What’s the USP? A cookbook celebrating the picky tea – albeit the more refined, small plates version rather than baking trays of beige freezer food. All the recipes are vegetarian or vegan with the premise being that many smaller dishes of dips, pickles and salads with doughy or crispy things to dip into them is a more satisfying way to eat than one plate of the typical protein, carb and veg trio. It’s a proposition that’s hard to argue with.
Who’s the author? Lukas Volger a writer for many notable American food publications and the author of three other vegetarian cookbooks. The inspiration for Snacks for Dinner came from visiting a friend who emerged with several pre-prepared dishes for a lunchtime feast meaning minimal time in the kitchen and more time socialising. The ease and informality of this dinner left such a lasting impression on Volger it altered his perception of what dinner could be, authoring this cookbook and also making me wonder if he’s ever had a ready meal.
What will I love? Cookbooks based around concepts rather than cuisines can sometimes run out of steam, trying to find recipes to fit the premise rather than having a natural selection to begin with. This isn’t the case here. Snacks for Dinner delivers on its formula, following through on the idea from start to finish and being meticulous in its execution. It begins with an incredibly detailed introductory chapter that lists kitchen accessories, ingredients and tips for planning a snack-based dinner.
The chapters are colour coded for quick searching and based around traits like crispy-crunchy, tangy-juicy or scooped + smeared. The cutesy names aside, this makes planning a meal from the book incredibly easy with the suggestion you choose one recipe from each of the different traits to create a balanced meal.
In practice, this works exceptionally well. I put together several meals of varied and interesting dishes each representing different flavour profiles and textures. Favourites were the Umami Roasted Tomatoes, Beer Cheese Gougeres, Spicy Zucchini Quick Pickles which delivers what it promises and a delicious Creamy Sweet Potato Chipotle Dip that was so easy to make I felt like a fraud for receiving any credit for having cooked it. It should also receive commendation for being a vegetarian cookbook and resisting the urge to put a hummus recipe in the dips section.
What won’t I love? Despite its efforts to make the recipes straightforward and accessible, cooking them all simultaneously does take time and skill. You will need to be across several recipes at once, all requiring different cooking times, ingredients and preparations. Of course, many of these dishes can be cooked progressively and left until they’re needed though this will only mean more time in the kitchen.
It can also occasionally read like a utopian vision of millennial living with references to friends who text when visiting the farmer’s market, checking Instagram to find your new favourite micro-bakery or having an olive oil subscription. This isn’t to the book’s detriment and at this point, I’m just being pedantic and likely bitter about not having my own olive oil subscription. There is however, definitely a time and place for it and not something I would make a full meal from regularly, especially over the long winter months.
Should I buy it? If your idea of a meal is more than an assortment of dips and a trail mix made from puffed rice then Snacks for Dinner probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re into eating lots of lovely things smeared and scooped onto other lovely things then absolutely. It’s a well thought out book, with a clear throughline and full of inviting, often effortless recipes.
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book: Snacks for dinner by Lukas Volger
Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk