. Plus, with over 20 years of experience, Brill is an icon. You can get a copy through Brill’s web site, using PayPal, here.

5 thoughts on “Review: Steve Brill’s “Wild Vegan Cookbook”

  1. Pingback: The Essence of Urban Foraging

  2. There are no pictures in the book. That’s purslane on the cover. I might have chosen a less slimy edible for the only photo the book sports.

    • Kydo,

      It’s true there are no photos in the book, but I didn’t mind since it’s a cookbook rather than a field guide. What plant would you nominate for the cover star spot?

  3. Good review.

    I like the photo at the start of the article. That looks like Japanese Knotweed he’s holding. I’ve heard its edible but I’ve never tried it. It’s a terribly invasive species that is wreaking havoc on many ecosystems in the Northwest. Encouraging its harvest for food would be a really good thing.

    I’d love to pass out a recipe for that stuff to everyone in the Pacific Northwest.

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