World Vegetarian Cookbook

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Sarah Brown’s World Vegetarian Cookbook was given to me by a friend who knows I love to travel and that I don’t eat meat. Clever girl! It looked like she picked a good one. Unfortunately she didn’t realise that I’m a lazy cook who hardly ever follows a recipe. For a cookbook to make an impact on my lazy ways it needs to be pretty special – luckily this one fits the bill.

The book sat on my cookbook shelf for several years before I eventually needed help and inspiration to come up with some tasty ideas during a couple of enforced fortnights of strict vegetarianism. Normally I’m a lazy fishitarian who uses fish as a substitute for imagination or inspiration so going ‘cold turkey’ on not only the seafood but also a whole bunch of other staples was quite a challenge. This book quickly became one of my main sources of ideas and now if you open it and browse through you’ll find that the recipes I’ve been using are annotated with my comments on where to add more, where to cook for longer or extra things to add if you want to amend the recipe.

As far as I can tell – and lets be honest, googling the name ‘Sarah Brown’ isn’t going to give you the easiest hunt for information – Sarah Brown is or possibly was (let’s make no assumptions) a chef and broadcaster who presented a BBC series called Vegetarian Kitchen sometime in the early 2000s. I’ve never heard of her, certainly never seen her – so I can’t really call her a celebrity chef. Mostly I was relieved that it wasn’t a cookbook from Gordon Brown’s wife.

The edition I have was published in 2004 and given to me in 2005. It was published by Ted Smart (not a company I’ve heard of) and you can pick up a second hand copy for very little on Amazon. This is one of those cookbooks that deserves to be on the shelf of every internationally-minded vegetarian whether full time or part time or anyone who needs to cook for friends or family who don’t eat meat. In its 224 pages, stuffed with gorgeous pictures, Brown takes us on culinary tour of the world starting in the Americas, passing through Europe and the Middle East, Africa and India and eventually ending up in Asia Pacific.

There’s a thankfully very brief introduction which describes the challenge of ‘doing’ the world in just 100 recipes and how she set about collecting them. Rather than travelling, she mostly picked the brains of her friends around the world who helped with emails and phone calls. In total twenty different countries are represented in the 100 recipes. All have been fully tested before publications which is a relief to me since I’ve found recipes in some books that just don’t work and leave you wondering if they’ve ever actually been tried out. The other thing I really appreciate is that all of the recipes are what Brown describes as ‘vegetarian at source’ – not recipes that have been adapted by taking out the meat.

Of course with only 100 recipes nobody can hope to do more than just scratch the surface of a country’s cuisine. This book will most likely just serve as an introduction to ethnic food types and an inspiration to go and look for more recipes from the areas you like best.

“If you want a reliable cookbook where almost all the recipes contain ingredients you can easily find, …, this is a great choice.”

In each section Brown introduces the recipes with some information about the countries which provided most of the recipes and then tells us what she loves about that cuisine. She also tells us about he favourite local kitchen tools such as a lump of volcanic rock from Mexico. After the introduction to each region we get a section on common ingredients and techniques which are applicable to that section. Each region gets a mix of soups, starters, main courses and salads or accompaniments as well as a few puddings. I could happily do away with the pudding recipes as there’s not too much challenge in finding vegetarian pudding recipes and to date I’ve not tried any of these.

Each recipe is illustrated with photographs. Usually it’s pretty obvious which picture goes with which recipe but sometimes you may need to think about them. For example a photo may include three or four of the dishes in one picture. Each recipe tells you how many servings the recipe will make, lists all the ingredients and how to serve and then gives simple, straightforward instructions on how to make it.

From the Americas section I’ve only made the chilli and as you might expect I went a bit ‘off piste’ with some of the ingredients. The other recipes weren’t particularly inspiring. I’ve not made any of the European dishes as I didn’t find them very interesting. My main regions of focus have been the Middle East, North Africa and India. From the Middle East I love the aubergine dip and the taboulleh salad. In the African chapter I have made the harrira soup (bean and vegetable) but didn’t find it particularly authentically Moroccan. Most of the African recipes are North African which means they’re rather too similar to some of the Middle Eastern recipes. I would have liked to have seen a few more sub-Saharan ideas.

I don’t suppose anyone who knows me would be surprised to learn that it’s the Indian section that has most of the pages with bits of food debris on them since this is the section I use most. The tarka dal recipe is not bad but turns out mushier than the photo suggests if you cook for the recommended time. The chickpea curry with ginger is a good standby for feeding people who don’t like their curry too hot and I enjoy making it because of the interesting onion and ginger base. The notes I’ve added to the cauliflower curry remind me to add extra water because the recipe doesn’t work with the recommended amount. In the Asia Pacific section I haven’t yet cooked much because the strange diet I was following when using this book meant that a lot of the ingredients related to soy or seaweed were on my banned list. However, the great thing about the recipes is that almost everything on the ingredient lists would be available in most good sized supermarkets. You won’t have to travel to specialist shops to track down weirdy ingredients.

If you want a reliable cookbook where almost all the recipes contain ingredients you can easily find, instructions that are easy to follow and great photos to illustrate each dish, this is a great choice. It’s not easy to find any more but Amazon have cheap second hand copies available.

My compliments to the chef.

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World Vegetarian Cookbook
by Sarah Brown

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Written by koshkha