I’VE NEVER BEEN big on cookbooks. Being a creative type, I’m more of the ‘chuck in some of this and some of that’ type of chef. Probably this open minded (haphazard?) approach made it easier to adapt to a different style of cooking when I became vegan. I must admit though, I do get a little skittish when I turn out a dish that’s surprisingly delicious, and hubby asks, “can you remember exactly what you put in this?” He really needn’t ask the question – knowing only too well that I seldom recall the precise ingredients, but at least this means that when something is pretty bad, it is not likely to be repeated either. Well, not quite the same, anyway!
In a break from tradition, I suggested that he purchase the Real Food Chef cookbook for my birthday this year, and of course he jumped at the opportunity – likely in the hope of encouraging me to follow a recipe, which is very optimistic, since my philosophy has always been that instructions of any sort are only provided for people who can’t come up with their own ideas.
Co-authored by Dr Libby Weaver and Chef Cynthia Louise, as cookbooks go this is a very attractive one, beautifully photographed and with the first 25 pages or so dedicated to Dr Libby’s informative and easy to understand explanation of the Real Food Chef cooking system – which is nutrition focused.
Let’s be clear that this book is certainly not touted as a ‘vegetarian’ cookbook. There are about 10 recipes with fish, chicken or meat. However, the majority of the recipes are vegetarian, and many of them would also qualify as vegan. In my opinion, the book would have been all the better had it stuck with the vegetarian theme, even if the recipes that use eggs were included, since the book is clearly targeted at people aiming towards a plant based diet.
Without wanting to sound too cynical, in my view the non-vegetarian recipes seem to have been included as a marketing ploy, to widen the appeal of the book. Which is a pity, as I can’t really envisage any hearty old meat eaters being too interested in it, and vegetarians will likely be put off by the fact it isn’t 100 percent pure.
You might be wondering by now why I’m bothering to go on about a non-vegetarian cookbook on this fine vegetarian website? That’s a good question. What impresses me about this book is the ingenuity of many of the recipes, particularly in the dessert section, where I think just about all of the recipes are actually vegan friendly.
A word of warning though: these knock-your-socks-off- gorgeous desserts all take a fair amount of cashew (and other) nuts, so you’ll certainly notice it on the grocery bill when you shop for the ingredients, but for a special occasion, the wow factor is guaranteed. The white chocolate and blueberry cake (middle cover shot) is quite an extreme example of decadence, containing 3 ½ cups (or just over 440gm) of nuts (cashews and almonds) and cacao, in the form of powder, butter and nibs. At around $30 kg for cashew nuts at my grocer and with cacao powder at my local health store coming in at $25 for 227gm, the cost of this recipe is certainly going to add up. Hats off to them though, it’s a stunner.
Aside from ‘top-shelf’ desserts, there are some really interesting and appetising recipes, like quinoa sushi, several tasty patties/fritters, vegetable moussaka, spelt pizza with macadamia pesto (and cashew nut ‘cheese’!) and some tasty soups and deliciously refreshingly smoothies. The green smoothie has become a favourite of mine. It’s super-healthy, a great way to ‘amp up your greens’, and totally delicious. This is all ‘taste good and good for you’ fare, aside from those pesky meat recipes, but I guess you could even cut those pages out if you want to be purist.
At $50, this isn’t a cheap book, but if you’re a recipe book collector, it’s worth a spot in your library. There’s just one other little niggle I have: no matter what I do I can’t make the darn thing stay open! Maybe if you have a really heavy recipe book stand, you might be okay. But maybe not: I tried propping my copy open with a heavy marble mortar and pestle and still it slammed, ejecting these weighty items effortlessly. I even tried scanning pages, but I couldn’t get the book flat enough under the scanner lid, so that didn’t work either. You know what, that’s actually quite a BIG niggle, isn’t it? I’ve just had a brainwave: I wonder if hubby would be keen enough to hold the book open for me while I cook? CARRIE STEELE
(PS, I’ve just purchased cacao powder, psyllium husk powder and nutritional yeast – all of which you’ll need for many of the recipes in this book, at www.iherb.com which has much cheaper prices than anything I can find in NZ. Items like agave nectar and maple syrup are also much cheaper, and if you keep your order under a certain weight, shipping to NZ is only $4. If you use the gift code MNJ305 you will receive US$10 off your first order of US$40 or more or US$5 off your order of less than US$40.)