Vegetarian fare with Australian multicultural flare
By J.M. Hirsch
I usually pass over just about any cookbook that claims in its title to be "complete" so few really are and, in any case, it's such a dusty-card-in-the-Library of Congress sort of word.
The lesson here is what a loss it would have been had I treated Charmaine Solomon's recent cookbook "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, hardback, $39.95) so callously.
Its stunning breadth of recipes more than 600 and sumptuous photography should pull you in even if the title turns you off.
The real strength of Solomon's book is the nod it gives to the melting-pot cuisine of her adopted home, Australia, where Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern and French tastefully mingle.
"These cultures have depended on meatless meals for centuries, and it would be impossible in a book that aims to present the whole gamut of vegetarian cooking not to draw on such a rich source," she writes in the introduction.
Though not intuitively organized (dishes are divided by cultural influence, so there are multiple similarly named chapters), recipes such as rainbow layer crepes and strawberry and orange soup seduce with fresh twists on rustic goodness.
Many of Solomon's recipes do rely on dairy, but vegans should have little trouble replacing much of it. Her luscious-looking tarte aux pommes would do fine with soy margarine, for example.
Solomon goes a long way to providing a smattering of everything, from salad dressings to breads to beverages, including four variations of hot chocolate.
And because some of the ingredients called for were foreign even to this seasoned lover of exotic dishes, Solomon's glossary was a big help, especially its suggestions for substitutions likely found in U.S. markets.
For a sampling of Solomon's offerings, try rojak, a Malaysian and Indonesian salad that weds the heat of chilies with the coolness of pineapple and cucumber.
- 1 large or 2 small cucumbers
- 1 small pineapple, not too ripe
- 3 fresh red or green chilies
- 3 tablespoons rice or other mild vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons sambal oelek, or crushed fresh chilies
- Salt and lemon juice, to taste
Peel the cucumber. Cut them in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape out the seeds. Cut the cucumber halves into matchsticks. Set aside.
Cut the skin off the pineapple and remove any eyes. Cut the pineapple into wedges lengthwise, then cut the core off each. Dice the pineapple wedges into small pieces. Set aside.
Seed the chilies and cut into thin slices. Combine cucumber, pineapple and chilies, sprinkle lightly with salt.
To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, chilies, salt and lemon juice. Toss the dressing with the salad.
Makes 6 servings.