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3.6 out of 5 stars178
3.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 31 May 2011
I was initially put off this book owing to the number of low star reviews but then I came across a copy in Waitrose and after spending a few minutes leafing through it resolved to buy it.

It is worth noting that the fly leaf states that the book was not written exclusively for vegetarians. I therefore don't really understand some of the criticisms leveled at this book, particularly with regard to the inclusion of a recipe for chicken stock, and the use of ingredients such as Worcestershire sauce (in any event there is a Vegetarian Society approved version). A vegetable stock recipe is also provided and the recipes themselves merely say 'stock' leaving it up to the cook to decide which is used. Similarly, many of the cheeses in recipes are not vegetarian friendly but we have the option to use veggie alternatives (he acknowledges this in the introduction and even mentions the name of a vegetarian substitute for Parmesan). Given that the intended audience isn't exclusively vegetarian I don't have a problem with any of this, even as a strict vegetarian of more than thirty five years standing.

I am also somewhat bemused by criticism that the recipes wouldn't provide enough protein if you cooked exclusively from this book. Really, how likely is it that someone would cook from just one cookbook and eat nothing else? In my view there is more than enough cheese, eggs, cream and so forth - if anything I would worry about the amount of saturated fats in the recipes rather than be concerned about inadequate nutrition or protein!

When flicking through the book before I bought it I was attracted to some of the more visually striking dishes, for example spinach mousse with Parmesan cream or beetroot jelly with dill & horseradish cream, which would be good dinner party fare. As it turned out there are also plenty of everyday dishes and for the most part the recipes are straightforward, with clear instructions, and don't require hours of preparation.

If I have a criticism, it is that many of the dishes are more in the line of light lunches/dinners or accompaniments. This doesn't bother me unduly as I have frequently used an accompanying vegetable dish which I am serving to my (non-vegetarian) family as the basis of my meal with the addition of rice or a salad to bulk it out. I also wasn't overly keen on the layout, with recipes set out in chapters by ingredient (or complementary ingredients) so that, for example, you have soups and salads dotted around the book. One other thing to watch is that the number of servings per recipe is not consistent - I sorted out the ingredients for one dish thinking it was for four people and wondered why I had too little only to discover the recipe was for two.

The recipes run the gamut from the plain, such as macaroni cheese or an excellent vegetarian chilli, to more sophisticated offerings. Here are my favourite recipes which I hope will give you sufficient information to decide if this book will be of interest: chilled avocado soup with tomatillo salsa; globe artichoke soup; cream of fennel soup with garlic butter; parsnip soup with masala cream - a nice variation on curried parsnip soup; chilled curried mint & cucumber soup; warm asparagus custards with tarragon vinaigrette; red pepper mousse with garlic toasts (a gorgeous summer starter); savoury cheese custards with cream & chives; broad bean stew with summer savory (which, as he suggests, works well spread over a slice of bruschetta); pimento & potato stew with jalapeno relish; a fabulous carrot salad with coriander & green chilli; celery & apple salad in a curry cream dressing; pea & potato samosas; leek & cheese pie; garlic, saffron & tomato quiche; potato pie with Beaufort cheese; thyme, onion & gruyere tart; pappardelle with artichokes & sage; squash ravioli with pine kernels, butter & sage; a really good dhal; baked barley pilaff with Provencal vegetables; grilled white polenta with fonduta; croustade d'oeuf 'Maintenon' (a bit of a faff to make but worth it - poached eggs in pastry with a mushroom duxelle and hollandaise sauce); a fantastic blueberry pie; orange brûlée.

Overall, I found this to be a useful addition to the kitchen bookshelves. In particular I have found it provides some interesting elements for both formal & informal dinner parties or celebration meals.
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VINE VOICEon 23 October 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
While waiting to receive this, I had a look at the reviews here for the author's previous book. Uh-oh. While generally positive, there was a lot of talk of obscure, expensive ingredients, and an inflexible approach. I hoped that The Vegetarian Option would not be like that.

Luckily, so far I have found it very usable! The recipes I have tried have, without exception, come out just as they ought to, and you can buy almost everything you really need at Tesco. It's not like the Nigella books where I find that recipes are often structured around one hard-to-find ingredient. My favourite success was the pilaf rice, made by a method so surprisingly simple and fairly fast that I wondered whther it would really work. It made me proud - fluffy and dry and fragrant! As a chef, he seems to be keen on simple but innovative methods - hence the inclusion of gnocchi alla Romana, a milk and semolina gnocchi bake recipe, different to the kind we usually see in recipe books (though a legit gnocchi recipe all the same).

I am also pleased to see that Simon Hopkinson includes recipes to make up your own store-cupboard base ingredients or condiments, such as green paste, garlic butter, ginger syrup, sesame paste, a garlic creme fraiche puree, a masala paste and a curry "essence"... Very handy - you can make up large quantities and keep them for another time. Many of them are used in more than one recipe in the book. Don't be put off by the idea of making everything from scratch, though - I left out the green paste for the pilaf rice and added cardamom instead; it was still delicious, just different.

In terms of influences, the recipes range from traditional English, French, Greek, Italian, Indian, Chinese, and many more, as well as comfort food like macaroni and cheese. Lots of variety rather than the endless combinations of mushrooms, goats' cheese and sundried tomatoes which have taken over the vegetarian option in restaurants everywhere. The book is laid out by groups of ingredients, with an overview and tips at the start of each section.

Simon Hopkinson is not a vegetarian himself and it's not a book of pale substitutes, either - I would recommend this book to people no matter whether they eat meat or not; if anything, it will be really useful if you have vegetarian guests and want to make something that everyone can gladly enjoy together.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )Verified Purchase
The book does contain a few interesting recipes and certainly appealed to me initially, but when I had a closer look I realised that I was not motivated to actually prepare many. Several of the photographed dishes also seem to have a rather unnatural colour, which does not increase their appeal.

The inclusion of a recipe for chicken stock sits rather incongruously in a vegetarian cook book. Why is it there? The author states he is not targeting the book at vegetarians and recipes list 'stock' rather than 'vegetable stock' in the ingredients, so you can pick which to use. I am used to being offered fish and chicken dishes in restaurants, so the inclusion of such a recipe doesn't surprise me; I just won't use it.

Worcestershire sauce is amongst the listed ingredients for Caesar salad. In the chapter preamble, the author states that Worcestershire sauce is not vegetarian and the recipe refers the reader to that page, but it seems yet another unnecessary inclusion in a vegetarian cookbook (Worcestershire sauce contains Anchovies and vegetarians do not eat fish).

I can understand that the author is trying to produce a book that will appeal to non-vegetarians that want to eat less meat; I just don't find the overall collection inspiring from a vegetarian's perspective. If there is not enough to whet a vegetarian's appetite, I would be surprised if a non-vegetarian found it inspiring - there are better vegetarian cook books and better 'mixed' cook books out there. Overall, it doesn't strike me as a particularly innovative collection.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We should all, for various reasons, be eating far, far less meat than we do. For me, as for many people, the stumbling block to achieving this has always been finding a good range of decent recipes. Simon Hopkinson here presents the latest attempt to create vegetarian meals for non-vegetarians. (Looking at what many other reviewers have written, they seem to have missed the point altogether - it's made clear in the book that it is not intended as a book for vegetarians, rather it's trying to offer some vegetarian options which might tempt meat-eaters.)

This book considers a range of different types of dishes, categorised by ingredient: vegetables, herbs, pasta, pulses & grains, rice, eggs and fruit. There are some real basics - I'm not sure that we really need to have recipes for cauliflower cheese and macaroni cheese - apart from being a bit bland these kind of dishes are somewhat passé.

There are plenty of more sophisticated and contemporary offerings though. There are some snacks or party food items, such as purple sprouting broccoli with sauce courchamps and cheese fried parsnip strips with romesco sauce. There are some dishes good for everyday meals such as soupe au pistou or puy lentil salad with piquant vegetable vinaigrette. And then there are some restaurant style items which could be presented as part of a sophisticated dinner party menu, for example tomato jelly with goat's cheese and basil, spinach mousse with Parmesan cream, and beetroot jelly with horseradish and dill cream.

Not an outstanding book overall, but it's a step in the right direction for encouraging us to create more meatless meals. I'll certainly be trying out a few of the recipes in here.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Quite often I choose a Vegetarian dish in a restaurant because it looks more appetising than the normal carnivore options.

Meat and fish are becoming very expensive in the shops these days and most weeks we only use them a couple of times, so this (2009 edition reviewed) book seemed to be a good choice.

The introduction is useful, and I recommend it is read first for one to gain the full benefit from the rest of the book. The presentation is immaculate throughout, with a clear layout in sections grouping related recipes, type just big enough for relaxed reading, while still managing to keep to one or occasionally two recipes per page.

Each recipe has a clear title, a block of the larger text describing the method, a side column listing the ingredients, and a footnote with some comments, alternatives, thoughts, random extras. Pictures of appropriate size are only added when relevant, allowing the maximum room for the text. The contents table and separate index work well and are useful.

Not all of the recipes are to my taste, but there are quite a few new to me that look very appetising and I can't wait to try them. Several more are very familiar, and we found ourselves agreeing he was offering the best way to do them. For example, his way of making a clear bouillon is so simple but so tasty; essentially, one cooks it in a sealed preserving jar, and this has the advantage one can do a batch and keep some sealed jars of it for a reasonable time.

Sometimes the grammar suffers from long sentences and strange punctuation, and it makes more sense when read out aloud. But that is my only quibble on the presentation. Generally, it easy to read and anything but boring.

So why only four stars? There are some brilliant recipes here, and several are new and exciting to all four of us who cook in this house, but quite a few are distinctly unappealing. However, other more truly vegetarian gastronomes may well have different tastes from us.

On balance, this is an excellent book both on presentation and content, and well worth a careful study.

You might also want to consider The Seasoned Vegetarian by Simon Rimmer and Prue Leith's Vegetarian Cookery Book for a greater variety of more useable recipes.

Addendum. 28th November 2009.

After the first three standards I cooked before writing the review, we've now tried a different new recipe approximately every two days. All have worked as promised in the book and turned out to be delicious, and each was easy. However we've not plucked up enough courage to try any of the unappealing ones! So my opinion of the book is unchanged - definitely worth a try.
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VINE VOICEon 24 April 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a marvelous and very classy collection of vegetarian recipes; unlike similar collections which always feel like meat has been removed "at the last minute" - this one has been created to put vegetables at the front of the meal.

Hopkinson writes beautifully - reminiscent of Elizabeth David in evocation and style.

Well recommended
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on 2 October 2012
...if you don't know the cookery books you own then you are not using them enough. A five second glance at the reverse of the title page would have confirmed that it was a new edition.

And I am very glad to have it since my original is heavily used - with all the accompanying stains and wear. This is a nice piece of solid book production at a very decent price indeed. And the recipes are as good as they were three years ago. If you don't have it - then it is certainly worth a look.
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VINE VOICEon 12 November 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Simon Hopkinson is one of my favourite cookery writers. I wouldn't go as far as describing him incomparable, but with Nigel Slater he is unique in writing with real passion, knowledge and has inherent understanding of food and, above all, what tastes good. Unlike many of his rivals, you could not accuse him of being a slave to appearances. If it tastes good in the understated way that is his hallmark, it makes the cut. It's a brilliant formula and he writes beautifully too.

Now he's brought the same treatment to non-meat dishes (Nigel Slater, ironically, has a rival book out at the same time; having only read extracts of Slater I'd give Hopkinson the edge). Maybe with a nod to these troubled economic times and the search for frugality, or perhaps it's the realisation that so many vegetarian books are centred on the tired nut roast and ratatouille formula, he's adopted this approach; but it works brlliantly. It's given a new dimension to my weekly veg box and added fresh life to ingredients that I'd previously dismiss until half rotten.

So far I've tried, perhaps, six or seven recipes and they're simple, tasty and excellent; certainly I wouldn't miss meat when eating from this book.

A couple of minor quibbles. It has photos, but I wouldn't call it lavishly illustrated. Maybe I'm simplistic about these things, but I like to see what I'm cooking. He's also, like so many French-influenced writers, liberal in his use of cream and butter, sometimes where it's quite palpably not needed. But beyond that, this is much recommended.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm a vegetarian but not a militant one.
That is, I don't harp on about it or consider myself ethically superior.

I am offended by Simon Hopkinson's comments in his introduction to this book.
He is not sympathetic in the slightest towards vegetarians.
He qualifies this by the use of the word 'Option' in the title of the book; this is not actually a book for vegetarians.

In fact, the second recipe in the book is for Chicken Broth. Are you with me now?

His previous books are titled 'Roast Chicken and Other Stories' and 'Second Helpings of Roast Chicken'. I guess he likes chicken.

He states in his introduction that life wouldn't be worth living without eating meat. And he recounts what he thinks is a hilarious story about his arrogant disrespect of a vegetarian customer in his restaurant. After receiving anchovies in her dish by mistake, she was still unhappy when the chef simply removed them and returned the same dish to her. The contemptuous 'witty' waiter then quipped an insult to her when she requested a vegetarian dish. If I was that customer I think I'd have tipped the table up. Pompous wad.

I think Mr Hopkinson must be smirking, thinking how clever he is to trick vegetarians into buying his book only for them to be insulted when they start to read it. He may think he's clever in this respect but he's just a chump.

Having said all of that (and it DOES need saying), some of the recipes do appeal to me and I've seen dishes I've had at other people's houses that I will enjoy making for myself.

There does seem to be an unlikely selection of recipes though... I think if you can make instant custard then you can work-out how to make Cauliflower Cheese without the help of a recipe book. But then many recipes in the book require advanced kitchen kit: food processors, pasta machines, pestle & mortar etc. of which I have none! So It's not clear who exactly these recipes are aimed at.

Photo's are good, especially the monochrome ones heading each chapter.

The inclusion of some cocktail recipes make a nice addition.

So this is a recipe book I will very probably actually use. Once I've ripped-out the author's comments, that is.

[My Ref: Chump's Cookbook 22.10.09]
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a handsome book.

By that, I mean it looks the part no matter what you end up doing with it. Whether as a cookery book, a coffee table adornment or both. Presented in a soft pastel green jacket, this entire volume exudes the sort of quality you would expect from a much more expensive and exclusive book, which is carried through to just about every single glossy page inside. If vegetarianism is your thing, it's perfection in paper. Even if you are a hardened carnivore I would recommend this as Hopkinson himself is no committed veggie. This is a book by an omnivore chef which is nicely divided into sensible sections covering the various basic food groups, the common theme being all recipes are meat free. There is something here for everyone no matter what their personal preference regarding meat.

As a standalone cookbook it is superb and comes from a hugely successful chef and author. As a coffee table art piece it is up there as well. Beautifully typeset and lavishly illustrated, it would be sure to help generate conversation as one of those books the owner is happy to exhibit to visitors. Don't be put off by that though, it is extremely easy to read and the recipes well constructed so that it can earn its corn in the kitchen.

As the reviewers in the traditional press have been saying, this is a cook book that is close to essential in the collection of anyone who likes their food, vegetarian or otherwise.
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