All this week I've been reviewing cookbooks that sit on my shelf. Well it kept me off the streets for a bit. In this final post of part one of the series, it's time to get quick, quick, quick!
It didn't take long after moving in with Catherine for us to realise that our old collections of recipes weren't particularly interesting. Catherine's vegetarian collection mostly consisted of tomato, mushrooms, onions and pasta, whilst my meat eating background meant I had few vegetarian recipes to fall back on - just a handful from my student-orientated cookbooks.
Admittedly it took over a year for us to realise this, but when we did, and the first new book to arrive on the shelves was Nadine Abensur's Cranks Fast Food. Nadine was, for five years, Food Director for Cranks and wrote a number of books under the Cranks brand. We got the paperback version, published in October 2001, just months before the Cranks restaurant chain was closed for good.
The concept of Cranks Fast Food is a simple one - brilliant, tasty vegetarian food in under 30 minutes - many can be easily done in 15-20 minutes.. Living in a country where sizeable proportions of the population live off ready meals because "cooking takes too long", it's a book you often want to wave in front of people going "LOOK! IT'S EASY!"
As with any cook book, it's split into sections, starting with anti-pasto and snacks. There's naturally a section on soup, which has to be the ultimate fast food, and which contains an outstanding Butternut Squash Soup with mango chutney and coriander pesto.
The fritters section has, it has to be said, not been used extensively, however this is followed by the Warm Salads section which has proved a series of well used lunch recipes. Nadine describes her Seared Green beans with potatoes, mushrooms and six minute eggs as her version of a salad niçoise. I'd describe it as utterly brilliant, and has remained a firm favourite ever since.
The warm salads section also introduced me to Halloumi - the wonderful Cypriot grilling cheese that's been described by some as the vegan equivalent of bacon. Many vegetarians state that bacon is the one thing that they really miss, and apparently many vegans say the same about Halloumi.
It was the chickpea, lemon and herb salad with tomatoes and grilled Halloumi that started my love affair with the cheese - and it was the recipe I cooked for Catherine's dad just after he'd completed the London Marathon in order to provide the perfect antidote to the piles of pasta he'd been eating. This particular salad has become a firm favourite of everyone who has ever tried it, and will remain one for me until I die.
Naturally pasta features highly in the book with its own dedicated section, and introduced me to the odd soundly but lovely concept of spaghetti with new potatoes and green beans. There's also a section on eggs and cheese, tarts and casseroles.
Yes casseroles. The old fashioned veggie stew and dumplings is another firm favourite in our house.
It was the cous-cous and risotto section that introduced me to both cous-couse and proper risotto rice, and that section also offers the marvel of an entire Indian meal cooked in 30 minutes - and I've tested it. You really can make Coconut dahl with raita, cardamom rice and paneer tikka in 30 minutes. Although that said, it is better if you marinate the paneer overnight.
There's no doubt that there's some brilliant flavours in here, and the book itself is well presented, it's full colour with lots of photographs to drool over.
In case you're in any doubt, I love this book. It remains a firm favourite for me - of all the Cranks books I own, it's the one that's most thumbed - as it completely blasts wide open the myth that vegetarian food is dull, worthy and uninteresting. It was a book that changed my cooking life, introducing a whole host of new flavours, new ideas, new concepts and new ingredients. It was the book that turned me into someone who loves cooking so much, that they write an entire series of blog posts reviewing recipe books. And that's saying something.
Give a good cookbook a home on your bookshelf. Go to a bookshop and buy it. Or buy it on Amazon. Although personally I prefer Foyles...
Well that's it for now - but if you liked this series, don't worry... my book shelf has barely been touched...