Arto der Haroutunian died too young. He has left a cult following and a series of books to remind us of the very reasons that he still inspires cookbook collectors and home chefs alike. He had a particular all-encompassing view of the world that enabled him to graze the globe and archive his findings in a most palatable fashion.
“Classic” in culinary terms is often fussy, dusty and boring. We think of a battery of sauces, egg dishes and poached white fish. Combine that “classic” with “vegetarian” and the future reading opportunity is looking gloomy. There is bound to be a cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes and a slew of other dishes that we probably trot out week after week.
OK, that’s the assumption, but it’s wrong. Arto der Haroutunian has collected recipes that truly are classic but they are not from the usual culinary traditions. There are vegetable dishes from Nigeria, Finland, South America, Bulgaria and many other countries, each with their own “classic” but unique recipes.
It’s true that there are a few familiar favourites such as stuffed vine leaves but even that standard is offered with a couple of filling options. French onion soup is listed along with an Iranian alternative. Yes, the cauliflower is here but sans cheese sauce – South American Midnight Cauliflower takes advantage of garlic, black olives and a little chilli powder to elevate this unloved veggie into dinner-party fare.
Although these dishes are striking they are also simple, and use, for the most part, few ingredients. We know we should eat more fresh vegetables and that prospect is becoming more attractive now that meat has become so very expensive. Vegetables are not as cheap as they once were so we need to present them in a fashion that befits their elevated status. Arto has suggestions for our most common produce, but he also introduces his readers to some of the more exotic veggies that are now available in larger supermarkets as well as in ethnic food shops.
There is plenty here that will help those of us who are strapped for cash. Baked Beans. No, not those tinned teatime treats of childhood memories (or my more recent recollections of dinner when husband is away). These are robust and thoroughly adult, a winter warmer for a crowd served with some crusty bread. This is a simple recipe but the simmering takes an hour or so. This process can be speeded up if one has a pressure cooker.
Plantain Curry is well worth trying. A plantain looks like a large green banana and is a staple of West Indian cooking, and this is indeed a Caribbean recipe. It has few ingredients and the spices are from the Indian palette so you’ll have no trouble finding those. It’s thought that this dish was brought to the West Indies by Indian immigrants.
If you are not a full-time vegetarian then you can peruse some of the versatile sauces included. Harissa is a vibrant North African preparation that enhances lamb and chicken as well as vegetables. Yoghurt and Garlic Sauce might not sound riveting but it’s made in moments and is a delicious garnish to roast chicken.
Classic Vegetarian Cookery is an indispensible addition to the cookbook library of Arto der Haroutunian fans, but it’s a practical and beautifully-written volume that deserves a place on the bookshelf of any lover of good food. Another great-value “classic” from Grub Street.
Classic Vegetarian Cookery
Author: Arto der Haroutunian
Published by: Grub Street
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018