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Book review – Classic Vegetarian Cookery

19 August 2011 by
Book review – Classic Vegetarian Cookery

Classic Vegetarian Cookery
By Arto der Haroutunian
Grub Street, £14.99
ISBN 978-1-908117-01-4

Arto der Haroutunian's love of vegetables originated from living in the Middle East. He was born in Aleppo, Syria, and went on to live in Beirut, Lebanon, before moving with his family to Manchester. After arriving in England on a rainy, foggy day, he quickly realised the limitations of the fruit and vegetables in his adopted country.

However, over the next 30 years, der Haroutunian witnessed the arrival of a plethora of vegetables from all over the world including sweet potatoes from the West Indies, chayotes and pawpaws from Brazil, aubergines from Spain, courgettes from Italy and yams from Africa.

As he neared the end of his short life - he died in 1987 from a sudden heart attack at the age of 47 - he came to realise that he was lucky to live in a part of the world which had such a wealth of choice. "Our climate, with its shortcomings, has forced us to import extensively, thus the world has become our oyster," he said.

Der Haroutunian was a polymath. An architect by training, he was also a writer (he wrote 12 cookery books), composer, artist and translator. As well as designing restaurants, clubs and hotels, he opened the first Armenian restaurant in Manchester which eventually became a successful chain of six restaurants and two hotels.

Although he wasn't a vegetarian, he described this book - which has been reissued in hardback, having been unavailable for 20 years - as vegetarian because "vegetables are at their best when treated as they are without the additions of meat, fish or poultry".

Interspersed with anecdotes and proverbs outlining their origins, the book has a total honesty and an obvious love for the subject in hand.

To start, there are chapters on soups, appetisers and dips, and salads; followed by a selection of cooked vegetables, stuffed vegetables, casseroles and stews, pies and savouries, and nut and pulse-based dishes. The Middle East is the key influence, although there are also recipes from the Caribbean, California, Europe, Africa and the Far East. Egyptian chickpea rissoles, Iranian-style ratatouille, and a red cabbage and chestnut casserole from France are just some of the 250 dishes which highlight der Haroutunian's international repertoire.

As well as celebrating the life of a man who had limitless enthusiasm for all good things in life, the book will appeal to both cooks at home and chefs in restaurants who are interested in producing vegetarian food packed full of interest and flavour.

If you like this, you'll love:
Middle Eastern Cookery Arto der Haroutunian
The Yogurt Cookbook Arto der Haroutunian
Plenty Yotam Ottolenghi

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