Cookbook of the Month: Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro

Review of Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle's Plum Bistro // govegga.com

If you asked me when I visited Seattle for the first time — and when I dined at Plum Bistro — I’d have a quick answer: “Oh, a couple years ago.” Well, color me surprised when I looked back into the ol’ blog archives and discovered that my first trip to Seattle was just about five and a half years ago. Sigh. Insert cliché about the passage of time here.

If I visited Plum more than five years ago, I probably received its owner’s cookbook just a year or two later. My brother Ian gave me Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro for Christmas one year, since he and his girlfriend brought me to the restaurant in the first place. It’s a gorgeous book, and I’ve leafed through it admiringly more than once. But I have to admit that I rarely cooked from it… making it a perfect choice for my June cookbook challenge! I was excited to give Makini Howell’s creative recipes a fair shake. Here’s how it went down.

Recipes from Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro

Avocado Salad with Seitan Bites from Plum cookbook // govegga.comEager to hit up our local farmers market when it opened in early June, I selected the leaf-free Avocado Salad with Seitan Bites (p. 36) for a Saturday lunch. Cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes (I used cherry since the big slicers weren’t in season yet), and avocado jump in a bowl with seitan chunks and a simple dressing to make a shockingly filling dish. (We used Upton’s seitan, but you could surely use homemade.) The salad was quite tasty, if surprisingly heavy: The dressing calls for 1/2 cup of oil! I reduced it by half(ish) and still felt it was a little bit much. We had quite a bit of salad left over after lunch, but unfortunately it didn’t keep well; everything kind of lost its liquid so that the leftovers I brought to work the following Monday included browning avocado chunks swimming in dressing, tomato juice, and who knows what else. It was, frankly, unappealing. I opted for a sandwich from a local shop instead and foisted the leftovers on Steven, who has a mercifully less picky palate. Overall, though, I really liked this idea; I would never have put together these ingredients. Seitan in a salad?! Madness. But it works. I’d like to play with this concept, lightening up the dressing and maybe adding some arugula for bite and a little extra nutrition.

You’ve had barbecue jackfruit, barbecue seitan, barbecue lentils (just me?). But now, enter barbecue mushrooms! In Howell’s Barbecue Oyster Mushroom Sliders with Pickled Onions (p. 62). recipe, meaty oyster mushrooms get sautéed with garlic in barbecue sauce, then nestled in burger buns with a scoop of barbecue-infused mayo and a forkful of pickled red onions. I opted for regular buns instead of sliders and used the barbecue sauce recipe from The Homemade Vegan Pantry. I really enjoyed this new take on a pulled pork-esque sandwich. I’m excited to play around with oyster mushrooms in other recipes, too. My only quibble? They were a little oily, even though I reduced the 1/4 cup called for. Howell’s recipes are rich!

Although a classic corn chowder was a semi-regular dish on my family’s dinner rotation while I was growing up, I was never a fan. Something about the sweetness and creaminess of the dish was anathema to me. So when I saw the recipe for Creamy Millet Corn Chowder (p. 41) — an elevated take on the classic dish, made hearty with the addition of millet — I knew the time had come to try corn chowder again, this time as an adult with a more appreciative palate. Steven put this one together one evening, and as he got ready to serve the finished product, he gave it a taste. From the living room, I heard him curse. Alas, the single jalapeño rendered the chowder surprisingly spicy, overpowering any nuance of flavor. It was certainly edible, but not ideal. Still, this updated chowder was a definite improvement on the chowders of my youth, and I’d love to make it again without the jalapeño. (I should note that the leftovers were less spicy, although they soaked up all the liquid and turned into more of a chowder-y mashed potato dish than a stew. Not that I was complaining; it was quite good!)

Seitan Steaks from Plum // govegga.comAlthough I have no objections to seitan, I really don’t cook with it all that often. The store-bought variety is pricy, but if you want to make it at home for a specific recipe, you need to plan ahead. Yet two out of the four recipes we tried from Plum were seitan-based! True to its name, the Oregano and Parsley Grilled Seitan Steaks (p. 81) require you to marinate juicy seitan steaks in a slurry of oregano, parsley, red wine vinegar, and other spices to give them a nice fresh kick. I used the seitan recipe from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken, which was really juicy and toothsome. After steaming the steaks per Sam’s instructions, I switched over to the Plum marinade and let the steaks soak up those flavors overnight in the fridge . Then they just needed a little time on a cast-iron pan to heat up. (Alas, I have no grill handy.) I served them along with millet and kale for a super filling dinner. I enjoyed the herby marinade as well. We have oodles of oregano out back, so I appreciated the chance to use lots of it up at once.

Overall thoughts on Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro

Aesthetically, Plum scores plenty of points. I appreciate that although it’s a hard cover, it has no dust jacket; they seem impractical for cookbooks. The design is relatively simple yet elegant, with a fair amount of photos sprinkled throughout the recipes. Charity Burggraaf’s photographs are thoughtfully composed, with just enough style to avoid coming off as forcedly rustic.

And the recipes themselves? So creative. Makini Howell has a masterful understanding of flavor, and she combines ingredients in surprising ways to create both fresh takes on familiar recipes and inspiring new dishes. Although I didn’t make too many recipes from this book, the ones I tried were memorable. Yet the fact that I didn’t burn through these recipes is telling: This is not a book for the casual cook just hoping to get a quick dinner on the table. The recipes aren’t exactly pantry-friendly; rather, they require you to plan in advance and shop for ingredients with care. Once I put my finger on that nuance, I understood why Plum sits on my cookbook shelf without getting frequent use, and now I know exactly when to bust it out: When I’m planning a dinner party or other gathering and want to wow my diners with inspiring, gratifying vegan food.

The verdict? Plum is a worthy addition to your cookbook collection, but not a necessity. Best for advanced home cooks who want to experiment with new flavors or who have dinner guests to impress.

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Seattle: Plum Bistro

Yikes – how are we already halfway through February?! I know it’s the shortest month and all, but… yeesh. I’ve got some catching up to do!

S and I spent the first week of February in California (LA/Loma Linda) and Seattle, respectively, on separate work trips. S took full advantage of LA’s many vegan eateries and will be back to share his meals soon, but for now I’ve got a quick post  about Plum Bistro, a Seattle fixture. Happily for me, my brother lives in Seattle, so I flew in a few days early and hung out with him. On the Sunday night before the work portion of my work trip started, the two of us and my brother’s girlfriend hit up Plum Bistro for dinner. We were just in time for Happy Hour, which does not just feature lower-priced drinks – they’ve got a full Happy Hour menu! We decided to split a bunch of small plates, tapas-style.

First, though, we started with an appetizer – hand-cut curry yam fries with a trio of sauces.

A big mason jar of shoestring sweet potato fries and three dipping sauces.

A mountain of fries!

The fries were terrific, and each of those dipping sauces was super flavorful and different. One was heavy on the dill and garlic, one was a bit spicy, and the other… well, I can’t quite remember, but I liked it!

After polishing off the fries, our food came. Clearly we hadn’t read the menu carefully enough, because the beer-battered nori-wrapped tofu came with even more fries – frankly, too many for us to finish! In the background are the purple potato taquitos and Plum’s famous mac & yease.

Big bowl of fries, along with two beer-battered tofu squares. In the background are the taquitos and a plate of mac & yease.

Even moar dipping sauce!

Holy moly. The mac & yease totally lives up to its famous reputation – it’s incredibly rich and creamy, probably the creamiest, most unique vegan mac & cheese I’ve ever had. Very impressive, and very filling – I was so glad we were splitting all this food! The beer-battered tofu was not terribly exciting, but the taquitos were tasty.

We also ordered baby eggplants stuffed with smoked tofu, basil, and sweet and sour plum sauce.

Small oval plate with two stuffed eggplants.

Eggplants.

I very much enjoyed these, although I found myself wishing they weren’t fried (like most of the rest of our meal). They had a great eggplant-to-stuffing ratio.

Finally, my brother ordered the jerk tofu yam slider.

Round plate with a small slider. A piece of blackened tofu is visible.

Slider.

I couldn’t resist a bite of the tofu, and I was well rewarded – it was chewy and well-seasoned with jerk spices. My brother polished most of it off, though!

Whew! If that looks like a heavy, rich meal, well, it was. I was so full afterwards! I rarely eat that heavily, and I found myself wishing we’d curated our choices more closely and chosen a small salad to add some lightness. Live and learn! Overall, Plum Bistro was well-worth the hype. I was also pleased at the variety of my fellow diners – there were elderly folks, entire families, and a few couples. I love seeing such a diverse group of people enjoying vegan food!