Laid out a bit like your grandmother’s holiday table — everything in its carefully doilied place —, The Vegetarian Option separates recipes by ingredient into more than fifty small sections. Despite this fusty approach, Hopkinson manages a feat most vegetarian cookbooks don’t even attempt: singular focus on the vegetables. While he turns to a handful of rice and pasta dishes at the back, Hopkinson embraces even unpopular veg like watercress, sorrel, and turnips with expert ease. Imagine what he does for the usual suspects.
Recipes range from quick, two-step prep to several complicated paragraphs of work before a final, though impressive, meal emerges. Simple dishes like spaghetti al aglio and peperocino (i.e. garlic and pepper) and broiled eggplant with pesto are hearty and manageable dinner options for even novice home cooks. Or spend a few hours creating the asian fried turnip paste or mushroom cannelloni, multi-step meals with breathtaking results.
Despite the high level of ingenuity in his recipes, Hopkinson’s ingredients are widely accessible and budget friendly. Some of the more creative dishes, the tomato jelly with basil and goat cheese for example, feature ingredients like agar agar — an easy to use vegan thickening agent rarely used outside of the raw food realm but available at a decent supermarket. It’s the experimental pairings and texture variations that set this cookbook apart.
A few sample recipe titles:
Cheese-crusted fried parsnip stripes with romesco sauce
Cream of fennel soup with garlic butter
Red pepper and potato stew with jalapeno relish
Warm asparagus custards with tarragon vinaigrette
Hopkinson’s compiled a thorough, adaptive collection with enough diversity to keep you thumbing its pages seasonally. Though he’s thrown in a few easy ones, his recipes aren’t the simplistic, 30-minute fare so popular lately. But if you’re looking for a vegetarian Sunday dinner that will impress people, start your browsing here.
The Vegetarian Option
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Hardcover, April 2010
Review originally posted on www.christinereads.com.