Veteran cookbook author Marie Simmons offers a fresh, sophisticated take on vegetarian food in Fresh & Fast Vegetarian. True to the name of the book, the approximately 150 recipes offered here are surprisingly easy to attempt and do not require significant preparation time.
The recipes featured offer a wide sampling from various ethnic cuisines and cater to a range of tastes, including diehard vegetarians as well as those who are just beginning to experiment with vegetarian menu options. The book includes sections on soups, salads, breads, main dishes, sides, and grains and beans. The last category on grains and beans is a standout, featuring both standard fare as well as more interesting variations.
A brief section on techniques and tools has some great tips for the beginner or advanced cook --- I wish it had been a lot longer. I frequently use fresh herbs in my cooking and struggle with using them up before they go bad; a tip from the book that I am eager to try out is to store fresh herbs in a glass of water in the fridge and change the water every day or so to have fresh herbs last for approximately two weeks. Simmons states that the trick here is to keep the herbs unwashed until use, since water enhances decomposition of the leaves.
As you read through the book and experiment with various recipes, you always feel safe in the author’s capable hands ---after all, this is the woman who was able to come up with dozens of delicious recipes based on a single ingredient in Fig Heaven: 70 Recipes for the World's Most Luscious Fruit. Simmons’ matter-of-fact, down-to-earth approach belies the adventuresome recipes and fresh takes on classics. This cookbook’s version of a grilled cheese sandwich -- Grilled Comté Sandwich with Apple and Mango Chutney -- seems like it would make a great addition to a kid’s menu, for instance, helping to bridge a child’s tastes from the comfortable and familiar to a more sophisticated palate.
Most of the ingredients needed for the recipes are readily available at a local Whole Foods or other upscale grocery store. Curry makes a frequent appearance in all sorts of unexpected ways, in recipes ranging from Twice-Cooked Green Beans with Curried Pecans to Curried Corn with Sugar Snap Peas and Mint. Simmons includes a brief list of online grocers as well, especially for more exotic ingredients such as Moroccan Za’atar and Buthanese red rice. Vegan recipes are clearly indicated; in any case, many of the recipes can be easily adapted to a vegan diet by the omission of cheese. “Make a Meal” suggestions accompany most recipes. For instance, the recipe for Corn Tortillas with Mushrooms, Spinach and Manchego Cheese is accompanied by a suggestion to pair it with Red Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Toasted Cumin.
I generally have a strong preference for illustrated cookbooks, preferably ones that show what each finished dish will look like. However, the recipes in this are so mouth-wateringly described that I was happy to jump into the cooking even without the benefit of accompanying photos for the majority of the recipes. The recipes that I have tried so far have lived up to their promise. I have a feeling that my family will be mining this cookbook for recipes for many years to come!