|The Vegetarian Pantry by Chloe Coker and Jane Montgomery|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Vegetarian food which sings to you: tasty, seasonal food, simple recipes and a complete lack of preachiness.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 144||Date: February 2013|
|Publisher: Ryland Peters & Small|
Over recent years I've become more attuned to vegetarian food. At first it was because of the ecological and health benefits, but there came a gradual realisation that quite often it wasn't the meat - or fish - which was the best part of the meal. Sometimes the (reasonably-priced) vegetables sang a better song than the (much more expensive) meat and fish and over time vegetables have ceased to be the garnish, the accompaniment. I doubt that I will ever become completely vegetarian - a bacon sandwich is always likely to be the dealbreaker - but vegetarian dishes now have an equal place on my menus.
Chloe Coker and Jane Montgomery aren't strict vegetarians, but they are passionate about fresh, healthy, seasonal, meat-free cooking. A shared frustration about being unable to find the inspiration and ideas they wanted led to this book, with its recipes which will appeal to everyone from strict vegetarians to meat eaters. Reassuringly they're not out to convert anyone - just to give some inspiration, particularly to people who haven't tried this type of food before. Some recipes are suitable for vegans (or can be easily adapted) and they're clearly marked, as are those suitable for people with a gluten intolerance.
It's a book with high production values - it'll stand the hammer of a busy kitchen. Each recipe is accompanied by a picture (photography by William Reavell) and the instructions are clear and easily read when you're working in the kitchen and chatting to the kids about their day. Like all the books I've seen from Ryland Peters & Small it's designed to be used rather than just looked at.
The format is simple. After a few simple instructions we're straight into the meals. The first point that will strike you is that this isn't just 'the usual non-vegetarian meal, converted'. I rather liked the idea of cornbread or the potato and celeriac rosti, which comes complete with spinach, mushrooms and a poached egg. It's gluten free and if you omit the poached egg it's vegan too. Surprisingly there's a pancake dish which is gluten free. Herby chickpea pancakes with halloumi and roasted corn and red pepper salsa uses chickpea flour. Personally, I've completely fallen for the French toast stuffed with bananas.
Small bites covers food which you can use as snacks or starters. I love the idea of lemon and mushroom risotto balls and the courgette fritters with minted yogurt, but I prefer not to deep fry. I am, though, more than happy with chicory leaves stuffed with beetroot, cumin and mixed grain - there's a wonderful combination of textures, flavours and bite. Fortunately for me samosas with lemon and garlic yogurt dip are bakes in the oven. My favourite here though are the mini bruschettas.
Dips, salsa and sauces are useful to bring life and colour to the simplest of vegetarian dishes. Sweet potato hummus makes an interesting change from the more common chickpea version and I loved the roasted aubergine and red onion dip, which might put you in mind of baba ganoush. It's the four punchy pestos which will get a lot of use though. For me the best recipe here is the caponata - I've realised that it's years since I made it.
Soups and salads are essential standbys and will take you right through the year with seasonal food. The roasted tomato and red pepper soup is heaven and I've been using a similar recipe for years (but I'll confess that I'd never thought of adding cheese scones) and the curried lentil soup with fresh herb puree gives a useful boost of protein which can be a problem to find with vegetarian food if you're not careful. On a summer's day, what could be better than chilled mint and cucumber soup with Parmesan crisps. I wish I'd had this recipe last summer when the only food which did seem to grow well for us was the cucumbers. Best of all here for me was the Italian-style tear and share bread.
The first recipe in Main Dishes is the one that we're having tonight - winter vegetable stew with herbed dumplings. You might think it's spring, but the snow on the ground says otherwise! There's a vegetable tagine on the menu for later in the week, but coming in at number one here is the marinated stuffed mushrooms with creamy white beans. It's a brilliant supper dish.
For me vegetarian desserts have always been a brilliant excuse to avoid even thinking about gelatine. The dishes - like the rest of the book - are all family-and-friends food, rather than fine dining, but that doesn't take anything away from the flavour. Rhubarb, orange and vanilla fool with shortbread cookies is yummy and it's a masterstroke to add a ginger cream to the plum frangipane tart. If you do need something showy then try the hazelnut meringues with cream and raspberries.
Hungry? I know I am! I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For another food writer who writes authoritatively about vegetarian food without being vegetarian himself, you might like to try Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. High Fearnley-Whittingstall had a brief excursion into vegetarianism in River Cottage Veg Every Day!.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Vegetarian Pantry by Chloe Coker and Jane Montgomery at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Vegetarian Pantry by Chloe Coker and Jane Montgomery at Amazon.com.
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