Vegetarian round up: The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year and Italy: The World Vegetarian

What’s the USP? Two USPs, actually! Having explored meat-free options from India and Japan with their initial installments earlier this year, Bloomsbury’s ‘World Vegetarian’ series takes its first step into Europe with Christine Smallwood’s volume on the food of Italy. Meanwhile, Nicola Graimes follows up 2015’s The Part-Time Vegetarian with a seasonal take on her flexitarian cooking.

Are they good bedtime reading? Once the recipes are out of the way, there’s not a lot of extra-curricular writing in Smallwood’s book on Italy. Like many cookbooks that form part of a larger series, this is a fairly utilitarian affair. This isn’t a book for reading over cosy winter evenings, but rather a practical volume you can take down from the shelf when you need dinner on the table in forty minutes.

The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year has a lot more to offer on this front – the division of a cookbook by seasonal availability has been something of a trend in the last couple of years, and lends itself brilliantly to vegetarian cooking (as Nigel Slater demonstrated with his brilliant Greenfeast books). So here we have practical advice about how best to utilise your freezer, how to minimise your food waste and, of course, handy lists of which vegetables are in season when.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? One of the most underrated elements of vegetarian cooking, I think, is that recipes are usually incredibly easy to source. Dishes rely on the flavours of the vegetables and the method of cooking to extract as much flavour as possible out, and as such rarely call upon more hard-to-source ingredients. Smallwood’s book, drawing as it does from a cuisine that has been so warmly taken in and appropriated by Britons, features nothing but instantly recognisable ingredients that can be found most anywhere you care to shop. Graimes might send you out into the world for hoisin sauce or silken tofu, but you’re not going to consider that much of a challenge, are you?

How often will I cook from the books? Both titles are filled with interesting and vibrant dishes – though Italy: The World Vegetarian probably has the upper hand on this front. Smallwood’s dishes are ready made for weeknight cooking, and you could easily find yourself picking out a simple but effective recipe from this book once or twice a week.

Graimes’ Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year asks a little more from the reader – both in terms of culinary skills and commitment of time to the dishes. The results are equally as tempting, though, so will likely find their way onto your dinner table a couple of times a month without any trouble.

What will I love and what won’t I love? For all of The World Vegetarian’s positives, the book is just a bit, well, drab. It’s hard to really put your personality into a pre-existing format – and in terms of Smallwood’s involvement this is much more ‘Gary Barlow takes over X-Factor’ than ‘Taika Waititi shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’. We’re spoiled for vegetarian cookbooks at the moment, and sheer practicality isn’t necessarily enough of a selling point to really make a mark. This is something The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year understands – it’s significantly more vibrant, and the reader gets a much stronger sense of Nicola Graimes’ voice and personality. It’s also, dare I say it, more fun. The flexitarian options allow for the entire thing to feel more interactive, more of a loose guide than the overt instruction manual vibes of Smallwood’s book.

Killer recipes: Italy: The World Vegetarian’s highlights include Sciatt with Cicoria, Spicy Farro Soup and Assassin’s Spaghetti. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year travels a little further afield to offer Sesame Empanada Pie, Mushroom Noodle Larb and Spiced Leek Flatbreads with Mint Aioli.

Should I buy it? Both will find a place on any vegetarian’s shelf. Smallwood’s entry to the World Vegetarian series is perhaps better suited for cooks seeking to expand on their own repertoire of dishes – though it’s probably the more useful of the two offerings, it lacks the pizazz we tend to seek in the books we give to others. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year, however, has exactly that. It’s accessible and fun – and the flexitarian element means it will be equally loved by both vegetarians and those looking to cut their meat-consumption down in the future.

Cuisine: Italian/Global
Suitable for: Beginners/Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars/Three stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Buy the books
The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year: Four Seasons of Flexitarian Recipes
£25, Nourish Books 

Italy: The World Vegetarian
£20, Bloomsbury Absolute

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal

What’s the USP? A ‘proudly inauthentic’ cookbook, that mashes together flavours from across the globe – with particularly heavy influences from South Asian and African cuisines and a whole lot of love for tamarind.

Who wrote it? Jikoni is the passion project of Ravinder Bhogal, the chef and restaurateur behind the Marylebone joint of the same name. Born in Kenya to Indian parents, Bhogal grew up in Britain, and has clearly learnt a joyful irreverence towards the strict cultural boundaries we impose upon food. This, as someone who regularly makes katsu curry schnitzel with spätzle, is an idea worth getting behind. You get the sense that Bhogal would have no qualms adding chorizo to a paella, if she thought the dish called for it.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with here, with short essays to open each chapter, occasional treatises on ingredients or dishes, and vivid descriptions to introduce each recipe. Bhogal’s writing is locked into the language of the contemporary cookbook, which is to say that the heady nostalgia and wide-eyed admiration of the food she grew up with doesn’t necessarily feel new or exciting to read, but will have you salivating over the very concept of a samosa nonetheless.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The short answer is yes, probably. Whilst the majority of ingredients are easy enough to find, many recipes have at least one addition that will stump your local supermarket. Often these are optional, though, allowing you to choose an inauthentic recreation of Bhogal’s inauthentic dishes.

As an added bonus, most elements of the dishes are created from scratch, meaning the number of ingredients frequently tumbles deep into double figures. The Duck and Pistachio Pierogi with Hot Yoghurt Sauce and Pul Biber Butter requires around 30 individual ingredients, including multiple varieties of some: dried and fresh mint, ground allspice, and allspice berries. Stocking up for even two or three of these dishes will be enough to topple most spice racks.

What’s the faff factor? Max faff. All the faff. Here’s the thing: everything in Jikoni looks, and no doubt tastes, absolutely delicious. But my god, is it a lot of effort. Take the Prawn Toast Scotch Eggs with Banana Ketchup. That is, without a doubt, one of the top five most appetising recipe names I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. Prawn toast scotch eggs. Jesus Christ. Even at a conservative estimate, I reckon I could devour six of those right now – and that’s before we even consider that the recipe calls for quail eggs. Did I say six? Let’s double that, easily.

But now take a moment to ruminate on that title. Scotch eggs are a faff at the best of times. But we’re replacing the sausagemeat with raw tiger prawns that need peeling, deveining and processing into a suitable substitute? And then we’re making our banana ketchup from scratch? Don’t get me wrong – it’s all very do-able. But this is not a weeknight dinner cookbook. This isn’t even a weekend treat cookbook, for the most part. This is a dinner party host seeking redemption for all their past sins cookbook.

Killer recipes: Bhogal’s recipes are frequently a little overwhelming at first glance, but when they tempt you, boy do they tempt you. The inspired Duck Rendang looks as tasty as anything I’ve seen this year, and I’m sure I’d have made it multiple times already if I only had an easy source of fresh turmeric and galangal (and dried bird’s eye chillies, and shrimp paste). In fact, the curries are frequently attention grabbing, from Goose Leg Qorma to the Massaman Pork and Peanut Curry with Pineapple Relish. The Oyster Pani Puris, too, look incredible – but also seems like the most complex and stressful dish in the whole book, despite a very reasonable seven ingredients.

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Cuisine: Global
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Lamb and Aubergine Fatteh
Lemongrass Poussin with Green Mango and Peanut Salad
Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch and Ovaltine Kulfi