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October 11, 2012

How Well Traveled Is Your Vegetarian Cooking?

Note: I received Small Planet, Small Plates for free, in return for a guarantee that we would review said offering.  That said, we say what we want—good and bad, happy and sad.

Is your relationship with your veggie cooking slowly growing stale and uninspiring?

Like in any relationship, we go through phases with our cooking: passion, obsession, rough patches, and then the humdrum of daily life takes over. If we’re not careful, soon the olive oil bottle gathers greasy dust, the spices become old and insipid, and monotony is on the menu.

In order to keep the fire burning in your kitchen, elephant reviews and elephant food have decided to write about brand new cookery titles over the next couple of months in preparation for Christmas.

Today we’re taking your vegetarian cooking on a second honeymoon around the world. 

I thought I could boast a decent repertoire of international classics, some exotic, some familiar, some rarities. That was until I discovered Troth Wells’ books. Her latest Small Planet, Small Plate: Earth-Friendly Vegetarian Recipes covers a lot of unfamiliar culinary ground and in comparison my cooking culture seemed indigent.

We tend to fall into certain routines at home and we rotate an average of, I would say, 20 to 30 dishes that we accommodate to season, taste, cravings and whatever we find in the fridge. It’s convenient. Classics are there for a reason—we know them, they’re loyal and they will rarely disappoint. So when our world is sometimes riddled with uncertainties, how comforting it is to come home to a bowl of chili sin carne or dhal! We often forget how good it is for the soul to let our daring self take command of the kitchen and stew something out of the ordinarySmall Planet, Small Plates is definitely an invitation to cook new recipes that will rock your world.

I received it a few weeks ago from the publisher and as opened the package. I was a bit disappointed by the UK cover, which make it look like a dull eighties vegetarian book. As quickly as I opened it and started flicking through it, my initial reservations vanished and I was hooked.

At first sight, the self-confessed food porn junkie that I am was overcome with excitement: the book is generously illustrated and the pictures are evocative, modern and tasteful. A second wave of elation hit me when I discovered the simplicity of all the recipes: the method of preparation is spelled out in a few efficient sentences. A quick glance through the ingredients list confirmed how accessible the recipes were: I could find pretty much all the beans, grains and spices in my pantry. Otherwise, a quick trip to any bog standard supermarket would fill in the gaps easily.

The main appeal of this cookbook however is the diversity of places it takes you to. Through your cooking, you might have already traveled to Morocco, Mexico, Lebanon, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, China, Vietnam, India… maybe even Russia and Japan.

Turning the pages of this book, you might discover that you could easily hop to other less visited food destinations: Syria, Sierra Leone, Chile, Jamaica, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Korea, Ecuador and Malaysia. The method and ingredients are not too antipodean to what you might already know, but the twist in the combination of flavors is enough to bring exoticism to your dinner table.

So you can invite a whole new series of dishes to your rota: a crunchy peanut butter spinach stew from Gambia, a coconut rice from Sierra Leone, a pumpkin curry from the Caribbeans, a walnut dip with cumin from Syria, a pineapple and avocado salad from Haiti.

The last aspect that ticked my “good cookbook box,” is that it feeds my eggplant obsession with no less than nine recipes. One of which I had been looking for: a simple but scrumptious Malaysian curried eggplant, that we will publish here soon.

So go ahead and explore and send us a postcard!

Small Planet, Small Plates is published in the U.S. by InterlinkBooks, and by the New Internationalist under the title Small Planet Vegetarian Cookbook in the UK.

For more new cookbooks: also read Jackie Gorman’s Wake Up & Marinate the Tofu.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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