Monday, 18 April 2011

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

I turned vegetarian a few months ago and, getting bored of trawling the BBC Good Food website for veggie recipes, bought two vegetarian cooking bibles  Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, and Rose Elliot's New Complete Vegetarian. I'm going to be trying them out over the next few months and giving my verdict.

I had a flick through World Vegetarian yesterday.

First Impression
At first I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of recipes in the book as there a quite possibly thousands of them. I bit my lip and worried it would be relegated to my bookcase shelf and never be used. But then as I flipped through the pages I began to make a mental note of all the recipes I wanted to try and it grew and grew and grew and grew. These recipes sound delicious, and Jaffrey's introductions are charming and personable without being whimisical or irritating - Sophie Dahl I'm looking at you - and it sounds like she's stood in the kitchen with a cup of tea chatting about where she first heard about this or that, or giving tidbits of advice about presentation.
 
Presentation
It's well laid-out. There aren't any mouthwatering pictures to pour over, which is a shame. It would have been nice to have seen the beautiful cover design mirrored in the book's contents.

Oraganisation
It's fairly well organised. The chapters are Vegetables; Dried Beans, Dried Peas, Lentils and Nuts; Grains; Dairy Foods; Added Flavourings (by which she means chutneys, sauces, and spice mixes etc); and Soups Salads and Drinks.

The recipes are then organised alphabetically by the main ingredient and at the beginning of each section there's a short introduction to the vegetable touching on Jaffrey's experiences and how to prepare them, where a picture or two of a dish would be nice. Each recipe has a short introduction as well for example giving advice on how to chop the ingredients, or what kind of an effect the spices will have.

There is a list of special ingredients that the reader may be unfamiliar with information on how to prepare it, where it comes from or what effect the ingredient will have on the dish. There's also a list of necessary equipment and of suppliers of hard-to-find ingredients.

Finally at the end is the index. It's comprehensive but could be organised better. The recipes are listed by the main ingredients and often duplicated in both sections if there is more than one main ingredient - so asparagus with pine nuts comes under Asparagus, pine nuts with and Pine nuts, asparagus with. Recipes are also listed under the type of food and also again by what part of the world they're from. So for example, Turkish bread appears under breads and later on under Turkish-style recipes. The index, unsurprisingly, is a little hard to navigate at first because everything's in a tiny font size and the only difference between entries is that non-English words are in italics. It would be easier to navigate if different types of entries were differentiated somehow.


Recipes

I've tried a few recipes and will blog them. I must say I'm impressed. The recipes vary from curries that require you soaking ingredients over night or toasting and grinding a special spice blend to simple salads that can be chucked together in seconds. So far they seem to work, although it's hard to go wrong with a curry and I haven't tried to make any of the breads yet.

Some are very simple and economic to make from readily-available ingredients or store-cupboard staples. Some require pricey, specialist ingredients and Jaffrey occasionally notes good substitutions. Generally the recipes are fairly healthy, but there are exceptions with lashings of coconut milk and oil or cheese. Some recipes have 3 or 4 ingredients, some have a whole shopping list's worth.

There is incredible variation in where recipes are from. From what I've seen there are recipes from China, Japan, India (including Gujarati, Kashmiri, and Rajasthani recipes), Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, Ethiopia, Italy, Macedonia, Bangladesh, Australia, Latin America, Mexico, Spain, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, the Ukraine and the list goes on...

The recipes could be written a bit better, however. How many servings it makes comes right at the end, which is mildly annoying. The recipes don't explicitly state how long it will take to prepare and cook, which is fairly aggravating. Word of warning - if it is a curry it will take ages regardless.

Summary

The sheer variety of ways to prepare common and rarer ingredients means it's not going to languish unused. There is something for whatever mood you are in and for whatever your tastes. It's great for when you're in a food rut, or need to eat something up and aren't feeling inspired by that very full bag of polenta skulking in the cupboard.


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