In June I worked my way through A Vegan Taste of France by Linda Majzlik. This book doesn’t look particularly appealing: there are no pictures, no little introductory paragraphs telling you about the origins of the recipe, no index, no separation between each step of the recipe (it’s just a block of text), and the ingredients aren’t even listed in the right order. I bought it on the theory that none of that stuff really matters if the food is up to scratch. So, was it?
I started, as I so often do, with soup. The creamy cauliflower almond soup sounds like a simple classic, but alas, it was just too simple: really lacking in flavour, despite all the salt and pepper I could muster. I wouldn’t make this again.
The puy lentil and mushroom soup was much better – it was very tasty from the hearty dose of thyme, and had that wonderful earthy flavour of mushrooms. The recipes says to blitz just half of the recipe, and I think I rather overdid it. Next time I’ll keep it a bit chunkier, and add some dried porcini mushrooms as well to give a little something extra.
The Breton onion soup was simple, but tasty. As it was taken to work in a flask, I couldn’t add the sliced of garlic bread and warm it all up under the grill – that would definitely have been a nice touch. I believe this was my first ever onion soup, as it’s traditionally made with beef stock. I was surprised it wasn’t the dark brown I’d expected – but I suppose that’s what the absence of beef stock does.
The provencal bean soup was really refreshing and healthy, it was definitely a good one. All of these soups are so easy to make, it’s just a matter of frying some veg, pouring in the stock and simmering it for a while: no cream to be made, no intricate timing. This one was so lovely on a summery (well, by Manchester’s standards) day. Incidentally, I also love anything with the word “provencal” in the title, because I first encountered it in Beauty and the Beast when Belle bemoaned her “poor, provencal town”, and I thought it was a synonym for ‘boring’. Boring bean soup for everyone!
The aubergine and tomato soup was absolutely amazing! It was the best of the bunch, and definitely one I plan to bring into regular rotation. It was easy and quick to make, but very flavoursome. The herbs gave it a really wonderful taste, and the cooked vegetables were tender and delicious. The photo just doesn’t do it justice.
And the pistou soup was similary spectacular. It was closer to a stew in the end, so chock-full of good stuff: veg, pasta, pesto. In a bout of laziness, I opened a jar of vegan pesto rather than whizzing up my own. It was easy to make, and easy to devour!
Another packed lunch I made was the aubergine and lentil salad. Aubergines are amongst my favourite vegetables, and they really added a lovely flavour to this. The aubergines and red onion are fried, and tossed with the nice fresh tomato, soft puy lentils, red wine vinegar, mixed herbs and garlic oil. It’s easy to make and is a nice refreshing lunch, but would be a lovely side salad as well.
For a light Saturday lunch, I whipped up some carrot and hazelnut pate. Mr HH thinks pate is almost the fanciest thing in the world, so he enjoyed this very much. I did too, though it made for quite a festive meal, probably due to the hazelnuts. I’ll make this again, but probably not until Christmas.
If he thinks pate is pretty fancy, Mr HH believes that pate en croute is the absolute pinnacle of fanciness. I expected him to dust off his top hat and monacle for the occasion when I prepared the aubergine, lentil and walnut pate en croute. It required a touch more seasoning, but besides that it was tasty and easy to make – largely because I used shop bought puff pastry rather than labouring over my own dough.
I served it with the lyonnaise potatoes, which were really tasty – thinly cut, parboiled slices of potato layered with fried onions and dotted with margarine, cooked in the oven. They were a really tasty and simple side dish that I’ll happily make again.
I was a little anxious about trying the root vegetable almond cakes, because I am notoriously bad at getting any kind of burger/patty to hold together. These worked like a dream though! I used a combination of carrot, parsnip and potato, and they tasted delicious. The book advises small patties for light bites, but I went big, of course, and it was worth it.
Similarly, I was a bit concerned about rustling up the potato, spinach and walnut croquettes. I’d never made croquettes before, and have eaten them rarely (I had a childhood aversion to any kind of mushy mashed potato – I blame school dinners), but they actually worked out nicely. I made them quite big, and almost ran out of breadcrumbs, hence their slightly uneven coating. The crumbs held on nicely and provided a lovely crunchy texture, and the spinach lent a nice healthy touch to it. Very enjoyable!
The spinach pie recipe was for six little pies, but I anglicised it and made two gigantic pasties. They were alright: good pastry, good spinach…bad fake cheese. My usual supplier of vegan cream cheese was out of stock, so I had to get this awful Tesco free-from cheddary spread. It smelt terrible when I opened the tub, and the pasty provided an unwelcome reminder. I would try it again with the nice cream cheese, or with potato instead to give it a bit more substance.
Happy Veggies, indeed. The herby chickpea stew was healthy and, as the name promises, herby. It had all manner of good things: courgette, chickpeas, cauliflower, carrot, red pepper, and all the herbs in my kitchen. It would be grand with some rice, but bread is always my carb of choice.
The country cider casserole was a bit time-consuming: you have to soak the soup mix overnight, then simmer it for 20 minutes, then cook it for one hour. All the steps are really easy, but it takes so much time that you can’t really just throw it together after work. For a weekend project while pottering about in the kitchen, though, it’s a definite winner. There’s a lot of good veg in there, and it packs a nice flavour from the sweet cider, apple and apricots, along with a nice earthiness from the root vegetables and grains. I’ll certainly make it again.
The root vegetable cassoulet was another tasty but fairly autumnal dish. I used a combination of carrot, parsnip and sweet potato, which were lovely cooked with the tomatoes and haricot beans. Rather than using bouquet garni for the seasoning, I chucked in a lot of mixed herbs, and I scattered the breadcrumbs on top rather than stirring them in.
As for the ratatouille, it was nice but not life-changing. This is perfect if you’ve had some cake during the day and want a virtuous evening meal (ignore the garlic bread on the side, obviously), and I enjoyed it, but probably won’t make it again unless I have a lot of veg to use up.
The courgette, mushroom and rice tian had a light, summery taste from the grated courgette. I had feared it would be a heavy baked rice dish, but far from it. The tomatoes on top were a really nice touch.
The pasta and broccoli amande was an unexpected delight. I rarely cook pasta, and find pasta dishes generally a bit uninspiring, especially in a restaurant (unless it’s lasagne, of course) but this was a tasty pasta bake. I chucked in some cauliflower as I only had a little broccoli. The sauce was surprisingly effective – it’s simply oat milk, cornflour and ground almonds. It turned out wonderfully thick and creamy, and brought the dish together well. It’s not going to change my stance on pasta, but it’s a solid option that I’ll trot out again when I have some pasta in.
The aubergine and mushroom ragout was really meaty and delicious, full of chunks of aubergine, porcini mushrooms and textured vegetable protein. It took a little longer to make, and doesn’t necessarily look that appetising, but it was a really nice meal.
And that most French of dishes: bourguignon. This is probably the recipe I was most looking forward to trying, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be: meaty, rich, succulent. It was quite similar to the ragout above, with its meaty chunks, mushrooms and red wine. However, the chestnuts added a lovely sweet touch, and it was cooked until everything was so beautifully tender. I shall definitely be adding this to my usual repertoire.
Anyone who knows me would have expected a strong showing from the baked and dessert section of the book, but actually my efforts were limited to just the one: the chocolate hazelnut ramekins. This was so easy to make, but seems like quite the fancy dessert – a thick, chilled, chocolatey pudding, not as airy as mousse, but lovely and rich and thick. I collect mismatched, vintage tea cups and saucers, so I dusted off some of them and it made for a lovely elegant dessert – suitable for a dinner party, or eating in your pyjamas with your feet up and some Netflix!
This book certainly exceeded my expectations. It’s a shame more thought wasn’t put into its presentation and design, because we really do judge books by their covers (and layout), and this one isn’t really selling itself. The recipes didn’t have that wow factor of some of the other books I’ve used (like Asian Vegan Kitchen or Afro Vegan), simply because the European flavours and ingredients are so familiar to me. But they were classic combinations, and I’ll definitely make a lot of these dishes again. I’m also going to buy more of the author’s cookbooks and hope to uncover some more hidden gems.