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The Modern Vegetarian – Book Review

01 May 2009 by
The Modern Vegetarian – Book Review

The Modern Vegetarian Maria Elia
Kyle Cathie £16.99
ISBN 978-1-85626-820-2

After 10 years of unsung work heading up the Delfina Studio Café in London, Maria Elia is slowly moving centre stage. As well as regular forays into television, the daughter of a Greek Cypriot restaurant owner was named as one of 10 female chefs to watch by TheIndependent last year.

After stints writing for food magazines, Elia has turned her attention to a cookbook. The result is The Modern Vegetarian - a creative, vivacious look at vegetarian dishes.

Nowhere in her biography does it suggest that Elia has ever turned her back on meat, while her restaurant at the Delfina studios is far from an expressly vegetarian operation. However, by targeting this market Elia has geared her lively, pan-global cuisine to an often-ignored area of cooking, and has given the book a creditable raison d'être among the piles of cookbooks published each year.

Elia's CV is littered with worthy names, from stints at El Bulli and Arzak in Spain to spells in Italy, America and Australia. Her motive for writing a vegetarian cookbook, cited in the introduction, is the feeling that vegetarians are treated with contempt in many modern restaurants.

"As much as I love a mushroom risotto or a mozzarella, tomato and basil salad, I am always amused to see how many restaurants only offer these dishes as their vegetarian choice," she says.

With not a nut loaf in sight, Elia unleashes her lively style on meatless and fishless dishes. Grilled radicchio and strawberry risotto, lemon grass and sweetcorn soup with crème fraîche, and sumac spiced aubergine schnitzel with tabbouleh exhibit a vibrant and cosmopolitan approach to vegetarian cuisine reminiscent of the Ottolenghi chain of restaurants.

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences are scattered throughout - rosemary porcini on toast, for example, or carrot pancakes with hummus and feta salad as well as dishes of a more fine dining lilt like textures of peas.

For chefs unwilling or uninspired to jazz up their vegetarian option this book could be the catalyst to finally consign that goat's cheese tart to the annals of your restaurant's history.

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