For a while now I’ve been interested in adding more vegetarian and vegan meals to my repertoire. Although I’m a happy carnivore, I’m interested in learning how to create nutritious meals that don’t rely on meat as the main event. I don’t want too much meat in my diet and I also want to watch my pennies, and meat, (rightly so), isn’t a cheap ingredient. So I was curious to see how At Home In The Whole Food Kitchen may be able to help me.
In At Home In the Whole Food Kitchen, Amy Chaplin provides over 150 vegetarian and vegan recipes in what I’m tempted to describe as a meaty book, just because it is so satisfyingly chunky! In the introduction Amy explains how she grew up in a remote rural area in New South Wales, Australia, where her vegetarian parents grew and cooked nearly everything they ate, as well as ordering in grains, nuts and seeds in bulk, grinding their own flour, baking bread weekly and beekeeping… the list goes on. It sounds idyllic, but as I read I also began to shift a little uncomfortably in my seat; this was a childhood quite removed from my own, mine was more Sunday roasts with veg and lashings of gravy, and mid-week crispy pancakes and waffles. Glancing through the pages initially felt quite alien to me having grown up, not unhealthily, but heavily reliant on the supermarket. The thought of soaking things overnight, sprouting, and using ingredients called Teff and Kombu is pretty new to me, and that can be intimidating.
However, I remind myself that Amy has been eating and cooking this way all her life and I’m at the beginning of what could be a new adventure, of course it seems a bit weird. I also remind myself that up until the age of 19 I had no idea what a butternut squash was nor had I tried it, yet now I eat squash every week, so I know that weird new foods don’t stay weird forever.
Following on from the introduction the book is divided into two parts: The Pantry and The Recipes and for me, not knowing my tempeh from my kudzu, part one is the most important. There are four sub-categories included in part one: My Pantry Essentials, Equipment, Cooking From The Pantry and Pantry Recipes. My Pantry Essentials is like a foodie bible. It begins with Whole Grains; we are shown a full page image of all the featured grains in little tiny piles, they are all numbered and there is a corresponding key. What each grain looks like has been demystified. A paragraph on each grain follows (e.g. Millet is “fast-cooking, gluten-free… and is the only grain that has an alkalising effect on the blood…”). This same informative structure is then repeated for all the other types of pantry ingredients: Beans and Pulses, Nuts and Seeds, Superfoods, Oils, Vinegars, Seasoning and Condiments, Seaweeds, Spices, Pantry Vegetables, In The Fridge, In The Freezer, Baking, Natural Sweeteners and Bottled and Canned Items; if I could sum this book up in one word it would be thorough.
There is a handy list of useful equipment, and you’ll be pleased to hear that it doesn’t involve lots of fancy things that you’ll only use once before they gather dust at the bottom of a cupboard. The only item included that people might not have is a pressure cooker, but Amy assures us that all recipes in the book were “created and tested without a pressure cooker…” so, er, no pressure!
Cooking From The Pantry takes you through prepping and cooking all the ingredients you have just read about in the previous pages; if you don’t know how long to soak buckwheat, you will find the answer here.
The final section in The Pantry, (Pantry Recipes), provides you with a small number of simple everyday recipes. You’ll find things like Superfood Oatmeal with Goji Berries, Chia and Mulberries, a Simple Red Lentil Soup with Spinach Lemon and Pepper, and Parsley Brown Rice Salad with Seeds, as well as a variety of home-made condiments and a couple of recipes for fermented foods.
Finally, because it already feels like you’ve read loads and absorbed so much, a third of the way through the book, you reach Part Two: The Recipes. Recipes are also divided into sub-sections: Breakfast, Soups, Salads, Snacks, Nibbles and Drinks, Whole Meals and Desserts (sub-divided into Tarts and Sweet Treats For Every Occasion). On first inspection, the recipes can look intimidating, the list of ingredients tends to be long and the methods seem to fill the page. However, on taking a closer look, the items listed are the kind of things you’d expect to see, mostly flavouring and seasoning, such as garlic and cumin, and the methods are direct, easy-to-follow, and most importantly, like the rest of the book, thorough; you won’t be left re-reading the instructions over and over again trying to find out what you are supposed to do with that last tablespoon of oil, every bit of possible guidance that you need is there. Many of the recipes are also accompanied by a full page image, but the ones without seem to be so well described that you barely notice that the image (which is usually so important to me) is missing.
I admit that I found it hard to find a recipe that I could try straight away, there are plenty of delicious looking things to choose from, but they do tend to include a key ingredient that I don’t have. It is something that I need to plan, which while I’m trying to save money and pack my house up ready to move, I just don’t have time or patience for. Once I have moved however, I will be making a list of things I need that correspond with the recipes I’d like to try first. I definitely want to try Blackberry Cornmeal Muffins and Pumpkin Bread with Toasted Walnut Cinnamon Swirl for breakfast, and while I’m not the biggest fan of soup, the Puy Lentil Soup with Rosemary, Squash and Rainbow Chard looks hearty.
In Snacks, Nibbles and Drinks I’m pleased to see Turmeric Lemonade; I’m a big fan of turmeric (golden) milk, but only really like drinking it in the colder months, so it’s nice to find a refreshing alternative. I also like the idea of Roasted Red Pepper Macadamia Pâté and Cashew Cheese. In Whole Meals I’m tempted by Dill Roasted Plum Tomato Tart with Pine Nut Crust and Coconut Curry with Tamarind Tempeh and Forbidden Black Rice.
I have a sweet tooth, so obviously my favourite section has to be Desserts! There are obviously enough tarts included to warrant its own sub-section, but don’t think that means boring, as these tarts are anything but; there isn’t just a great variety of fillings but a great variety of different flavoured crusts too; I’ve never made a flavoured crust before. I’d like to try the Strawberry Vanilla Custard Tart, because as far as I'm concerned, custard is one of the best things in the world, or maybe the Squash Tartlets with Cashew Ginger Crust, and if tarts really don’t float your boat how about Chocolate Pots De Crème or Apricot Coconut Bars?
I can’t lie, my husband looked rather alarmed when I began talking excitedly about a bunch of new store cupboard essentials, I think he feared that I was going to start bulk ordering all of the grains and pulses I could find, which would then sit around not being used. I’m not going to do that; I am excited and I am inspired, so much of Amy’s book makes sense to me, but I realise that eating these kinds of foods, for us at least, will involve a lifestyle change, and will need to be a gradual process, incorporating a few new ingredients at a time, until they become normal. I think one of the worst feelings is not knowing how to cook a new ingredient, or how to incorporate it into a meal, after all, feeding yourself is essential to survival, so looking at food items and feeling lost doesn’t make you feel like a winner. That is what makes this book so special, it isn’t just a bunch of healthy fad recipes, it takes you through all the ingredients, what they are, why they are good for you, and how to cook them, and by having a greater understanding I feel less alienated. This book contains so much knowledge and is so comprehensive, it feels like I’m being led into this whole food lifestyle in slow, explanatory baby steps, to the point that I now feel confident enough to use ingredients that I normally avoid.
For anyone that already uses amaranth and various seaweeds on a regular basis, then maybe parts of this book will seem a bit obvious to you, but for those like me with less knowledge, then this book has opened my eyes, given me greater a understanding of whole foods and inspired me to try new things. This is a classic book, not only is it beautifully designed but it is also bursting with useful information; for me it's one of those cookbooks that kids notice in the family kitchen, which years later is then handed down to them to be cherished in their own kitchen.
All images taken from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin, photographs by Johnny Miller.
Published by Jacqui Small www.jacquismallpub.com