The Vegetarian Option
In the past, Simon Hopkinson has been referred to as the best cook in Britain who nobody in the States has heard of, but I’m hoping this will soon change. After devouring The Vegetarian Option, I know the chef has a lot to offer when it comes to beautiful, simple food.
Hopkinson first gained acclaim with his 1995 cookbook Roast Chicken and Other Stories, but it seems as if the public has always been a little behind in praising him because it wasn’t until ten years later in 2005 that a panel of chefs, food writers, and consumers in the British magazine _Waitrose Food Illustrated _ voted it “the most useful cookbook of all time.”
Obviously, roast chicken does not a vegetarian make, which is the reason why The Vegetarian Option was so interesting to me: It was written by a non-vegetarian and the book allows readers to determine how strictly they want to adhere to the vegetarian guidelines—giving them the vegetarian option. Hopkinson even urges readers to add protein to some of the dishes if it suits their fancy.
The book, though a bit stiff, was right up my alley because in terms of cooking, there’s nothing I hate more than tortured vegetables. I’m sure you’ve witnessed this: People who don’t really like vegetables slather broccoli in cheese sauce, encase cauliflower in casseroles, and boil everything else until it’s within an inch of its life. Hopkinson’s recipes honor the integrity of the vegetables and by breaking them down into seven sections (Vegetables, Herbs, Pasta, Legumes & Grains, Rice, Eggs, and Fruit), he ensures that the book will include something even the most staunch vegetable hater will be sure to love-or at least like.
Thanks to Hopkinson, I am now the proud owner of a simple Korean kimchi recipe (though it takes five days to ferment and come to fruition), which I used to love eating as a kid when visiting my best friend. Her mother, aunts, and grandma used to spend entire weekends making gallons of the spicy cabbage delicacy and though Hopkinson’s isn’t as spicy and doesn’t include shrimp paste (many consider this essential to kimchi), it’s a nice standby to have on hand.
Lately, I’m very big on conflicting flavors in a single dish. Perhaps this is why I went crazy for Hopkinson’s incredibly healthy and oh-so-delicious carrot salad with cilantro and green chili. Carrots are one of those vegetables that don’t get enough play; they’re jam-packed with essential vitamins and nutrients and delicious eaten raw or cooked. This salad requires a measly seven ingredients (including salt), but the addition of coriander seeds, fresh cilantro, and a spicy jalapeno really bring it to life.
Another standout was the broiled eggplant with pesto; this recipe couldn’t get any easier. After blending together a classic pesto (olive oil, pine nuts, basil, garlic, and parmesan) in my rickety and ancient food processor, I simply smeared it on top of eggplant halves and broiled them until they were golden and bubbly. Frankly, I loved this because it’s stupid simple, yet I would have never thought to combine eggplant and pesto on my own to such delicious results.
At the age of twenty-five, I’ve only encountered one vegetable that I do not like: parsnips. Because of this reason, I gave myself permission to “torture” them a bit by following Hopkinson’s recipe for cheese-crusted fried parsnips with romesco sauce, which is an outrageously tasty blend of almonds, olive oil, garlic, chili, sundried tomatoes, and peppers. Truth be told, an old shoe would taste good if it were crusted in cheese, fried, and dipped in romesco sauce, but these delicious little treats made me a parsnip believer.
I could go on forever about The Vegetarian Option, but unfortunately I can’t. I will say this, though: Whoever said that vegetarians are missing out doesn’t understand all that vegetables are capable of.