My main criticism of last month’s cookbook was that it wasn’t really manageable for after-work cooking. So a thirty minute recipe book seems like a step in the right direction. I’m sure we’ve all eagerly started a half hour recipe before, and been dismayed (but not really surprised) that it wasn’t actually feasible in that time frame, unless you have the chopping skills of a professional chef. This book contains those rare gems: 30 minute recipes that actually take 30 minutes start to finish, nothing soaked overnight or marinated for hours.
The book has a few main sections for different countries: India, Thailand, China and Japan. It finishes with an Asian Fusion section, featuring a handful of other cuisines, such as Indonesian and Korean. I only used the first three sections, as I didn’t want to end up buying too many exotic (by which I mean expensive) ingredients.
Cooking from the Indian section was a bit nerve-wracking for me. Dr HH’s family are Indian, he grew up with Indian food and he still (no matter how much I flutter my eyelashes when I ask) insists that his mum is the best cook of all time. Either I love Indian food too much or I’m a glutton for punishment, because I made quite a few recipes from this section. In case you’re wondering: none of them were as delicious as Dr HH’s mother’s homecooking.
I started with the Indian Dhal. It was very easy to make, and I added an extra half cup of lentils and a tin of chopped tomatoes. I liked it, and Dr HH positively raved about how flavoursome it was – so much so that I not only made it twice in one week but also dared to ask if it was better than his mum’s dhal. “Well, it’s different,” he said, and launched into a speech about how you can’t really compare dhals and then changed the subject. Oh, well.
The cauliflower chickpea subji was interesting. Dr HH informed me that subji is a dry curry (and corrected my pronunciation of it about twenty times, the little charmer!), but he was as surprised as I was that there was no sauce at all. The vegetables were tasty, but it was essentially steamed veg with good seasoning. A bit weird.
Speaking of weird, here’s the aloo saag. “What’s this brown stuff in the fridge?” Dr HH asked me after I’d made it. He looked aghast when I told him what it was meant to be. I don’t really know how it ended up so brown, but I feel certain that I did something wrong. Fortunately, it tasted better than it looked. I was a little heavy-handed with the spices, so it was a bit fiery for me, but it was much better than I’d expected.
The tempeh vegetable korma was really nice, though not quite as creamy as I’d expected. It may have been my first time seeing tempeh in Indian cuisine, and I heartily approve.
And finally, the highlight of Indian cuisine: samosas! I made the suggested potato filling, which was easy to do. This time I’ll have to agree with Dr HH: these aren’t in the same league as his mum’s. Filo and oven baked is a good time saving and healthier than deep-frying, but it’s not quite the real thing!
Banana pancakes are the go-to breakfast for any backpacker in Thailand, so I was pleased to see a recipe for them here. I didn’t attempt to make the gigantic size you find in Asia, and I’m glad of it – I found even these small ones quite tricky to flip with the weight of the banana slices. I liked the fact that there was mashed banana in the batter and slices on top as well. I’ve never made pancakes with sliced fruit in them, so this was a nice unusual twist. I used regular plain flour instead of the fancier kinds suggested in the recipe, and it was fine.
The red curry was very good. The recipe encourages your own choice of veg, so I grabbed some aubergine and courgette. It was very easy to make, and very flavoursome. I was worried that two tins of coconut milk would make it a bit too sweet, but actually it was well-balanced.
The coconut pumpkin curry was quite similar, and it didn’t seem to produce very much – I added some chunks of tofu to give it a bit more oomph. Recommended.
The Thai coconut vegetable soup was, unsurprisingly, delightful. Again, there was a choice of vegetables, and again I went for courgette and aubergine, along with the suggested cabbage. It was good and spicy, and made a very tasty lunch.
I really enjoyed the Thai basil eggplant. I remember making something similar before from Vegan Street Food, and it’s difficult to go wrong with a few simple flavours and beautifully-cooked aubergine.
I cheated somewhat in the pumpkin pine nut soup, following their suggestion of using rice milk instead of pine nuts (I’m not made of money, after all). The flavours were really well-balanced, from the sweetness of the veg to the spices. The addition of corn at the end was excellent.
The creamy corn soup was quite special. The grated tofu really added to it, and the soup was so flavoursome. I make a lot of corn soups (is there a vegan cookbook in existence without some kind of corn soup?), and this is definitely one that I’ll revisit.
The grated tofu was also the highlight of the Chinese fried rice because it looked so inviting. It didn’t add enough flavour though. In general the dish was nice, but you really need to have something with it – it’s solid, but unexciting for the palate.
When I was about half way through making the kung pao tempeh, it occured to me that I’ve never actually had kung pao anything before. And then I started to suspect that that’s because it’s usually marked with a chilli symbol on menus. Yes, it was spicy. Dr HH loved it. He complained that it was lacking in sauce, which is something that had also confused me. The recipe referred to sauce, but unless I missed something there wasn’t very much liquid in there to create a sauce with. I probably wouldn’t make this again because it was just so spicy, but the marinated tempeh was good without all the chillies.
In fact, none of the dishes I made seemed as saucy as they should be: they were all quite dry. I don’t know if I consistently misread recipes or if they were just a bit off.
Despite that, I’m still a fan of this book. It’s full of speedy, tasty recipes. Usually I steer clear of any recipe that claims to take half an hour because I’ve been stung too many times, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to anyone time-pressed and looking for flavoursome food.