Once it arrived I settled down on the sofa, sticky tabs and tea at hand, and worked my way through the 996 pages. There are some great aspects to this book, most notably the green information boxes and the recipe variations. The information boxes were full of really interesting and useful information and not just the standard conversion charts and bean/grain cooking times (although they're in there too). Some of my favourites were:
- Rice Salad Variations: Hippie, Cuban, Wild, French etc.
- 10 Good Fruit Cheese and Nut combinations
- 25 Fast and Easy Ways to Spin Tomato Sauce
- Substituting Leaveners
- Vegetarian Thickeners at a Glance
Along the same lines were the recipe variations. These were included at the end of many of the recipes and ranged from how to change the character of a dish completely (Braised Lentils Spanish Style become Moroccan, Ethiopian etc) to subtle changes and substitutions.
There's a huge section of the book that lists vegetables alphabetically giving information on what they are and how to cook them. Much of this section could have been replaced with a few more of the information boxes so that rather than a recipe in every section that explains how to steam that vegetable, there could be a box with basic instructions and steaming times for all veg. If you're entirely new to cooking with and eating veg then this section is probably very helpful, but if you've been veggie for a while you might find it a bit dull.
That said, there were plenty sticky tabs hanging from the pages by the time I'd finished but they tended to be clustered around the salad, bean and grain chapters where all the individual components in the book come together. I was very much drawn to the bean section where almost every second recipe was rewarded with a marker. There's some really unusual recipes in here full of complex flavours. After a tricky short-listing process here's what I tested:
Autumn Millet BakeInspired by Heidi at 101 Cookbooks I launched my testing with this recipe, adding a can of chickpeas to turn it into a complete meal. The combination of cranberries, squash and sage is deliciously savoury making this the perfect winter comfort food.
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Red Pepper Vinagrette
Tasty, but next time I would add more roasted peppers to the dressing.
Braised Lentils Spanish Style
I substituted black beluga lentils for the brown called for. Slow cooked with garlic, saffron, smoked paprika and wine. The results were delicious served with crusty bread and a few strips of roasted red pepper.
Esspresso Black Bean Chilli
I didn't have any dried black beans so used chickpeas instead and I only added one tablespoon of the quarter cup of sugar suggested. The coffee and cinnamon lend this chilli a subtly complex flavour. Another hit.
Mung Bean Dal with Apples, Coconut and Mint
Again I ditched the sugar in this Thai inspired Dal as I felt the apples made it sweet enough. It's very rich due to the coconut milk so this would be special occasion only. It's really crying out for some chopped fresh tomatoes as a garnish but we didn't have any.
Spicy Red Beans, Indian Style
This recipe called for a spoonful of almost everything in my spice drawer (ginger, garlic, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and tumeric) producing an incredibly fragrant dish. Next time I would cut the ground cardamom from one tablespoon to two teasspoons as the flavour is quite prominent.
Other recipes I plan to try in the future include:
- Faux Pho
- Quinoa Salad with Lemon, Spinach and Poppy Seeds
- White Beans Tuscan Style
- Urad Dal with Poppy Seeds and Cilantro
- Fruit and Nut Bread (or at least one of the 11 variations)
- The smoked tea (Lapsang Suchon) and Chinese spiced variation to the esspresso chilli
I do feel that this book is larger than it needs to be but once you get past the encyclopeadia section there are some real gems.