Saucy vegetarian cookbooks even meat eaters will love
There is a shift to nonmeat dishes due to concern for animals and our own health — and for the planet
Growing up, I knew one vegetarian. I met my first vegan when I was 30. A couple of decades on, many of my friends are nonmeat eaters and the number of vegans rises exponentially depending on how many teenage guests are at my table.
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are increasingly popular, and a meat-free lifestyle grows ever more mainstream. The publishing industry has not been slow to respond to this burgeoning interest in plant-based eating. Year on year, larger numbers of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks are published and 2019 sees the flowering of the trend for vegetarian books written for and by nonvegetarians.
This new slew of books is great news for cooks in households where often a range of eating styles has to be catered for. Despite the lure of braaied chops, boerewors and slow roast lamb, my children have given up meat; I too eat far less, partly for health reasons but also in response to the ethical and ecological implications of what is on my dinner plate.
Cookbooks that provide creative and quick plant-based main courses (rather than just veggie sides) are hugely welcome in my kitchen. Bazaar (Mitchell Beazley) is just such a book. Written by Sabrina Ghayour, a popular Persian cook and author of three earlier cookbooks, this latest volume is packed with interesting ideas.
Usually I try two to three dishes from a new cookbook before moving on, but this one has me returning to its pages day after day. “Another successful dish from Sabrina Ghayour,” quipped one of my teenagers when the sixth meal arrived tableside.
Ghayour writes in the introduction to Bazaar that she noticed that people attending her vegetarian cookery classes were mostly meat eaters in search of ideas to cook at home. A self-avowed lover of meat from a culture that considers no meal complete without a meat course, Ghayour admits to being an unlikely candidate for a vegetarian cookbook. She wrote Bazaar for meat eaters, believing that vegetarians and vegans already know what they are doing when it comes to putting a good plant-based meal on the table.
Subtitled Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes, the book has some wonderful Persian recipes, such as Rice and Vegetable Aash, which had me racing into the kitchen in anticipation. The photographs are enticing, but the ingredients alone suggest a very tasty dish is coming.
Ghayour has purposefully restricted her ingredient lists to items that are easily available and relatively inexpensive, which make her dishes accessible. No need to shell out for truffles or to devote the day to making pastry. Ghayour is quite happy to use shop-bought puff or filo.
Readers will require a good few jars of harissa to get through the book as it makes frequent appearances in the recipes. As luck would have it, I have a harissa addict in the house so dishes such as Baked Halloumi have been very popular. Wrap a block of halloumi in foil, cover with a mix of harissa, honey and lime juice, bake for 30 minutes and you have a spicy, salty, sweet and hot starter to awaken any dulled taste buds.
A quite fabulous dish of Aubergines in Tomato and Tamarind Sauce is typical of many of the sweet and sour dishes in this book. Simple to prepare with only a handful of store cupboard ingredients (plus a jar of tamarind paste), the result is a deeply satisfying mélange of aubergines in an intensely flavoured tomato sauce. Sweet Potato, Coconut and Thyme Bake will have vegan guests begging for third helpings. Thinly cut sweet potatoes are layered with thyme and garlic over which a tin of coconut milk is poured before baking. Who needs dauphinoise potatoes with such a tasty vegan alternative?
Some recipes are inspired by Chinese travels and given a Mideastern twist: Mushroom, Tahini and Harissa Spaghetti is based on dan dan noodles from Sichuan province and is an impressive way to cast aside any need for spaghetti bolognese.
Desserts have a spicy twist too, like Ras El Hanout and Buttermilk Sweet Loaf Cake with Rose Icing. It is so easy to prepare that even an insecure baker can be assured of success.
A hugely popular, multiple award-winning cookbook writer, Nigel Slater, has also turned his attention towards those who are eating less meat. This year sees the publication of two plant-based books entitled Greenfeast; the first (4th Estate, published in May 2019) is spring, summer while the sequel will be autumn, winter.
Slater is a chronicler of all he eats and his food diaries have provided the basis of many of his cookbooks over the past years, from the Kitchen Diaries series to The Christmas Chronicles. They reflect his omnivorous eating habits. His new duo of cookbooks reveals the shift over time in his own eating pattern, which, like many of his readers, has become more plant-based.
After decades in which Slater has produced best-selling cookbooks, Greenfeast is the first in which he eschews all meat and fish. Old favourites such as guacamole are given new life with the addition of mustard, kale is paired with blue cheese, while gnocchi are teamed up with tomatoes and radish.
Cheesecake made with cucumbers and basil is the essence of summer.
Clean eating has become a buzzword for a generation that has been raised on social media where often celebrities and influencers are cashing in on promoting food choices and lifestyles that look good on Instagram.
While I remain sceptical about how many vegetarian and vegan converts will remain true to the cause over the longer term, the concerns of Gen Z and the millennials about the planet’s future — accompanied by a huge increase in the availability of plant-based products — could well prove me wrong.
Cookbook writers undoubtedly have a role to play in promoting new eating habits. One only has to think of chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More (Ebury Press) and the vibrant vegetarian recipes in his latest book, Simple (Ebury Press), to realise how popular plant-based cooking has become. Ottolenghi is not vegetarian, yet he has had a huge influence on this genre of cookbooks since he was first employed by The Guardian to write a vegetarian column many years ago.
Home cooks like myself, omnivores with plant-based leanings, have much to learn from this enduring trend in publishing. In order to put meat-free meals on the table, one requires the confidence to produce tasty dishes that everyone will want to eat. That creates more appetite for plant-based eating, sells more books and increases demand from supermarkets to provide the ingredients. All of which makes it easier to start to make changes in each of our kitchens.
Whether out of concern for the planet, animal welfare or our own health, there is now no shortage of instruction in book form to inspire a move towards greener eating.