I only caught snippets of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s vegetarian series on television earlier this year but what I saw, I liked. Having finally got my mitts on a copy of the much expanded River Cottage Veg Every Day! cookbook, it’s a worthy resource for those who want to eat more meatless meals.
The book includes 200 recipes, a bit of philosophy and some handy hints on how to stock the pantry and meal planning. Fearnley-Whittingstall begins with an impassioned plea for his love of vegetarian food to be taken seriously. He potentially gets it in the neck from both directions. As a professional chef, the cuisine is still derided by many in the culinary world. (One English restaurateur/celebrity claimed he’d electrocute his child if they grew up to be a vegetarian). On the other hand Fearnley-Whittingstall risks alienating some vegetarians and vegans by not only being an omnivore but extolling the joys of catching and cooking squirrels, butchering a variety of homegrown animals and other carnivorous activities in his River Cottage series.
While philosophy is important, I’m more interested in the actual recipes and how likely they are to entice someone at home to broaden their cooking repertoire to include more healthy plant based meals.
Historically English vegetarian food has been a bit stodgy and overly reliant on dairy products. While River Cottage Veg Every Day! begins with a number of recipes that fall into this trap, it does improve once you get to the heart of the book. About a third of the offerings are vegan and the author claims a further third can be easily adapted. The style includes traditional British comfort food but mainly focuses on “new” vegetarian cuisine. This is a little different to our part of the world, where climate and location means modern vegetarian food in Australia is highly influenced by Asian cooking. Our beloved South East Asian staples are comparatively absent in the River Cottage collection however despite different cultural influences, River Cottage Veg Every Day! still manages to offer some exciting recipes to suit our lifestyle and tastebuds.
I’ve always found Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes to be easy to follow and reprodue. A quick Twitter poll garnered a positive response from those who’d cooked from the book. Interestingly none were vegetarian but everyone who’d made the recipes loved the food and found it tasty. Importantly, the dishes actually come out just like they look in the photographs. One tweet declared there wasn’t a dud recipe in the book and that reflects my own experience. What’s more River Cottage Veg Every Day! excels in family-friendly fare. I bet even the fussiest child could find something they’d like to eat (considering the inclusion of toasties, pizzas and other carbohydrate-rich offerings). There are some even useful tips on how to get children to eat salad.
From a naturopathic perspective, the “hearty salads” and “raw assemblies” are a stand out, offering so many different ways of introducing more vegetables to the dinner table. Whether you’re vegetarian, contemplating going meat-free for a month (as a few omnivorous bloggers have been doing recently) or just want to get more vegetables on your plate, this cookbook is a useful and flavoursome resource.
• Makes raw vegetables sexy
• Easy to cook, no complex techniques
• No exotic ingredients
• Ethical philosophy
• Clear layout, easy to read font, colour photos, hard back book sturdy enough to stay open when using it to cook from (you’d be surprised at how few cookbooks meet this criteria)
• Too much cheese
• Pea and mint ice cream! (you’ll be disappointed if you have a sweet tooth)
• Cost – Australian RRP is almost $55 (but you can find discounted copies on line Fishpond currently less than $23)
• The exclamation mark in the title!
• Tahini-dressed courgette and green bean salad
• Rocket, fennel and puy lentil salad
• Red cabbage, parsnip, orange and dates
• Beetroot bazaar juice
• White beans with artichokes
• DIY ‘pot’ noodles
Some recipes from the television series and book appear on the Channel 4 site (including the pea and mint ice cream).
River Cottage Veg Every Day! (Bloomsbury, 2011)
For more book reviews and recommendations check out my bookshelf.