When Prue Leith trained as a chef at the Cordon Bleu, chickpeas did not get a look in. Following her upbringing in South Africa, where she says vegetables were only ever an afterthought, the culinary veteran may seem an unlikely author of a purely vegetarian cookbook.
But in The Vegetarian Kitchen – written with niece Peta Leith – she tells how she became "truly enamoured" by vegetables after opening Leith's restaurant in London in 1969 and now, like many of us, is reducing her meat consumption (while not removing it from her diet altogether).
In contrast, her niece Peta, a former pastry sous chef at the Ivy in London's West End, is a lifelong vegetarian who has never knowingly eaten meat or fish, although is dissuaded from veganism by a love of cheese and eggs.
The resulting collaboration has made for a book that is refreshingly relatable for a varied audience, presenting a multifaceted case for substituting vegetables, grains and pulses for meat – that addresses the sustainability argument as well as those of health, ethics and cost – without demonising the occasional foray into a well-sourced steak.
The recipes have broad appeal. There is a strong showing for comfort food – see a cheese and Marmite soufflé with a suggested accompaniment of baked beans – as well as nutrient- packed dishes and plenty of tips to take a meal from vegetarian to vegan. As would be expected from this pair, breads, biscuits, scones, puddings and cakes fill many pages.
Dishes are varied in influence and accompanied by notes from the authors containing tips as well as possible additions or twists. This book is stuffed with simple, accessible and appealing recipes aimed at home cooks.
Prue and Peta have struck a tone that aims to inspire, rather than admonish, and filled The Vegetarian Kitchen with recipes that are comforting, enticing and exciting. As we work to encourage more people to make sustainable, environmentally friendly and healthy dietary choices, it's exactly the approach that needs to be taken.
By Emma Lake
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