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I have the original hardback edition of this book, first published in 2005. It was kindly given to me by a friend whose interest in cooking proved to be shortlived. She never opened this particular book which is a great shame as she has missed out on some wonderful recipes...
. THE AUTHOR
Celia Brooks-Brown was not an author I knew much about before I got this book. She is the author of other vegetarian cookbooks though, and according to the book blurb, she has contributed recipes to television programmes such as Saturday Kitchen. She has also written for BBC Good Food magazine. She has a website if you are interested in finding out more although the blog part doesn't seem to have been updated for a couple of years - www.celiabrooksbrown.com.
. THE RECIPES
One of the things that made me keen to read this book was the fact that the recipes are described as being "authentically vegetarian". This means that they are mostly recipes that were always intended to be prepared without the addition of meat or fish, rather than adaptations of standard dishes. I thought that this approach would lead to a more creative range of dishes. I have lost count of the number of recipes for meat free shephards pie or beef lasagne that I have found in vegetarian cook books! I was right - I have been really impressed with the range of dishes here and by the number of different countries represented. There are recipes from every corner of the world including those that are usually skimmed over in international cookbooks. Finland and the Dominican Republic for example. This book has really changed my perception of the cuisine of many countries. I realise that although a lot of nationalties regard meat as a mainstay of their diet, there have been times when meat was too expensive or hard to obtain. So it is interesting to see the approach different countries had to using what they could get hold of - often vegeatables and grains. There are also modern creations rather than solely traditional foods.
. THE INGREDIENTS
Although the recipes are described as authentic, the author has made some changes in recognition of the fact that not all of the traditional ingredients would be readily available in the UK .I am happy with this approach myself. I think some compromises are inevitable and the most important thing is that the end result tastes good. I have not had any trouble sourcing what I need from a large branch of Sainsbury's but I am aware that if I had to rely on the smaller branches in my neighbourhood, this would not be the case. So if you have a limited range of shops to hand, even with the adaptations given, you would likely have trouble making all the recipes.
. DO THE RECIPES WORK/ TASTE GOOD?
Celia Brooks Brown writes with such enthusiasm about her recipes that I have found myself making making dishes that at first glance don't sound too appealing. An example of this is the Finnish swede and cinnamon bake "lanttulaatikko". I am not a fan of swedes in general and I would never have considered pairing one with cinnamon. Amazingly, this combination is actually delicious! I have found it to be a warming and cosy meal that I have made again and again. As a bonus it is easy to make and quick too. I also love a Canadian recipe for maple roast mushroom burgers which have are suprisingly filling and incredibly simple to prepare. I could go on but writing this is making me hungry! As you can probably tell, all the dishes are savoury. For this reason, I use this book for main courses, side dishes and starters inspiration. I do think there is a good mix of quick to make everyday food and the more elaborate dishes you would want to make for a special occasion.
I have yet to find anything I didn't like or found too difficult to make. I think most of the included recipes are quite straightforward in terms of preparation. There are some that are more complicated because they involve making a dough for example. All are clearly explained though.
. OTHER PARTS OF THE BOOK
The recipes are organised in sections by region. In each there is an interview with a "food hero" that has a special interest in the cuisine of one of the featured countries, a chef for example. I enjoyed reading these parts as well as the introductions to each recipe because they are so full of interesting facts. I am interested in the history of what people have ate over the years. If you are not, then you probably won't find these pages so readable but they take up very little space in the book overall. After the interview comes an overview of some of the more unusual ingredients used in that area which is useful.
The books blurb descibes it as "lavishly photographed". I think this is overstating things a little. There are colour photos accompanying many of the recipes but they fairly standard in my opinion. They do help to break up the text though and give you ideas on how to present your food.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for some fresh inspiration in the kitchen, vegetarian or not. I have been encouraged to widen the range of vegetables I eat as a result of reading this book. I can buy plaintain or okra and feel that I know how to make use of them. If you would like to do the same I would especially recommend it. I think that the paperback edition which has a cover price of £14.99 represents great value. It is of course available from Amazon at a slight discount. My hardback edition was originally £25.00 and is still just about available on Amazon too.