FOOD & DRINK: COOKING THE BOOKS

PUTTING RECIPES TO THE TEST WITH RICHARD EHRLICH
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The Independent Culture
Rose Elliot is a one-woman cottage industry with a single product - vegetarian cookbooks. She has written more than 40 to date, and this, her latest, is a heavily illustrated, large-format book. It also has an unusual slant, having been designed for beginners. Gill and Ken Fletcher of Beckenham, Kent helped me to assess its success. Ken is the beginner, Gill acted as observer and scribe.

DESIGN

The Fletchers said: "Learning to Cook Vegetarian is beautifully produced, attractively designed, and a pleasure to browse through. The recipes are well laid out, and the pictures usually illustrate a recipe on the same spread (why do so many cookbooks fail to do this?)."

PRACTICALITY

"The book is well organised into key sections, and includes a useful introduction to vegetarian cooking and basic nutrition. Elliott's style is friendly and informal - you feel confident that you can achieve the end results. Unlike other cookbooks so good to look at, the ingredients and equipment you need are straightforward (I'm reminded of the River Cafe recipe that demands pounds 25-worth of wild mushrooms and a wood-fired oven. I'll just pop out and get one.) We also noticed how few ingredients most recipes require."

THE RECIPES

The Fletchers agreed that "the instructions are easy to follow"; Ken found them "hard to muck up". Overall, they felt, the book is "a good introduction to vegetarian cooking. It's simple, and all the recipes worked perfectly." They cooked a good dozen of them, from Vegetable Lasagne and Spanakopita to Tofu Dip, so their seal of approval counts for a lot.

"Our only criticism (and it's quite a big one) would be that the food, while edible and doubtless nutritious, is rather bland." My trusty tester admitted that his efforts tasted "reasonable, but not startling". I'm not sure I want my food to be startling, but I know what he means. Despite the Nineties presentation, many of Rose Elliott's recipes hark back to the stereotype of Seventies veggie food - brown rice, nut loaves, and that dreadful soy protein stuff. Is there really such a thing as "Classic Nut Roast"?

The Fletchers continue: "There are other books that, while maybe not so stylishly presented, offer recipes with a bit more 'pizzazz'. Once you've mastered the basics, we don't think you'd take this book down again, except maybe to look at the photos." They also felt that the brevity of most of the ingredients lists, while enhancing practicality, sometimes contributed to the blandness of dishes.

THE PHOTOGRAPHS

Gill and Ken praised the "artistic" quality of the photographs, which combine still life with usual shots of plated dishes.

VALUE FOR MONEY

The couple thought that "pounds 18.99 seems fair for a nicely produced book of this size. But despite all its good points, we can't give it very high marks - because we know we're unlikely to reach for it again."

MARKS: SIX OUT OF TEN

! If you'd like to be one of Richard Ehrlich's Cooking the Books guinea pigs, write to him at the IoS Review, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL

LEARNING TO COOK VEGETARIAN by Rose Elliot Photographs by Philip Webb Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 18.99

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