Friday, February 29, 2008

Real. Fast. Food.

A couple of weeks ago, Joanna from Joanna's Food gave away cookbooks she no longer needed - understandable with her collection of 100+ cookbooks. I was the lucky girl to get Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food.

I love reading cookbooks just like some people enjoy reading travel books. Maybe it's this feeling you were almost there, almost feeling the warm sand underneath your feet and the gentle breeze caressing your skin. This is what I feel when I read cookbooks. I can almost taste the smoky tenderness of grilled eggplant and the sweet tartness of plump sunripe summer tomatoes. I can almost feel the intricate flavors of a Thai spice mix gamboling on my tounge and the unearthly earthy aroma of dark chocolate melting in my mouth.

I don't follow cookbooks. In fact, I hardly ever follow any recipe, not even my own. Yet sometimes I stare at my pantry, open the fridge and inspect its contents, stare at my pantry again and can't decide what to make for dinner. That's where cookbooks come into play. Cookbooks are what I draw my inspitation from. And, vegan or not, one of the cooks who has inspired me most is Englishman Nigel Slater.

So, what to expect from a cookbook with the term "fast food" in its title? Curious I started leafing through the book and was in for a surprise. Fast food, yes, but not in the sense it is used these days. For starters, it has a bottle of olive oil, blue mussels, and a corkscrew on its cover, three things not ordinarily associated with fast food (read: coke, burger, fries). Nigel presents an amazing collection of real food ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. And he means real food.

The thing that thrilled me most, personally, is the fact that out of the 300 or so pages with recipes, about 120 pages are dedicated to vegetables, pasta, potatoes, and beans, and are either veg*n as is or can be easily veganized. Plus, they are what I call creative, either in their combination of ingredients, or the way they are prepared. And sometimes they are just plain simple and easy. Want a taste?

Hot brown lentils with mint
Grilled aubergine with chickpea puree and harissa
Bubble and squeak (cabbage mixed with mashed potatoes, then fried)
Wholewheat pasta with sausages, mustard and caramelised onions

Or take this: "Serve with a crisp salad, perhaps beanshot, pepper, and banana, tossed with lots of lemon juice." Wow. Talk about creativity. Beanshots, pepper, and banana. Nigel is a genius. I could go on and on and on. Suffice it to say that now I have enough "wanna trys" to last me through the rest of the year. Or more.

And then, the other day, Nigel's book helped me see the obvios. I was at home studying, facing a much dreaded exam the following day. It was lunch time and I was fighting hard to resist the temptation of taking an extended break from torturing myself with monotonous material by escaping to my kitchen and cooking to my hearts delight. No, no, I needed to stay focused. Still I was hungry, so I resorted to Nigel for advice. And the book showed me what I could have seen myself but failed to do so: an avocado sandwich. Duh! Of course I didn't follow the recipe completely, gotta preserve some creativity. Yet without Nigel's book, who knows, I might have ended up doing some real cooking. Instead I had Real Fast Food.

Thank you, Joanna.


Happy Herbivore! said...

I have been considering that book, thanks for the review!

p.s. i read cookbooks too

Cookiemouse said...

Anke, you have just given me an idea for a post. I like this idea of real fast food and as I'm a great fan of avocado and very busy today...well I'll leave you to guess the rest.

Joanna said...

So glad you enjoyed it Anke ... I only gave it away because I had two copies, it's full of good things, as you say - and particularly good for cooks who need inspiration rather than recipes to follow