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I need to start with a confession – I’m not a vegetarian. Am I allowed to write a vegetarian book? Am I qualified? A friend asked me if this book was going to be cheese heavy. I felt defensive. They didn’t ask me that when I wrote a book with meat included. I said ‘No.’ I lied. Of course I use cheese. Plus, a ton of eggs. And butter. Carbs – in all their glory. And – don’t freak out – but this book includes vegetables. Loads.
The object of this book is not to reduce fat, remove flavour or limit happiness. I’m not asking you to join a cult or commit to this every day. It’s about exploring variations. The possibilities. The fun. It’s about turning to the fridge crisper before the freezer. My husband – a Kiwi raised on meat and veg – is known to respond to my food with, ‘This is so delicious! I can’t believe there’s no meat in it.’ And that’s what makes this book essential. Not what’s lacking, but everything it has: flavour, texture and playfulness.
Lifting veg from token to hero in a ‘you-won’t-notice-it’s-meat-free’ way is easy when you’re pumped up about it. The upsell – or perhaps side-sell – comes naturally. But there’s a potential spanner in the works: family. We must feed and nourish them while respecting their immature, undistinguished, sometimes revolting desires. Up to a point. Growing up, my mum would take any opportunity to stuff a sun-warmed, slightly hairy baby bean picked straight from the vine into my gob. ‘Taste this!’ she’d exclaim. My dad would normalise cuisines. ‘This is san choy bow!’, he’d announce proudly about yesterday’s reheated bolognese with added peas and lettuce cups. It’s the excitement that matters most. Getting food in mouths midweek is the destination, but the journey should be exploration, indulgence and laughter. If in doubt, just crumb it and add tomato sauce.
Here are three great recipes to try at home…
Is it shakshuka-ish? Yes. Do I prefer the term ‘In Hell’? Yes. Purely because it makes me feel like a badass. Yes, shakshuka is a great word. Loosely meaning ‘all mixed up’, it’s a perfect start to any haphazard day. The traditional recipe calls for chilli peppers, cayenne and paprika, so I like to arm myself with sourdough on the side or, in this case, throw in some cooked potatoes to soak things up a bit. It becomes a little like patatas bravas then, too.
Honey Soy Cauli
The sticky, chewy business of baking rice with different flavours is with us to stay, my friends. It’s a classic lazy approach disguised as a big flavour move. And so satisfying, because it’s basically set and forget. Cauliflowers are the greatest sauce-trappers, too.
Crispy, soft, plump, chunky, rough dumplings – I think we can all relate. If you are offended by the sin of conveniently prepared frozen spinach, you could always de-spine, cook, squeeze and chop fresh if you like. You’ll need approximately 75kg of fresh leaves to yield 2 cups once wilted (estimating the weight of cooked-down leafy greens from a fresh bunch is pointless).