People who frequent my site are (should) be fairly aware that when I started to write cookbook reviews, over two years ago, I wrote them on books I already had and loved. My reviews are passionate because I love to cook (especially from cookbooks) and each review has been based on a mountain of previous knowledge I had about the author and their work because they have been bloggers (with the exception of the Thrive Diet). However, fortune has smiled on me and publishers have seen fit to share advanced review copies of some really excellent cookbooks with me (I’m living the dream!). My point is that when Alice Hart’s Good Veg arrived in my mailbox I had no idea what to expect — except that the cover looked absolutely amazing. So colourful, inviting, fresh, and delicious looking!
Alice Hart is a U.K.-based chef who has become well-known there for her food, writing and styling (if you’d like to see a short clip of her discussing food click here). Unlike many of the other books I’ve reviewed she is not a blog star. With three cookbooks already to her credit — Alice’s Cookbook (2010), Vegetarian (2011), Friends at My Table (2012) — her fourth book, Good Veg is set to become a classic (originally published & acclaimed in the U.K. as The New Vegetarian in 2016).
Ebullient Vegetables, Global Flavors is what reads in the subtitle on the cover and I think it’s her use of these flavors and inspirations that’s left me cooking inspired dishes in my own kitchen. Last summer after a road trip to Ottawa, I was left with a lasting memory of a Ginger Tofu “Belly” Steamed Bun (pictured left) I ate from Gongfu Street Food at the Westboro Farmer’s Market. The bun was a mixture of fresh, fried, and steamed. A perfect balance between salty and sweet. So how excited was I to try and make my own steamed buns at home?! To be honest, this book has me out of my comfort-zone because I’m using spices, techniques, and equipment that I’ve never used before. It’s been my experience that most of the time these endeavors (for me at least) turn out disappointing and lackluster. But on Friday I dutifully purchased my first Bamboo Steamer, watched a how-to video on it’s proper usage, and then on Saturday I got to work making Hart’s Squash Bao (pictured below). Everything went smoothly! As with many of her recipes I’ve tried since her timing and portion-sizes are spot-on. It was exciting for me to make a dish that I didn’t think it was possible for me to make. Not only did my buns emerge from the steamer looking properly puffed and shiny, the filling of beautifully glazed and roasted squash paired with a lovely pickled cucumber and salty cashews was incredible! A perfect balance between sweet and savory, fresh and cooked. It’s important to note here that one of the things that will increase your enjoyment of this cookbook is to invest in some lovely, spices (both whole and pre-ground).
Over the past week cooking from Good Veg I’ve used my mortar and pestle more times than I have in the entire 3 years I’ve owned it. I think this is where “global flavors” come in. For the Tomato-Lentil Rasam w/ Farro* black peppercorns, cumin seeds, and garlic are ground into a paste-like puree before adding it to the soup (*she uses pearled spelt, which is not as readily available here as pearled barley or farro — a quirk I’ve found when trying to source ingredients for cookbooks originating in the U.K.. I chose farro as a substitute and I think it worked well in this recipe). I never realized how much flavor is added from freshly ground spices! It’s incredible really. Even my three-year-old loved this dish but here again is another example of how wonderfully Hart introduces balance into this recipe — a spicy, sour broth with a hint of sweetness. I think this book is all about contrast and balance. So it is worth buying the spices to make her recipes and the nice thing is that I find she consistently uses them time and again (no worries that you’re buying-for-a-single-recipe-never-to-be-used-again). For those vegans who are wondering — Hart does use eggs and dairy but sparingly.
I’ve read that Good Veg (The New Vegetarian) has been compared to Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbooks and while this is true in terms of how the flavors of a diverse-array of cultures is introduced I feel that Good Veg is more accessible. Maybe it’s technique or the ingredients I don’t know. But what I do know is that while I have made grand plans to cook from Plenty and Plenty More I found I’ve made but one recipe. Whereas I’ve cooked a dozen or so recipes in less than a week and I’m wanting to cook more from Good Veg.
After reading through her introduction I really felt that this book is for me because as she points out that “Predominantly this is a book to celebrate fresh produce” and that she’s geared it towards “keen and interested home cooks.” As she says it herself cooking is a time of enjoyment for her, a time to unwind. I think the same is true for myself. Some of the recipes have challenged my culinary abilities and some have helped me to explore new flavors
and ingredient combinations. But while there is an unfamiliar element in these recipes for me, there also are recipes that rejoice in the comfort of the familiar such as: waffles, pancakes, quesadillas, mousse, and smoothies (just from the small sample of the recipes I’ve tried from the 200 recipes from the book — you can see how I’m fairing by visiting my special IG hashtag #goodvegcookbookse or my Facebook page — I’ll keep adding to these as I cook more from Good Veg). But where these recipes are rooted in the familar, she uses ingredients like millet flakes, parsnip, buckwheat (or reduce the number of ingredients as is the case with the Chocolate Mousse) to introduce innovation. As is the case with Andrea Bemis’ Dishing Up the Dirt, Hart’s Good Veg jumps from the introduction straight into the recipes (although you will find sections on Cook’s Notes and Resources at the end of the book if you’re looking for more direction or information). The other sections: Mornings, Grazing, Quick, Thrifty, Gatherings, Grains, Raw-ish, Afters, and Pantry leave the cook to explore at their own pace for there are recipes for any/every occasion. Another important thing to note is Hart’s definition of “quick” cooking — a recipe that will take you around 30 minutes to prepare. Her reasoning behind this is to first enjoy and unwind in the kitchen after a long day and second, to allow the dish to properly develop it’s flavors. I did giggle a bit when she proclaims “Never trust a recipe that tells you to soften an onion in 3 minutes.” So far the only dish I’ve made from her Quick section — the Rasam — was ridiculously delicious so I’m inclined to trust her on this one.
One thing I do know that all of the cooking I’ve done has met with approval from the people I love to cook for — my husband and daughter. While my daughter can be my toughest critic (food-wise) she’s enjoyed what I’ve cooked. I’ll even share a picture of her favorite — the Teff, Banana, and Maple Loaf (I found that I needed to make it in a 9″x9″ square instead of the 6″x6″ called for in the recipe). The texture is really appealing — the maple adds a moist, sticky quality and tastes spectacular with milk (or so she tells me). Delicious recipes for any person or occasion.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Experiment Publishing for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.