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Dine Online - Book Reviews - Summer 2007

This July we’ve two brand new titles for you:

  • The Gate: Easy Vegetarian Cookbook by Adrian & Michael Daniel
  • Wild Food for Free by Jonathan Hilton

The Gate Easy Vegetarian Cookbook by Adrian & Michael Daniel published by Mitchell Beazley at £20.00 ISBN 978-1-84533-259-4

The Gate Easy Vegetarian Cookbook by Adrian & Michael DanielI was nearly put off by the title – it sounded as if it might be a simple guide to stuff like bean stews and tofu burgers. Emphatically not! This is a book for people who really love food written by two brothers whose passion is food, and whose extraordinarily rich and diverse ethnic background ensures the widest range of flavours and sometimes daring combinations. Their highly successful Hammersmith restaurant Gate is where these recipes have been developed and honed to perfection.

The easy bit is that there’s very little time consuming prep work to be done and most of the cooking times are quite short. The interest of these recipes lies in the imaginative combinations of only a few ingredients, so no massive and tedious shopping required. Many ingredients come from the store cupboard whose contents the authors list in detail. Most of the recipes consist of three or four steps only; they really are doable

The book is arranged in nine categories from brunch to puddings with useful sections on pastries, soups, spicy dishes and side dishes. Many of the recipes, (not just the side dishes) would make marvellous and unusual accompaniments to various meat or fish dishes. For instance, the caramelised fennel would go brilliantly with seabass, and the savoy cabbage recipe would partner slow cooked pork belly admirably – to mention only two picked at random.

The savoury pastries like the old favourite caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart or the mushroom filo parcels would make excellent starters or even party or posh picnic food. The book contains so many recipes that are really versatile.

This is simply one of the best most useful cookery books to have come my way and I heartily recommend it, especially to non-vegetarians.

Wild Food for Free by Jonathan Hilton published by GAIA, June 2007 at £14.99 ISBN 978-1-85675-285-5

Wild Food for Free by Jonathan HiltonThis book claims to be a “comprehensive guide to foraging” that is “certain to bring out the hunter-gatherer in us all”. Yippee! Move over Ray Mears…

I'm great one for foraging and gathering. Every year I make bramble jelly, sloe gin and damson vodka. As a hunter I curry pigeons, smoke trout, stew rabbits, roast mallards, jug hares and draw the line at squirrels (though I’m told they’re very good slow cooked). So I was excited at the prospect of reviewing Wild Food for Free. But there are no hints or recipes concerning any of the above because this book is exclusively about wild plants.

I’m probably not amongst the typical target audience who are more likely to be into yoga, reflexology, tai chi, allergen free living, colour healing and constructing and furnishing environmentally low-impact homes. These are all subjects that the serious minded Mr Hilton has previously written about. No, “it is more a matter of learning to reconnect with nature” as the publisher’s blurb puts it.

Nevertheless this is a carefully researched, clearly illustrated, consistently well laid out wild plant reference book, just small enough to fit into the patch pocket of one’s Barbour. It’s arranged broadly by habitat and there are recipes for some of the plants and fungi at the end of the book.

The trouble is, there’s so much out there that can provoke stomach cramps, hallucinations or kill you stone dead, that there’s a health warning on nearly every page. Amongst the fungi, (always dodgy unless your ma is Hungarian), even the unmistakeable chicken-of-the-woods must be thoroughly cooked to avoid stomach upsets. I can just imagine lying in bed wondering if my cooking had been sufficient.

Often, in the course of the book we are encouraged to grind the seed to make flour, or boil the stems or roots to make syrup, but with no specific instructions as to how to perform such unfamiliar tasks. For instance, how many bulrush plants would I need to gather to produce enough flour to do anything useful with? And would it make pastry, or bread, or just be a flavouring?

Probably the safest section covers hedgerow fruits and nuts, but perhaps because many are already so well known the author has provided fewer recipes. There’s a good one for elderflower and gooseberry jelly though, but wait, by the time the gooseberries are ripe enough to pick, the elderflowers will be over. Come on Jonathan, reconnect with nature!

Although the book is strong on the identification of a wide range of plants that are edible in the broadest sense, I had the strong feeling that the author has not tasted some of the plants he’s included, as there are many phrases like “ is said to taste like liquorice” or “has been likened to the taste of sweet chestnuts”. There’s a sad lack of that palpable enthusiasm and love of wild things and the pleasures of eating them that you find in the work of food writers like Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall or Rick Stein. For a full on celebration of wild fur and fungi, feather and flora, try reading Antonio Carluccio goes Wild…

Clifford Mould July 2007

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UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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