As Australian food writer Alice Zaslavsky states in the introduction of her new cookbook, In Praise of Veg, “This hefty tome is my tribute to the wonderful world of veg”(8) Her enthusiasm for cooking with vegetables is readily apparent — through the bold, colour-coded chapters, Zaslavsky encourages home cooks to not only enjoy using vegetables in the recipes but also to understand how different prep and cooking techniques create different outcomes.
At the beginning of the book, Zaslavsky offers information to home cooks on different techniques (for example, there’s a section called The Heat Spectrum) and a guide to her pantry staples. She employs a chart — The Vegetable Matrix — as a way for home cooks to “freestyle” rather than follow a recipe. Vegetables are shown in the first column as she gives different options for how to use them in the following columns. In the last column, she provides an at-a-glance page reference so that cooks can jump to a suggested recipe. Eschewing the popular way of organizing recipes alphabetically or by season, the recipes are organized, as Zaslavsky describes it, in a “tonal” way — 8 chapters representing a different colour: White, Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple, Brown, Dark Green, and Light Green. Where home cooks can easily turn to the section they’re looking for — if you’re hankering for a recipe or advice on cooking with tomatoes, then you’d turn to the red section. Similarly, if carrots are your heart’s (stomach’s!!) desire then you would turn to the orange section. With 50 different vegetables and over 150 recipes, home cooks can look forward to having a few recipes per vegetable.
While she offers a wide variety of recipes inspired and informed “by the melting pot of Australia,” one of my favourite things about In Praise of Veg are the recipes that harken to Zaslavsky’s Georgian roots. The other evening, I made her recipe for Lobio (Cilantro Kidney Bean Stew) — a traditional Georgian dish full of kidney beans, walnuts, and cilantro. It’s as Zaslavsky says — the recipe is very versatile as it can be made to suit whatever your preference is — soup, stew, even as a dip. I opted to make it as a stew, and I served it with warmed flatbreads. Hearty, yet bright (I love the fresh herbs and raw garlic that is mixed in before serving), this is a dish that will be on rotation come the cooler months! Some other Georgian recipes I’ve bookmarked to try: Mushroom-Stuffed Potato Zrazy w/ Satsibeli and the Georgian Green Beans w/ Caramelized Onion.
Maybe it’s just me but I often fall back on using fresh veg from the market but as Zaslavsky reminds us that not all produce need be “fresh” — in her recipe for Fool-Proof Corn Fritters, she makes excellent use of frozen corn. While it adds moisture to the batter, I think the frozen corn is quite flavourful too! I often buy extra local corn from the market in the summer to freeze the kernels and cobs for later use. I made the fritters for lunch and served them with a side salad — they were a big hit! She also offers different flavour combinations and suggestions on how to use other frozen veg too.
Toast for breakfast (or even as a snack) is my go-to and, I appreciate finding new toppings to enjoy. In her section on tomatoes, she offers tomatoes on toast in 3 ways. The P&T on Brioche is dynamite! Peanut butter is one of those delightful savory/sweet ingredients — much like tomatoes — which is likely why they are paired so well here! The addition of the fresh green herbs and drizzle of honey make this such a winning combination!
In Praise of Veg is a bright and bold manifestation of Zaslavsky’s passion for vegetables! Through her recipes, she works to find the joy and wonder of eating a rainbow of produce. Her “flexitarian” approach offers a variety of recipes for people who incorporate meat/fish/poultry into their diets and for those who do not. And, if you need inspiration for your CSA boxes, this book might be for you.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.