I don’t like cooking. I wasn’t exactly banned from cookery classes at school, but I seem to remember that while 99 per cent of my class were kneading away at their dough, I was cleaning out the store cupboard. That suited me fine. It was even better when the job was jointly assigned to me and my best friend Teresa. We’d lock ourselves in and proceed to taste our way through all the jars, pots and bottles. That cupboard was my introduction to black molasses and the consequences of eating a very large quantity in less than an hour.
But I’m all grown-up now and I do try, sporadically, to drum up enthusiasm for the activity. This is especially so since converting to vegetarianism in the 1990s. I even, occasionally, experience moments of pleasure while cooking, given the ambience, time, enough large glasses of wine and an easy recipe.
I’ve recently had one of those bursts of cooking enthusiasm and tried out a recipe from a new recipe book. It’s one of the titles on the virtual shelves of my ‘Save The Planet’ Amazon aStore (not yet online). I bought it because it’s an opportunity to improve both cooking and writing skills - I could try out some recipes and then write a review of the book both for my website and for Amazon.
The book’s title and subtitle were the hooks that snagged me: 30 Minute Vegetarian and Tasty vegetarian meals in a flash. The claim on the back cover reeled me in. The recipes “ … can be prepared and cooked in 30 minutes or less”.
To be fair to the book I took into account my culinary ineptitude and allowed myself an hour instead of 30 minutes and set about preparing the surprise of a home-cooked meal for my long-suffering husband.
I’ve grown aubergines, including the white variety and other vegetables such as this carrot, who grew up to be exceedingly handsome. He was a fine dancer too, as you can see from the photo, so I named him Ginger Astaire and was quite sad the day I had to eat him.
The last sentence in the recipe’s opener also delivered its first body blow: “This salad is best made in advance and left for several hours …!” What? What happened to the promise of a 30 minute meal in a flash?
I was stunned, but quickly regrouped. That was a remark, not an order, right? I was under no obligation to leave the salad to stand for several hours, was I? I could still salvage the day (or rather, the meal). I moved on to the first instruction:
“1. Cut the aubergines into 2 cm cubes, …,”. (I did that). “… put in a large colander …,” . (I did that, too). “… and sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons [of] salt.” (I did that as well).
I began to relax, content in the knowledge that in another 25 minutes I’d have dinner on the table.
“Set aside to drain in the sink for 2-3 hours”. I blinked. I read it again. “Set aside to drain in the sink for 2-3 hours”. I blinked again, harder this time. It wasn’t an hallucination. I really did read: “Set aside to drain in the sink for 2-3 hours”.
We had a very late dinner that evening and it didn’t include Tunisian salad with preserved lemon. I think it was an aubergine casserole. (I can ‘do’ casseroles if I pretend to myself I’m making soup).
I checked out some of the other recipes. Some can be done in less than 30 minutes, such as ‘Spaghetti with Lemon and Rocket’, but all that this recipe requires of me is to heat up some tagliatelle and afterwards stir in some rocket, chopped garlic and red pepper, then sling some cheese on top. Even I can do that and to call it a recipe is really stretching it.
Another recipe tells me to peel the skins off beans. I’ve never peeled beans in my life and I’m not going to start now, especially since most of the vitamins in a vegetable are thrown out with their skins, along with its roughage. I don’t even wash mushrooms before cooking them – I absolutely insist that mushrooms and compost sautee’d in butter and cider is a flavourful combination and leaving the compost on your vegetables adds roughage to the diet.
The book’s as good-looking as my late (and ate) carrot Ginger Astaire, I’ll give it that. It’s spiral-bound, there are lots of colour photos, the instructions are clear and I’ll definitely be trying out more of the recipes. ‘Fennel with Walnut Parsley Crust’ sounds scrumptious as does ‘Mushroom Pot Pies’.
I bought the book however, because of the promise on both front and back covers that the recipes could be prepared in 30 minutes. I bought the book on that basis. It didn’t deliver on its promise. I was cheated.
The book is a compilation. It’s edited by Fiona Roberts, published by Reader’s Digest and the copyright belongs to Murdoch Books Pty Limited.