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Cookbook Review: The Vegetarian Option – By an Omnivore Who Loves Vegetables

June 14th, 2010 · 1 Comment

This cookbook arrived in the mail not long ago – I’m apparently on publisher’s list for review copies. Cookbooks are so prolific, however, it’s not possible to review each one that arrives, nor are they worthy of my time to write about. Most end up in the boxes donated each year to various charity auctions.

This one is an exception. For readers who stack cookbooks by the bedside to read as pleasure  – those who value the prose even in the directions, as well as good recipes – this will become a favorite.

As for me, I often judge a cookbook by determining whether I’d like to sit through dinner with the author. I’d definitely find Hopkinson interesting company.

Vegetables from an omnivore

Simon Hopkinson

Absent is the vegetarian lifestyle, tofu and wheatgrass devotionals and the whys and wherefores of eating a plant-based diet.  To be sure, there’s no tofu in sight.

To quote the Brit chef/author Simon Hopkinson, “I shall never be vegetarian. I will reach the age of 55 this year and cannot really see my culinary lifestyle drastically altering any time soon. I am absolutely not going to enter into the world of moral judgment here; I just love all foods.” Hear, hear.

Included in the front of the book is a recipe for chicken stock, as an option for those who prefer it with the risotto or soups. As he points out, “option” is in the book’s title – you can choose to use animal-based gelatin, or substitute agar-agar. He uses Parmesan and goat cheeses, but refers those who want to keep to a strict vegan diet to cheeses that are made with vegetable rennet — but urges the readers to find them for themselves. Eggs have their own chapter.

 I guess this is a warning to those reading not to expect a strictly vegan cookbook.

Beyond steamed mixed veggies

Just once, I’d love for a chef at a restaurant to offer me something other than steamed, mixed vegetables when I eschew fries. Not to say there aren’t steamed – or fried  -vegetables in this book – I lust after the quickly fried eggplant with the skordalia (Greek garlic dip) made from bread. And the petit pois a la Francaise is beautiful and the photo of it in the pot is beautifully simple.

Beet jelly with dill and horseradish cream/ photo by Jason Lowe

It’s the other methods with vegetables that intrigue – beet jelly with a dill-horseradish cream, where my head is wrapped up in the flavor of the sweetish jelly, sour dill and pungent horseradish (I would never have thought of this) as counterpoint. In the front of the book, he does something similar with tomatoes, making a tomato jelly with goat cheese on the bottom of the glass. Americans don’t think like Brits: savory jelly isn’t in our culinary vocabulary, and that’s a chunk of food texture we’re missing.

I made his macaroni and cheese with tomatoes broiled atop – it was great, but I should have let the cheese caramelize a bit more. It’s another Brit thing: taking time to cook. Americans rush everything, and cooking is no exception.

Thanksgiving cooks note the pumpkin soup recipe

There are soups – starting with a bouillon made directly in a canning jar. (Both vegetarian and chicken versions are provided.) So tasty looking.

Sometimes, it’s the sauce – with a broccoli rabe, there’s a courchamps – tarragon spiced with Pernod – and soy.

Thanksgiving cooks will want the recipe for Paul Bocuse’s Pumpkin Soup – baked directly in the pumpkin, with Gruyere grated on top and pumpkin flesh scooped out as you eat. I’m putting this one in my T-day file.

Sorrel, fennel, rutabaga and more

Beyond carrots – sorrel, watercress, fennel and artichokes – the author picks out a few recipes for everything out of the garden. Pastas (I love the tagliatelle with scarlet runner beans, basil and mint  — I add a squeeze of lemon), salads – the pretty wilted radicchio with “green sauce”, an herb melange, soups, dips and jellies there are a wealth of inspiring side recipes as well as bits you can use in any other cooking.

The tiny yeast rolls used for a truffle paste sandwich, or lovely Parmesan crackers, a version of which I already serve as a cocktail nibble, a dressing for a new potato salad that would work equally well on baked potatoes or as a pasta-salad dressing – all these are bonuses within the tome.

You’re reading this in summer if you are reading it live, so here’s a salad from Hopkinson that is company worthy, or picnic perfect.

Cucumber, melon and tomato salad

  • 1/2 pound small, ripe tomatoes, cored
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded
  • 1 melon, about 1 pound, halved, seeded
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 teaspoons raspberry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (scant) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teasoons chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon shredded mint

Put the tomatoes into a bowl, pour on boiling water and count to 10, then drain. Peel the tomatoes, cut them in half and place in a bowl.

Cut the cucumber in half and then slice each piece lengthwise in two. Scoop the seeds out, using a teaspoon or melon-baller, then slice the 4 lengths into somewhat thick slies with a slight diagonal bias – simply for a more pleasing look. Add to the tomatoes.

Make balls or same-size wedges from the melon and add to the tomatoes and cucumber. Season lightly with salt and pepper and add the remaining ingredients. Toss gently and leave in the refrigerator to macerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Eat with toasted slices of baguette, delicately rubbed with a cut garlic clove and brushed with olive oil.

Makes 4 servings.

(From The Vegetarian Option by Simon Hopkinson, Stewart, Tabori & Chang publishers; 224 pp, hardcover; $24.95.)

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Full disclosure: This cookbook was sent to me free of charge from the publisher, with no obligation for me to write about it or try any of its recipes. I refer readers to Amazon to see the book and its other reviews; if you actually buy the book through this site, I receive something like 14 cents.

Tags: Vegetarian

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Merrie Lee // Jun 20, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Interesting recipe. I have made this many times, but I have not heard about the melon balls and the mint. Thanks for gleaning.

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