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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: Hardcover|Vine 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: Hardcover|Vine 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 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, and not all are 100% vegetarian, 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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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The look of the book, from cover to generally browsing the illustrations, is attractive and "fresh". It does look inviting and encourages further exploration. Some of the recipes are quite original, and generally there is quite a international list of food and cooking styles. You do need to have an already well equipped kitchen and spice rack and pantry though. Also some of the specific ingredients might be hard to find unless you live in big cities with lots of cosmopolitan food shops such as those you might find in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, etc.

So for the well seasoned (pardon the pun) amateur or professional cook, this is a good book with some nice recipes if you want to increase your vegetarian option repertoire. But for the occasional cook, this might be a bit too far and discouraging because of the issues I have already noted above.

One word of warning for the true and purist vegetarians who tend to avoid all meat products, you might find the fact that there is a chicken stock recipes at the beginning (albeit with an explanation of why it is included, for the non vegetarian ...) rather odd and unwelcome.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine 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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VINE VOICEon 26 November 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I first received this cookbook and had a brief flick through it I wasn't that impressed. I thought a lot of the recipes weren't anything special and it didn't really feel like a vegetarian cookbook. Nevertheless when I was looking for a recipe to make from it for the purposes of this review I looked at each recipe closer, and read the introduction.

For me this is not really a cookbook for vegetarians but a book with recipes which happen to not have meat in them. From the introduction you get the feeling it is written for people who eat meat, like myself, who are not quite sure what to do with any leftover vegetables which may be lingering in the fridge or cupboards - hence the inclusion of a chicken stock recipe - so these recipes are not just aimed at vegetarians. It is your choose to make either the chicken or vegetable stock. One of the recipes I made - the spaghetti with chili and garlic oil (very simple and delicious) - I added bacon and mushrooms to it. The main recipe I cooked was the Chilli con Carnevale and it is probably one of the best chili's I have made, and the best thing about it is that I didn't notice there was no meat in it.

All in all I have found this to be a very good cookbook and will probably buy Simon Hopkinson's other cookbooks.
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on 28 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A very interesting take on the vegetarian 'trend' of recent times. Simon Hopkinson take us on a gentle but pleasurable tour of all things vegetable, without ever claiming to be a vegetarian nor advocate it as a lifestyle.

Although contentious for some, I appreciate the inclusion of the option to use chicken stock for instance - if you are not a veggie (and I am not though I used to be one) you have the 'freedom' to adapt and include what you will. I think Simon has acheived a very readable and accessible vegetable guide and 'memoir'.

Packed full of recipes, from the very simple to the complex, and organised on a vegetable / food group basis; it is very easy to read and dip in and out of. Simon adds his own thoughts and commentary along the way (the chapter on courgettes was redolent of my childhood in the 70's)and tips for recipes and choices you can make for yourself. Most vegetables are included, together with rice, pasta, pulses and puddings. The book ends beautifully with a chapter on delicious drinks, including 'Proper Pimms'.

I recommend this book if you like vegetables, and enjoy reading about all things food and cookery.
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VINE VOICEon 24 November 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, or in the case of a cookery book, in the cooking. So after a quick browse through the recipes I selected 2 to cook for this review.
First up was Congee with ginger and greens. Congee is simply rice cooked to death in stock - about 1/2 a mug of rice to 1.5 litres of stock cooked for an hour or even longer. It's like porridge, warming and filling. To add spice and excitement Hoppy marries the ubiquitous chinese cabbage (bok choi to you and me) with ginger, garlic, chilli and spring onions; these being piled on top of the bowl of congee and topped off with sesame oil and soy sauce. This dish has been cooked repeatedly since I got the book and is now a firm family favourite.

The other choice was Chilli con Carnevale (who knew that Carnival came from the Latin for the last day meat was eaten before Lent - carné (meat) vale (leave)?) This was a rather more complex recipe and I must confess the end result was rather dull.

As a wheat free lactose free vegetarian a lot of the recipes are not suitable for me (containing cream or pasta) but there were a lot that took my fancy - I just haven't had the time or the energy to try anything else (too busy cooking Congee :-D)

One for the more adventurous and confident cook - if you want quick and easy recipes best go for Jamie Oliver.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a good book for someone interested in creating a few meals that are not wholly centred on meat, but is not ideal for ardent vegetarians. As the title suggests, Hopkinson is presenting a sample of vegetarian options and is not championing the lifestyle.

I enjoyed trying out a few of these recipes but it is worth noting that the majority of the really interesting dishes will require quite a few non-standard ingredients. This can add up and makes for some quite expensive dishes if you haven't got a very well stocked store cupboard. Nothing presented was overly complicated though, and the results (especially the veggie chilli) were very tasty.

Aesthetically, this book has a rather vintage charm. The layout is classy and the overall design is well thought out. It isn't heavily pictorial, which seems to be the current fashion, and harks back to recipe books of earlier years, where the emphasis was on the writing.

Hopkinson has quite a distinctive style of writing, which not everyone will get on with. Some of his comments regarding vegetarian food may come across as being slightly patronising, but to have a well known mainstream chef write a book centred on vegetable dishes can only help promote non-meat meals. Who knows? Perhaps we'll have Gordon Ramsay writing a vegetarian book soon. There's nothing to stop him naming a carrot Jamie or a stick of broccoli Delia (before plunging them both into hot water) after all.
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you are looking for some unusual and inspiring vegetable recipes, then this could be the book for you. I was especially tempted by the beetroot jelly with dill and horseradish cream, the garlicky pumpkin soup served in a hollowed out pumpkin, and the very formal-looking spinach mousse timbales.

By the same token, if you are having trouble getting kids to eat their veg, this book provides some child-friendly suggestions - tomatoes and herbs hidden in a macaroni cheese, fried parsnip strips masquerading as chips.

However cream, cheese and pasta are all used liberally thoughout, so if you are looking to vegetables with the focus very much on health or weight loss, this might not be the best book for you.

Finally, a nice desserts section (orange brulee, blackcurrant jelly trifle!) so something for the sweet-toothed among us too. Appetising photography, but could have done with more pictures - my golden rule is at least one per recipe - so one star off for that. Sorry Simon!
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