INTRODUCTIONYou might have flipped here from the fancy front cover, or cavorted back through a kaleidoscope of color-coded recipe pages to land at this one, with its big bold greeting. Let's hang out!
This hefty tome is my tribute to the wonderful world of veg. I’ve chosen 50 of my all-time favorites and delved a little deeper into what makes them special for cooks and eaters alike, offering ways to bring the best out of them in the kitchen, no matter what your skill level. Once you leaf (ha!) through these pages, you’ll be able to pick up a root, a tuber, a bulb, a stalk, and have ideas and inspiration bubble forth, so that you’re never short of a meal or a menu. You’ll be able to use the other books you already have, with a better understanding of why
a recipe does what it does, and what you can do to adapt or play with it.
This is not a purely plant-based book, because that is not reflective of how my family – my husband Nick and our daughter Hazel (a.k.a. The Nut) – and I eat. We are, however, plant-forward, in that we start with the veg and build the dishes around them. I wanted to write a book with that principle at its heart, because I believe many of us have a desire to flex our ‘flexitarian’ muscle – to grab more greens, reduce the load we put on the environment, and take more care with the proteins we choose. But often, we just don’t know where to start, and aren’t at the point of going cold tofu quite yet. That’s why these recipes are all vegetable-driven, first and foremost, and if there’s some flaked fish or a bit of bacon, it’s there as a secondary element because it makes
the dish – with substitutions for anyone who’s up for the full veg.
Growing up in Georgia in the former Soviet Union, my diet was vegetable-heavy by both culture and necessity – a Caucasus cuisine with an abundance of fresh produce, bartered behind the Iron Curtain.On emigrating, my appreciation for cuisine became informed and enriched by the melting pot of Australia; a place where splashing soy sauce onto spaghetti bolognese seems like a perfectly sensible thing to do. The recipes in this book are reflective of both tradition and modernity, like all good cooking should be.
Bucking further from tradition, this book is not alphabetical or seasonal – rather, it is tonal. Vegetables are grouped by color, with comprehensive entries for more commonly found forms, crib notes for CSA surprises, and recipes for the more unusual varieties smattered throughout for when you’re feeling adventurous, or you’ve been handed a home-grown heirloom something-or-other. I want you to be able to flick through and find what you’re looking for, through the squinty eyes of someone who’s spent too long staring into the fridge, trying to figure out what to do with the dregs at the bottom of the crisper. And, better yet, to open your mind to the fabulous forms and flavors that are right at your fingertips.Loving your leftovers
There has never been a better time for accessing, storing, using and reusing
fresh food as there is today. It’s no surprise that the more readily available fresh produce has become, the less love we give to the stuff left over – yet somehow, I missed that memo. I’m a leftovers-lover from way back! And vegetables are easier to reincarnate than any other food group, thanks to their long shelf life and chameleonic capabilities. When I was young, Mum’s Big Batch Borsch was the after-school snack of dreams for this latch-key kid. And once I figured out that I could put bonus stuff in the borsch, like croutons and luncheon meat, the culinary world was cracked wide open to me forever more. These days, I purposely make more
of stuff than I need, because the only thing better than a home-cooked dinner is knowing that you’ve still got a perfectly packed portion to reinvigorate for lunch the next day.
One of the biggest secrets you may not realize about restaurant food is that much of it could easily be classified as ‘reinvigorated leftovers’. Unless it’s something cooked à la minute
, most of the work’s been done well before you place your order – hours, if not days, in advance. That’s why prices can seem so steep: it’s not just the cost of ingredients that you’re paying for, but the prep hours too. If you’ve got a choice between eating last night’s spag bol or ordering takeaway, consider the fact that either way, you’re eating leftovers.
At what point do ‘leftovers’ simply become ‘meal prep’? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I’m an unapologetically lazy cook, so I consciously load up my fridge with extra stuff to help speed up the journey from hangry to happy. Hard cheese rinds, frozen stock (cooked down to fit into an ice-cube tray, to pop out a cube or two as needed), frozen peas and corn ready for tossing into a pot when dishes need bonus bits, and half an onion in the door (why is there always
half an onion in every fridge?) are but some of the delights that you will always find in my arsenal. Extra servings of roasted/steamed/boiled/ fermented/pickled vegetables are the gifts that keep on giving, ready to become soup, salad, sauce or a dip at the blitz of a button or the flick of a fork.Shortcuts to the 5 S's
Cooking doesn’t have to be difficult or elaborate – in fact, I glean the most gratification from the simplest things: a caramelized crust on just about anything (easier to do when it’s already been cooked the day before); butter melting into the cracks of something steaming away; or flipping out a precariously-yet- perfectly formed omelet full of wilty arugula and cheese. The kitchen is where fun can be had, creativity flexed and risks taken.
Most importantly, it’s a place where you should feel safe enough to break away from convention, take control of your dining destiny and find better and easier ways to make the food you love. Nobody polishes off a delicious meal and says, ‘Gee, I wish that recipe was harder!’.
Wherever I can, I’ve included shortcuts that take advantage of bits and pieces you might have at
your disposal, as well as suggesting how you can give dishes another spin of the turntable (a ‘double duty’ so to speak), which usually takes the form of one of the 5 S’s: Soup, Sauce, Stew, Salad or Sandwich.
The simplest soup
is really just a runny purée, so blitzing left-over roast veg or any form of stew to a finer consistency with a bit of extra liquid (such as stock or even water) is a great way to feel like you’re eating a new meal with minimal effort
The same goes for sauces
, which I’m especially enamored with during the summer months, when barbecue marinades become dipping sauces (be sure to heat and eat here), or juices in the bottom of the pan are transformed into pasta-sauce perfection. Sometimes it’s as simple as letting a pan that has had something caramelizing in it hang out on the stove for the afternoon, only to reheat it to become the flavor base for that evening’s dinner.Stews
, casseroles, curries and rich pasta sauces always taste better the next day. I like to give them a new lease on life by adding extra fresh veggies that are capable of cooking through by the time the dish is reheated – baby spinach works well here, as do corn kernels, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes
As for salads
, anything from curry to kebabs to quark to cans of fish or beans from the pantry can be added to fresh (or even left-over!) vegetables and become inexpensive, delicious and nutritious hot-weather dinners or lunch at your desk. Have fun with textures and temperatures by roasting, steaming or crumbing and deep-frying (bonus points if you’ve made your own crumbs from left-over bread!). You can boost flavor with some form of onion, use nuts and seeds for texture, and shake things up with different oils, vinegars and fats (such as cheese or avocado).
When in doubt, turn it into a sandwich
filling. I’m using the term ‘sandwich’ here very loosely, because who says it’s gotta be bread? Anything from pita to tortilla wraps to rice paper to lettuce leaves … if you can pick it up and eat it with your hands, it’s a sandwich, people! Try to pack your choice of wrapping separately from the leftovers in question, and assemble just before you eat for max crunch, and the smug satisfaction of showing your co-workers how organized and industrious you are.In living color
Part of what makes vegetables one of nature’s wonders is the available palette of colors to tantalize the palate. Colors are evocative, and have a natural effect on our sense of flavor expectation. Why else does a smattering of herbs suddenly make a lackluster salad look infinitely fresher? Team juicy crimson tomatoes with torn basil leaves and serve them up with but a splash of olive oil, a blob of buffalo mozzarella and a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and people will gaze at you like maybe you’re a wizard, transporting them to a sun-dappled Italian piazza, complete with il Tricolore
flag flapping overhead.Similarly, an absence – or uniformity – of color can have an impact of its own, both for the better (à la
cheffy monochrome marvels), and not so much, when food gets decidedly greige.
The expression ‘eat the rainbow’ isn’t just a throwaway line, either. Colors also signify what phytochemicals (protective compounds) each vegetable contains as a natural defense mechanism – something that we, too, can harness for our own wellbeing. The deeper or darker the color, the more antioxidants and functional benefits within. Our tastebuds are the best indicator of what we need at any given time, and we have evolved to crave the foods that give us the nutrients we’re lacking. Once we tap into these natural desires with the skills to bring out the best in our base ingredients, we can’t help but see and appreciate the spectrum of flavors that the natural world is bursting forth with – Mother Nature’s medium, a palette of colors ready for the canvas that is your plate.
At its heart, this book is organized by shades of color for a very simple reason: because a love of vegetables is universal, and whether it’s a courgette or a zucchini, an aubergine or eggplant, it’s still green, or purple (or … aubergine). So whatever language you speak, it’s time to get praising.Alice.
Copyright © 2022 by Alice Zaslavsky. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.