Review written & photographed by Jordan A.R.
Originating from recipes developed by the Murdoch Books Test Kitchen, Vegetarian Cooking: a commonsense guide offers a wide variety of simple, affordable meals for any home cook to make throughout the year. The book begins with the “Vegetarian Adventure,” a basic look at finding nutritional balance in your diet whether or not you happen to be vegetarian. It provides information on how to avoid common dietary pitfalls by eating a variety of foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Through the combination of certain foods, this book shows you how to achieve the greatest dietary benefit from your meals.
As the title of the book indicates, this is a commonsense guide. The information presented is nothing new, but it is info people often overlook or forget. The aim of the publishers is not to preach about vegetarianism or pretend to be sophisticated health gurus, they are simply trying to “expand the menu of possibilities” by showing that one can still enjoy food without revolving every meal around meat.
What struck me the first time I flipped through the pages of the Commonsense Guide was the sheer variety of recipes, that includes everything from breads and soups to sushi and labneh (yoghurt cheese). The majority of the recipes are simple, smart dishes that don’t need a lot of ingredients or require much cooking skills; and for those that require a bit more care, well, you just have to give them a bit more care.
Overall, I found this cookbook to be a straightforward, no nonsense kind of book filled with interesting ideas worth experimenting with in your kitchen.
Jerusalem Artichokes Roasted with Red Wine & Garlic
Rating: 5 out of 5 (my new favourite vegetable)
THE TEST: I’d seen these vegetables around from time to time, usually at farmers’ markets or organic food stores, but I never knew what to do with them and so always passed them up for something more familiar that I would know how to cook. Needless to say I felt it was time to have a crack at these mysterious tubers.
Ironically, Jerusalem artichokes are not an artichoke nor are they from Jerusalem (they’re actually native to eastern North America). These root vegetables – also called sunchokes – still get treated in a similar fashion to fresh artichokes, needing to be kept in lemon-water as you work with them in order to prevent discolourification. However, unlike real artichokes you don’t need to be an Italian nonna to get the work done quickly. Peel them, cut them, and drop them in boiling water. It’s dead simple. Once that’s done and you’ve made the dressing, dry the sunchokes on a paper towel, mix everything in a pan and roast for 45 minutes.
THE RESULTS: The sunchokes were somehow both firm and buttery at the same time, and just…comforting. I don’t think you can ask for more in a vegetable. The dressing, with its red wine, tamari and Tabasco, had a great balance of sweet, salty and spicy. This is an amazing dish, and if you’ve never cooked with this particular vegetable before this recipe is a great introduction to what has become my new favourite vegetable.
Beetroot Ravioli with Sage Burnt Butter Sauce
Rating: 4 out of 5 (savoury and do-it-yourself rewarding)
THE TEST: It never occurred to me to buy fresh lasagna sheets in order to make my own ravioli. To be honest, making my own ravioli was something I never even considered, so when I saw this recipe I thought the concept was genius. Pasta dough is easy enough to make, and if you have one of those pasta machines that roll the dough into nice, thin sheets and you’ve saved yourself the workout of trying to roll it flat with a floured wine bottle, drinking as you go, then maybe you won’t marvel at this discovery. But even if you do have a machine and just want to save time, buying fresh lasagna sheets is a helluva good shortcut.
THE RESULTS: The most important part of this dish is to make sure you use very fresh lasagna. I had to make this twice because the first time I had bought “fresh” lasagna in one of those sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator section of the supermarket, but the sheets wouldn’t stick together to let me form the raviolis. It became regular lasagna instead. Lesson learned.
In round two the pasta was good, but the pickled beets lent a slight, unwelcomed acidity to the ravioli. I think roasting fresh beets would have been best, but if you’re looking for a speedy version then canned beets in water would probably fair better than pickled. As for the burnt butter sauce, apart from pairing perfectly with the ravioli, it made me realize that all those years I thought I loved eating crab I really just loved the pools of garlic butter.
Labneh (yoghurt cheese)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (soft, herby & simple)
THE TEST: Hang Greek-style yoghurt in cheesecloth over a pot for three days, then roll it into balls and marinate them for another twenty-four hours and you’ve got labneh! This might be the easiest cheese you can make.
THE RESULTS: I’ve never had labneh before so I don’t have anything to compare this recipe to, but if you like yoghurt and if you like herbs then this cheese is meant for you.
On its own as a ball of cheese, I found that the sourness from the yoghurt made the labneh a bit unpleasant; but smear it on a cracker and it’s fantastic! This recipe uses rosemary and thyme for the herbs, but chilies would also be a welcome addition along with any other combination of herbs that suite your taste. This is a simple recipe that tastes good, and you are guaranteed to impress people if you tell them you made cheese from scratch. It’s a win-win situation.