By Sian Hughes. One of my best buds and a wonderful cook.
The day after my recent birthday (thank you, yes, 21 again and all that) was the start of National Vegetarian week. When Rachel mentioned this I thought I would set myself the challenge of eating veggie for the allotted 7 days, just as soon as I finish my lunch of lovely Jamaican curried goat (sorry, but it was my birthday hangover treat) from the Tobacco Factory Sunday food market in Bristol.
I am not a vegetarian but neither am I the sort of carnivore who needs meat or fish to be the basis of every meal. My housemate is a pescatarian and, apart from the odd prawn curry, we eat mostly vegetarian at home. So, if I’m honest, I knew that this would not be a huge challenge for me. If this had been vegan week however, I’m afraid I would have thought twice before signing up (life without cheese? I can’t even imagine…) As a complete sucker for cook books I had ordered a new one for myself which arrived in time for my birthday weekend. I can’t even remember how I came across the book. I think it might have been one of those ‘big brother is watching you’ recommendations based on my previous browsings through amazon – I hate it when big brother is right!
The book is ‘For the Love of Food’ by Dennis Cotter and it’s blinkin’ brilliant. It is a vegetarian cook book by the chef-patron of the veggie restaurant Cafe Paradiso in Cork. I own a few veggie cook books which I do use occasionally but I’ve never had one that I just want to sit and read like this one. I am a big Nigella fan and hers are good examples of cook books which are just a joy to read even if you never make any of the recipes (which you should – she’s the best). Dennis Cotter has the same skill of being able to introduce each recipe with anecdotes and descriptions which convey a passion for food and urge you gently into the kitchen.
So even though my week of vegetarianism was never going to be too hard for me what lifted it to an exciting prospect was this book. I read it every morning over breakfast and felt an extra spark of inspiration for the meals ahead (is it just me who thinks about tea at breakfast time??). It’s the sort of book that I’d love to show people who can’t get their heads around a plate of food without meat or fish. Even just by reading the titles the imagination and excitement behind each recipe is palpable.
The recipes that I have tried so far are ‘Spaghettini with cime di rapa, garlic, chillies, orange, feta and breadcrumbs’ and ‘Wild garlic mash with grilled asparagus and citrus tarragon-dressed puy lentils’. The first was made on a weeknight and admittedly it was more time-consuming than the average Tuesday night tea (and I had to use sprouting broccoli instead of cime di rapa because what is that?!) but the effort was more than worth it. My housemate declared it ‘summer in a bowl’ and I would have to agree. The light sauce and the gorgeous combination of the feta and orange were really tasty. The mash dish was one I made for myself on the Saturday night (check out my rock n roll lifestyle) and I must say that it was worth staying in for. Again, it took a bit of time but personally when I have the time to do it there’s nothing I like more than prepping, stirring and tasting with some tunes and wine to buoy me along. I swapped in roast garlic for wild but otherwise I followed the recipe and was really pleased with how this turned out – comforting, flavourful and moreish.
What I like about this book, as well as the recipes, is that the author makes very few references to vegetarianism. There’s no quorn in sight, no ‘meat is murder’ or health-benefits pitches. The book is about food and an infectious love of eating and cooking.