If you’ve seen me lately, I’ve almost certainly bored you to death about a book that has revolutionised my life!
Much More Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is that book. It’s by far the best cookbook I’ve had.
I have many cookbooks but most of them are unsatisfactory in some way. The recipes are too complicated; are not precise enough; have too many ingredients; require a lot of time; have obscure ingredients that are difficult to source or won’t be used again; and, worst of all, don’t result in delicious meals!
Whilst cooking takes more time than popping a ready-made meal in the microwave, I prefer a fresh meal at home – and cooking doesn’t have to be time-consuming. If I’m pressed for time, I steam some veg, put some spices/soy sauce/tofu/beans in a wok, and finally add the steamed veg. That takes about 20 minutes. If I’m having brown rice, that’s about 30 minutes. Wholemeal noodles take less time. I’m happy cooking for half an hour if the result is a nutritious, tasty meal at the end of it. Even making staples such as bread and hummus is easy with a bread-maker and food processor.
More More Veg is designed for people who want to eat more vegetables but find them boring. The recipes all happen to be vegan but don’t let that put you off! The non-veggies I’ve tried the dishes on have all been pleased.
I’ve now had over 50 dishes from the book. This is far more than any other cookbook. Here are some of the things I like about the book:
- The dishes have a core set of ingredients, such as herbs, spices, oils, and vinegars. So once you’re stocked up, you’re good to go (apart from buying the veg themselves, obviously).
- The recipes are clear to follow. I saw one recipe online that said “add potatoes and heat” without telling you how long to heat it for! In contrast, the instructions are precise.
- The recipes are for every day use not just special occasions.
- The recipes don’t have millions of ingredients. I have one book (that I’ve never cooked anything from) that regularly has 20-30 ingredients! That may be fine occasionally but every day?!
- You get the sense that the recipes have been field tested and refined until Hugh was happy with the result.
- The instructions are ordered to optimise your time. For example, if the oven will be required in 15 minutes, you’re told to put the oven on first so that when you’ve finished prepping the ingredients, the oven’s ready. There’s no sitting around. This sounds obvious but it’s surprising how often with other cookbooks I’ve said, “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?!” (This reminds me when I was at school. A particular teacher always told us to read the whole exam paper before proceeding. To drive home her point, she gave us a test paper one day. Some people were writing away while others sat smugly, looking around. It turned out the last line of the test paper said, “Ignore all the questions above and sign below”!)
When I tell others about the book, the conversation usually begins with me mentioning the book title then 10 minutes of everyone trying to remember the author’s name after I say his first name. “Hugh Fittingstall?”, “Hugh Whittingstall-Fearnley?”, “I know who you mean”. It’s a surprisingly hard name to remember even though I’ve had the book for over a year. At home, we just call him Hugh. “Shall we do a Hugh tonight?”
Last week, I was mixing with fellow geeks at the IBM Think conference at Olympia. Imagine my delight when I learnt one of the keynote speakers was the man himself. More out of hope than expectation, I took my copy along to get it signed.
During his keynote speech, Hugh focused on his environmental work. It was all good stuff. When he finished, he sat about two metres away from me in the front row. I got excited! When the last speaker finished, I rushed up to him and asked if he could sign my copy. He asked me if I was veggie or vegan, what my name was, and signed it. He seemed pleased with all the bookmarks and the odd food stain!
After I got his signature, I turned around and about twenty people were waiting to talk to him. If I hadn’t been on the ball, I’d have missed my opportunity!