You can’t imagine how good our house smells right now. There’s just something about the smell of any kind of stock cooking that makes a house smell wonderful. Add to that the smell of stewed apples and melted chocolate and gingerbread, and you have something truly wonderful (actually, I’m still anticipating the apples and the gingerbread, but our house will certainly be smelling of these things soon).
I had a completely different post planned for today. Actually, I had several, and I was going to be really good and wait until I’d cooked more recipes from this book before writing about it, but I have had this cookbook for nearly a week now and I’m really excited about it, so I couldn’t wait any longer. Also, I’m feeling a little seedy, and the Mexican Cold Remedy (a chicken soup full of lovely vegetables spiked with cinnamon, allspice, chilli, lime and orange, and served with sweet potato bread) sounded too good to resist. As did the chocolate, coconut milk and raspberry spread that gives you one whole serve of fruit when you have it on toast for breakfast (though I can’t help suspecting it gives you several serves of slightly less laudable things, which you won’t care about one bit after you taste it).
Less Meat, More Veg is a somewhat difficult book to describe. It’s aimed at people who want to eat less meat but can’t quite bring themselves to go vegetarian, and it’s definitely a book about meat, but it also has a whole heap of very useful recipes for vegetarians and vegans. There’s a section on making nut milks and oat milk, and even a cashew cream; most of the baking is done without eggs or dairy (she loves her coconut milk) and most of the side dishes, snacks, breakfasts and desserts are vegan. The reason for this is that when she says less meat, De Thamples actually means fewer animal products in general, and if you already have meat, eggs or dairy in your main meal, then you probably want to avoid eating them at breakfast or for snacks.
De Thamples has two reasons for wanting you to eat fewer animal products and more vegetables: it’s healthier for you, and healthier for the planet. (For those unfamiliar with the environmental argument for vegetarianism, it basically takes a lot more resources to raise animals for food or for their produce than it does to grow vegetables.) De Thamples does, however, feel that meat is good for you – if eaten in moderation, and if it comes from an animal that had a natural and healthy life. She talks about these things a fair bit, and I’ve seen this book referred to as preachy, though I don’t find it so. At the beginning of each section on animal she talks about what you are looking for if you are after humanely-raised, ecologically-friendly animal products. This ranges from what time of year to buy lamb, what sort of diet you want your beef to have had, how to source fish that isn’t a disaster for the environment, and the difference between free-range and factory-farmed animals, both in terms of the health and happiness of the animal and the nutritional value of the meat, milk or eggs.
While it is not stated outright, De Thamples also appears to adhere to the idea that if you are going to eat meat, you should be making the most of it, and not throwing any of it away. This is a principle which I strongly approve of, though I’m not terribly good at adhering to it. She starts each section with a roast, and then proceeds through dealing with the leftovers: how to make stock, and then three or four recipes using the leftover cooked meat.
In the case of the chicken, not only does she tell you what to do with the meat and the carcase, she also has recipes for a pâté made from the liver, and a pasta sauce flavoured with the giblets. I’m actually slightly tempted by the pâté, but draw the line at giblets… The beef recipe shows you how to render the fat to make a dripping pastry, informing her readers that the fat is actually very nutritious if it comes from a well-reared and grass-fed animal. (My one area of dubiousness in this book is De Thample’s use of fats; while she does use the ‘good’ fats, and points up many recipes as being ‘lower fat’ versions of things, I wouldn’t call this a low-fat cookbook, by any means. Healthy and packed with vitamins, yes; light, not necessarily.)
Her meals allow for around 50g meat, dairy or egg per person – enough, she says, for us to get our daily protein requirements – and each recipe shows the number of serves of fruit and vegetable you get from that meal (interestingly, it turns out that I actually already use more vegetables than De Thamples recommends – odd, but reassuring). 50g of meat isn’t much, so you generally get two or three serves of vegetables at the same time, and of course a lot of leftovers. One impressive thing about this book is how good De Thamples is at creating very meaty dishes with very small amounts of meat. The Maya Gold chilli, for example, contains 250g of beef mince divided between 6 people; when I put that into the saucepan it looked ridiculously scanty, but by the time I came to serve it, the flavour of the beef permeated the whole dish, and it certainly tasted meaty and filling. Part of the reason this works, of course, is that De Thamples is also encouraging you to buy good quality meat with a lot of flavour – which means that you need less of it in order to make an impression.
Her vegetable dishes include a whole collection of side dishes that you can make in under 15 minutes, all of which look really interesting and tasty. She also has 3 15-minute soups, 3 fast and vegetable-packed versions of macaroni cheese, and a risotto base recipe, with about a dozen vegetable flavour possibilities. And she has a bunch of lovely little things like blueberry lemonade (a drink composed of lemon juice, water, a small amount of sugar and a whole punnet of blueberries) which just sounds delightful. There’s even a mexican chocolate and avocado mousse, which makes me happy, as that’s a recipe I’ve wanted to try for ages.
I’ve only had this book for a week, so I haven’t made that many recipes yet, though the ones I have made have all been very quick and easy to put together, despite all starting from fresh ingredients (tinned tomatoes and tinned beans being about the only exceptions to this). I’ve made the almond milk, which was lovely, and the cashew cream, which I think was not quite right. The Maya Gold chilli was very tasty, though on the mild side, and the chocolate, raspberry and coconut spread is decadent and wonderful and cannot possibly count as a healthy breakfast even if you do have a bowl of fruit on the side! The chicken stock is good, and that soup is smelling pretty fabulous too.
The really exciting thing about this book, though, is how inspiring it is. I actually got a whole chicken from the butcher today, cut into pieces and with the carcase included, and will be making stock with the bones, soup with the drumsticks, a chicken, coconut and pumpkin curry with one breast and possibly a palliard with the other, and finally a chicken pie with the thighs. The wings will go into the freezer until I have a few more, at which point they will probably become stock or soup, since I can’t see Andrew eating chicken wings, no matter what I do with them, and they wouldn’t really work for mince (another thing that De Thamples tells you how to make). I’ve never organised my cooking in this way before, and I like it. It’s all very well to plan to use a whole animal, but it’s harder to work out what to do with each of the bits. This book makes it easy. And I can already tell I’m going to get some real use out of those vegetable dishes, not to mention the nut milks and breakfast ideas.
I already love this book. It’s the sort of book I’d get for my family or friends if I were vegetarian or vegan (or dairy-free, for that matter) and they weren’t. It has plenty of meat in it, but also plenty of ideas for meals without meat, or baking without dairy or eggs, and one doesn’t feel at all deprived by the recipes. Reading this book, I want to make things I’ve never thought of making before, and in fact there isn’t much in this book I wouldn’t try.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to finish making that soup.
Less Meat, More Veg: The Eco-Friendly Way to Eat, with 150 Inspiring Recipes, is available from The Book Depository and from Amazon. But if you get it from the Book Depository before June 5 and put in ‘MAY11’ as a coupon code when you go to check out, you’ll get it for 10% off, so I’d go there if I were you. I’ll have an Australian source for these cookbooks soon, I promise, though it’s hard to go wrong visiting Books for Cooks. Actually, it’s very easy to go wrong there if you have a cookbook addiction like mine, but I think you know what I meant…