I'm a big fan of the vegetarian cookery writer Rose Elliott, and I own several of her books. She has been writing best selling books for decades - more than 50 titles in all, which means that quite a few filter through in to charity shops and second hand bookshops given time. So I was able to buy a used copy of her "Vegetarian Supercook" just after Christmas, for £1.
HOW IS THIS BOOK DIFFERENT FROM THE AUTHORS OTHER TITLES?
In her introduction, the author says she wanted this book to be different from other vegetarian cookbooks in the sense of being more useful. She conducted a straw poll of vegetarians to find out what recipes they felt were lacking in other books. This seems a sensible idea, and I hope more authors give this some thought! The results showed that there was a need for more vegetarian entertaining, BBQ, quick supper and low fat recipes, all of which have been incorporated into this volume. I agree that these areas are less well covered in veggie cookbooks in general, but I was also happy to see general main course ideas have made it in too. One of the chapters also deals with twists on classic vegetarian meals/snacks, such as lasagne and hummus.
Worth noting is the fact that I have noticed that a few recipes from this book are also included in the author's Classic Vegetarian Cookbook. Having both books though, I still feel that there is more than enough original content in each to justify having the two.
GENERAL INFORMATION INCLUDED.
This isn't one of those books that begins with a lengthy section giving basic cookery advice. After the short introduction, it launches straight into the recipes. I like this because once you have several recipe books, the general advice chapters in books tend to be a bit repetitive. If you are an absolute beginner, you may miss the fact that explainations of cookery terms aren't included, but this information is easy to find elsewhere. There is a handy guide to some of the more unusual ingredients used though. However, most of the recipes can be made from what I would call standard vegetarian store cupboard ingredients such as beans, and lentils.
There are plenty of colour photos, but not one for each recipe which is slightly disappointing as the ones that are there make the food look so good and colourful.
RANGE OF RECIPES
Most of the dishes I would call main meal ideas although there are some starters, cakes and desserts. I have found that there is a good mix of quicker to make suggestions such as frittata, and more complex dishes, such as those within the dinner party section. The latter section is still useful even if you don't plan on doing any formal entertaining, as I have used the recipes for regular meals when I have a bit more time to devote to their preparation, and I want to make something special. The "no time to cook " section has meals ideas that cook in 15-30 minutes, with preparation taking a silmilar amount of time. Crucially the timings are actually accurate, and are clearly highlighted at the start of each recipe, so you can reliably find something to fit the time you have available.
I like the fact the recipes are not all heavily based around cheese, which is a problem I often encounter in vegetarian cookbooks. I love cheese, but as it isn't the lowest fat food around, I limit my consumption. So I was impressed to find more than 30 recipes that were vegan, all clearly marked with a V printed in a circle. I have found this really helpful when looking for new ideas for meals to make for my vegan friends and family members. At the back of the book there is a guide to "veganising" some of the other recipes too, with a list of suggestions for what to substitute for dairy ingredients. This list is quite obvious in one way, eg use vegan cream in place of dairy cream, but I remember when I didn't realise all those alternatives existed, so it does at least let you know what is available.
There is also a wide range of flavours used, and not too many pasta dishes at the exclusion of everything else. My favourites recipes so far have been a mango, cardamon and pistachio fool that is simplicity itself, a white chocolate ice cream that tasted fantastic with the last of my frozen blackberry crop, and some tasty black bean cakes, served with a lemon mayonaise. The lentil shephards pie is also delicious, although I first came across that in the other Rose Elliot book I mentioned above.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE BOOK?
I would, because it has a good selection of recipe ideas, using lots of different flavours and ingredients. Most of the seem fresh and original, so it would be a good companion to the sort of vegetarian recipe book that includes the "standard" recipes such as nut roast and tomato pasta. On balance I would say there are probably more special occasion dishes than everyday ones, but the quick to cook chapter does help to balance things out. I have always found Rose Elliot's books to be reliable and accurate and this is no exception, so whatever you do choose to make should at least work!
My paperback edition is available on Amazon for £9.09 for a new copy at the time of looking - the cover price is £12.99. There are also many used copies available from market place sellers too. This was previously published as a hardback, which is no longer available new, but seems the cheapest option for a used copy.
ISBN 600 614 212 / 978 600 614 2128 = Paperback, 2006
978 060 061 0779 = Hardback, 2004
Published by Hamlyn.
[This review also appears on Ciao, under my user name.]
I bought Vegetarian Supercook by Rose Elliot a couple of years ago, upon a recommendation by a veggie friend. Of the dozens of vegetarian cookbooks I own, this one has proved itself to be a firm favourite. Even the most hardened of my carnivorous friends and family enjoy devouring the recipes I make from here, and to me, that is proof of a good veggie cook book.
~~~ So who is this 'Rose Elliot' and can she cook? ~~~
I worked for a couple of joyous years in an independent bookshop owned by a vegetarian lady who loved to cook. As a result we had a rather extensive vegetarian cookery section and Rose Elliot's books graced an entire shelf themselves. However, they never stuck around nearly long enough to warrant the feather duster treatment, and I think that's proof enough that Rose knows what she's doing and has a fair old following. Over her decades of producing veggie specific cook books she's churned out nearly one hundred different tomes. She has also appeared on TV, radio and as a magazine columnist, earning her the accolade of Britain's number 1 vegetarian cookery writer, oh and the small matter of an MBE. As one her most recent offerings; Vegetarian Supercook was first published in 2004.
~~~ What's inside the book? ~~~
Rose includes a couple of pages of introduction to herself and her cookery style before she launches straight into the recipes. This is not a particularly thick cookery book, with 192 pages and just over 100 recipes, so I'm pleased she hasn't padded it out with unnecessary background and information. There is also no preaching about a vegetarian lifestyle which you unfortunately so often find in veggie cook books. Rose seems to know that her readers have made their decisions - be that veggie or meat-eater - and are simply looking to cook some tasty meals.
The book is split into seven sections, each with a selection of main dishes, followed by three or four deserts;
*Dinner party solutions*
All the recipes here are pretty impressive sounding and wouldn't look out of place on your 'Come Dine With Me' menu (Pea and mint timbales with baby vegetables and parmesan crisps). Don't let that put you off though. I have tried most of the recipes here and their complicated names often give rise to a surprisingly simple list of ingredients. The preparation times in this section are however the highest, ranging up to one hour. But, this is probably due to the larger serving size of six people.
*Classics with a twist*
This is the section I refer to the most. For those of us who are not so creatively minded it has some really inspiring ideas that can be adapted into other recipes too (Chilled rosewater rice pudding). The recipes all serve four, but I often find with these they serve almost double that amount of people. It is worth noting that Rose Elliot is consistently generous with her portion sizes. I'll eat anything (well, provided it doesn't have a face...) but this section is particularly great for people who are not too adventurous with their tastes and like to stick to good old British staples.
*No time to cook*
Leafing through this section I can see that none of them have a preparation time longer than 25 minutes or a cooking time longer than 30 minutes. The recipes here often involve short-cut cooking methods (Microwave-steamed maple syrup pudding). In this section Rose often suggests tinned pulses or vegetables instead of dried or fresh ones. The choice is always yours and actually in some recipes in other sections the same shortcuts can easily be applied. I would advise that although it may take Rose a mere 15 minutes to prepare something, I often spend nearly an hour washing, chopping and whisking for the recipe in question. I'm no Gordon Ramsay, but I don't think the timings stated in this book are accurate. Perhaps they are achievable if you have a handy kitchen elf on standby or all the ingredients ready and weighed in little glass dishes Blue Peter stylee. Failing that I'd advise allowing time and a half for each of the recipes in this book, and a little longer if it's your first time making them.
*Slim for life*
I love this section! It includes dishes specifically created so you don't feel like you're on a diet (Cappuccino meringues) or go hungry (Butter bean and herb mash with pak choi). I can vouch that these recipes keep me on track with that healthy eating for a lot longer than normal. Additionally most of them have a preparation time of around 15 minutes so if I'm starving they will be ready before my hand strays into that biscuit tin.
This is the section I am less familiar with. Many of the recipes have an ingredients list of nearly half a page long (Chickpea tagine with fruity couscous). Additionally many of the recipes require pastes and concoctions which are difficult to find in a supermarket, and require a visit to the health food shop or an Asian shop. However, if you're happy to begin stockpiling these ingredients and plan on cooking the recipes regularly enough to ensure these bits and bobs don't go out of date in the cupboard, then there are some very yummy sounding dishes in this section. My supermarket bill nearly gave me a heart attack after the initial shop for a couple of these recipes and their strange sauces and pastes. However, in the long run many of these dishes are cheap to produce and certainly less pricey than meals based around meat.
In here are a lot of buffet style recipes and dishes for sharing or picking at (Crispy nut balls coated in polenta). You don't need to be eating outdoors to enjoy these, nor do you need to share them with anyone! I like to cook some of these up in a batch and then pop servings in the freezer/fridge ready for light meals and snacks. A lot of these recipes require no cooking at all and have a preparation time of 10-15 minutes.
This section is really just a place where Rose appears to have put all the recipes she couldn't fit into her first two sections! They are not particularly celebratory (Red lentil and roasted pepper soup), but this isn't to say they are not delicious.
~~~ Will I end up burning the kitchen down and poisoning my guests? ~~~
No! These recipes are all extremely easy to follow, and on the most part involve simple prep and cooking methods. Unlike in some of her other books, Rose has not crammed more than one recipe per page. She allows plenty of space for an easy to refer to ingredients list, all in capital letters. The recipe is set out in small paragraphs of steps, each numbered. Many of her recipes also have printed in bold a short sentence of relevant advice (Some fresh, warm walnut or rye bread will make the perfect accompaniment for this summer salad). The preparation time, cooking time and serving size are all clearly listed at the start of the recipe. As I mentioned previously the cooking time is the only accurate one of these details.
If the recipe requires an unusual method of cooking then it is fully described. I've not produced any disasters from this book, and that's a rare thing for me! Although many of the ingredients were unfamiliar to me at first, they are fully explained throughout. The final section in the book is also two pages of 'Notes on ingredients'. I often refer to this as it lists the more unusual ingredients required in the recipes, what to look for and where to source them (Daikon - A large tapered white radish with a slightly hot flavour, available from supermarkets and Asian shops. Turnip can be substituted).
However, one small part here that really makes me laugh is the table of 'Suggested vegan alternatives'. Instead of a handy list of available branded products, Rose has simply listed the product and put the word vegan in front of it (vegan mayonnaise). Granted, for a couple she has prefixed them with 'soya' (soya milk, soya yoghurt), but for the most part this is a really unhelpful waste of space and lets the book down, as everything else in here is so concise and well written.
~~~ Will a quick flick through make my mouth water and tummy rumble? ~~~
I actually feel this is the most important aspect of any new cook book I purchase, and if I'm not tempted by an array of tasty looking pictures then I often won't be inspired to try out the recipe at all. Vegetarian Supercook is published in full colour from start to finish. I'd guess that around two thirds of the recipes have accompanying photos. Many of these pictures take up an entire page, alongside the recipe itself. The photos are expertly taken to make the finished dish look utterly mouth-watering (Dreamy raspberry and rose pavlova). I've also found this really valuable in getting an idea of final presentation and the level of browning off (Cheese and sun-blush tomato muffins). On some more complicated recipe procedures (Vietnamese spring rolls) Rose has included two or three black and white pictures at the top of the page showing her completing the steps. In between the savoury and desert recipes is a double page, close-up photo of one of the finished dishes.
The book as a whole is designed and printed in a really modern and stylish way. This is easily the nicest looking paperback on my cook book shelf. Furthermore, I have used this book loads and it has suffered many a spill and splosh, but it still looks in OK condition. The pages are made of pretty thick paper and it's easy to wipe clean. Although paperback, the outside cover is double folded and made of shiny, thick card so it doesn't get tatty very easily.
~~~ Can I easily adapt the recipes, for example to vegan? ~~~
Rose Elliot understands that some vegetarians are planning a transition into veganism, or may be hosting a dinner party with guests of mixed dietary preferences, and so she includes handy advice. All the recipes immediately suitable for vegans or those requiring a slight tweak, have a large 'V' on their respective page. Around thirty of the recipes are ultimately suitable for vegans. Additionally, she has included at the back of the book specific tips for making eight of the recipes suitable for vegans (Lentil shepherd's pie with smoky cheese mash - Use grated smoked tofu instead of smoked cheese). I've found a few of these tips crossover to other recipes in the book as well as these specific eight listed.
Adapting the recipes to suit just 'one person meals' is a little more tricky. When I lived alone I tended to cook the recipes as they were and simply freeze spare portions so I didn't eat the same thing for four meals on the trot. Most of the dishes in here can be frozen and thawed out successfully. This is definately preferable, as halving the recipe is often fiddly as you'll be left with half a tin of something that won't keep.
Adapting the recipes by ingredient is no problem in this book. I regularly start making something only to discover I'm missing a major ingredient. Nearly all the time this works out fine, and simply alters the flavour slightly. That's what I love about this cook book - unlike recpies I've tried from Delia Smith for example, it won't result in an inedible mess if you don't follow the recipe to a tee. In fact Rose Elliot encourages experimenting with different ingredient tweaks, and often mentions a few suggestions on the page.
~~~ Book details ~~~
* Price: Paperback RRP of £12.99. Hardback RRP of £22.99.
* Availability: New from Amazon (for £7.24 with free Super Saver Delivery). If you're not a fan of buying online, or want a peek through the pages before you commit, then the book is still in print and so should be available to browse or order from your local bookshop.
* ISBN: 9780600614210.
* Dimensions: 24.2 x 18.8 x 2.2 cm (192 pages).
* Publisher: Hamlyn, reprinted 2006.
~~~ To sum things up... ~~~
I'd highly recommend this book to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. If you are new to Rose Elliot then this is the perfect place to start. It contains a huge variety of dishes and doesn't rely on the usual veggie staples of tofu and Quorn. I refer to this book almost exclusively for recipes these days, and I can't think of any occasions where the dishes I've made from here haven't been wholeheartedly enjoyed by all. They are generally fail-safe and always full of flavour. However, a fair amount of the recipes require specialist ingredients and plenty of preparation time, so if you're very tight for time or have a strict budget then you probably won't get quite so much out of this particular book.
Thanks for reading, I hope your tummy is dutifully rumbling now!
This review appears on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000.
P.S. Many thanks to Dawnymarie for suggesting a review of this book - I hope it has inspired you to buy and try :D