Top positive review
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Confident vegetarian cuisine
on 21 September 2013
Vegetarian cookery books have gone through at least three phases. First we had the heavy nut roasts and lentil bakes like those in the original Cranks book. Excellent stuff but something of a work out in the colonic gymnasium. These were followed by books almost desperate to demonstrate that the food could be more interesting. Inevitably these books would include in their introductions, phrases along the lines of "Vegetarian food doesn't have to be boring". Indeed there second phase books still being published. The third phase is much more confident. It takes the vibrancy of its recipes for granted and simply presents vegetarian cuisine as a style of cookery to sit alongside and as valid as any other. Nicola Graimes' New Vegetarian Kitchen deservedly takes its place alongside Yotam Otolenghi's fabulous Plenty and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's wonderful River Cottage Veg Every Day in this third category.
Given the law passed recently that no cook book may, any more, organise itself into chapters along the lines of Soups - Starters - Main courses - etc, this one has chapters based around methods of cooking (or not). So we have Grill, Fry, Steam etc (and Raw). Each section contains, in itself, starters, main courses and puds.
I have a rule of thumb that if a book contains one recipe which becomes part of my regular repertoire then it was worth buying. Here that has been easily achieved by the initially strange sounding cultural melange of Thai-spiced polenta with sweet chilli pak choi. The contrast between the comforting blanket of the polenta, the heat of the chilli and spices and the bite of stir fried vegetables is superb. Indeed, Graimes seems to have a definite way with polenta, as the more mono-culturally mediterranean Polenta bruschetta with rosemary, tomatoes and cannelli beans is equally excellent.
Elsewhere, in the Simmer section, Onion and Cider soup with fontina croutes moves a classic French onion soup into the orchards of Normandy, or even takes it across the channel and, with its combination of cheese, onion and apple has a whiff of a ploughman's lunch.
Other recipes which may entice you into this book include warm halloumi, asparagus and broad bean salad with chipotle dressing, blinis with aubergine caviar and honey figs, mushroom and cashew pies with red onion chutney, udon noodles with mange tout in sichuan dressing, or the unusual but magnificent water melon curry on black lentil cakes.
Overall this is a spectacularly global book, ranging from the very English mushroom, chestnut and prune suet puddings, through the pizzas and pastas of Europe, via mexican quesilladas, to the delicate fire of Japan, China, Vietnam and Thailand. On the way, Graimes is not afraid of succeeding with something which, in the wrong hands can go very wrong, namely fusion food.
Really, really good.