In praise of veg: a 50 week challenge
In Praise of Veg is Alice Zaslavsky’s (aka Alice in Frames) “tribute to the wonderful world of veg”. The book features 50 of her favourite vegetables and goes “a little deeper into what makes them special for cooks and eaters alike, offering ways to bring the best out of them in the kitchen, no matter what your skill level”.
It starts with a matrix of how to cook each vegetable simply: in a hurry, light and bright, set and forget, or “flavour bomb”. It explains the main cooking techniques from gentle and indirect through to point-blank and searing hot, and provides Alice’s suggestions for pantry staples before moving onto the main game: The vegetables.
The recipes are sorted by veg, not by the type of dish, which is a way of ordering a vegetable cookbook I find challenging to navigate because when I’m looking for a zucchini recipe I want to see all the zucchini recipes, not have to search through soups, salads, entrees, mains, side dishes and whatever else you put zucchini into to find recipes that use zucchini.
And even better, Alice has sorted the vegetables not by seasonal availability (although there is a guide to that at the back of the book) or by plant family, but by colour. Yay! The pages even have colour-coded edges so you can flick to the colour you want very quickly. Eating a rainbow just got easier! And there is a lot of pink to go around. It makes for an absolutely beautiful book, and at almost 500 pages and just over two kilos, a pretty bloody big one too.
It’s also full of great tips on buying and storing the vegetables, preparing them and cooking with them, foods that complement them and what you could do with the leftover bits.
Alice says that she wrote the book from the principle of starting with the vegetables and building dishes around them. She says that she believes many people want to focus their diet more on vegetables, but who might not know where to start and don’t really want to jump head first into vegetarianism. The result is 150+ recipes that start with vegetables and, where there is meat, it’s a secondary element to make the dish, not the focus. This is a way of eating that I’m interested in exploring, and I love watching people on cooking shows turn vegetables into hero ingredients, but as for cooking that way myself, I’m one of those people who is still in the starting blocks.
I got this book for Christmas. As I was thinking about what I wanted to do in 2021, I knew that “eat more vegetables” was going to come up on the list as it always does every year. So, without too much thinking about what this might involve or a close flick through the book to make sure if it would be possible, I decided I would choose a different vegetable every week and make a recipe from the book that featured that vegetable. 50 vegetables in 50 weeks. How hard could that be? Pretty cool challenge, right? Especially for the veg that only have one recipe, a complication I hadn’t appreciated when I told everyone I was going to do it and thereby committed myself to it.
What could possibly go wrong?
The first step in this undertaking is to do a little bit of planning (I know) to make sure that I allocate the vegetables over the seasons when they’re going to be available so that I don’t get caught short, especially over winter. Alice has included a rough seasonal guide in the book, but there is a much more detailed resource available specifically for Tasmania available at eatwelltas.org.au that provides not only seasonal guides but monthly guides as well.
Apart from that, I’m going to be winging it.
That thing Alice says at the start of the book about “no matter what your skill level” had better be right. Otherwise there is potential for some massive culinary disasters in my kitchen.
Stay tuned to my Instagram for some #slgcooks mayhem over the coming 12 months. I’ve also made a page to keep track of everything that I do, which I’ll update every time I make a recipe (successfully or otherwise).
Here is the list of 50 vegetables I’ll be exploring this year, sorted the same way Alice has done it. Aren’t they pretty? Except the Brussels sprouts. They’re not pretty.
- Horesradish (+ Wasabi)
- Cauliflower (+ Caulini)
- Ginger (+ Galangal + Turmeric)
- Patty pan squash
- Sweet potato
- Butternut squash
- Tomato (+ Tomatillo)
- Red capsicum
- Turnip (+ Swede)
- Beetroot (+ Golden beet)
- Radicchio (+ Endive)
- Globe artichoke
- Onion (+ Red onion + Shallot)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Yams & tubers
- Mushrooms (+ Truffles)
- Spinach (+ Silverbeet & chard + Warrigal greens)
- Rocket (+ Nettle)
- Kale & Cavolo nero
- Broccoli (+ Chinese broccoli + Broccolini)
- Zucchini (+ Zucchini flowers)
- Beans (+ Bean shoots)
- Leek (+ Spring onion)
- Asparagus (yuck!)
- Celery (+ Celeriac)
- Lettuce (+ Watercress)
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts (nooooooooo!!!)
- Peas & snow peas
- Avocado (+ Bitter melon)