Charmaine Solomon’s 1976 work “The Complete Asian Cookbook” served as an early bible for many cooks wanting to learn about Asian food. A Sri Lankan who resettled in Australia, Solomon taught Asian cooking and wrote more cookbooks, including one of vegetarian recipes.
“Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” first published in Australia in 1990, has been updated and reissued this year (Ten Speed Press, $39.95), and somewhat curiously. It joins a pack of new books geared to every kind of vegetarian, while Solomon calls hers “a guidebook for the middle-of-the road vegetarian.”
In other words, milk does not have to be nonfat, flour is not always whole-wheat, and there is no attempt to simulate meat with tofu products or wheat gluten. Bean curd and gluten do appear, but in recipes where they would be used, such as bean curd in Indonesian gado gado.
“Middle-of-the-road” may be misleading, though, since this book is as international as Solomon’s Asian book. It’s not as well-defined, however. Recipes skip from cuisine to cuisine, without any separation. The two broad divisions, “Western Influence” and “Eastern Influence,” could be a sneaky way to inject logic into a book that ranges from fettuccine Alfredo to South Indian yogurt rice. A final “East Meets West” section is harder to figure; it focuses on breakfast, breads and beverages.
The origin of the recipes is not always defined, but this may not matter to people more interested in meatless cooking than in a culinary education. The recipes do offer extraordinary variety. A carrot and saffron soup, modeled on a French seafood dish, is a nice but thin and lacking carrot character. Steamed potatoes with spiced yogurt must be Indian or Sri Lankan, judging by the ghee, turmeric, yogurt and garam masala.
Toast of the shah, one of the Eastern desserts, is India’s answer to French toast or bread pudding, only much more ornate and extravagantly rich. One seldom sees this dessert in Indian restaurants here, so it is nice to have a recipe as good as this one.
Interestingly enough, Solomon prefers vegetarian food. Her book of more than 600 recipes surely hasn’t lost its appeal; it still delivers vegetarian food that sounds good rather than contrived dishes heavy on starches and beans.
Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and boil, covered, 5 minutes. Drain. Prick the potatoes lightly with a fine skewer.
Place the onion, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a blender and puree.
Heat the ghee in a saucepan over medium-high heat and fry the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric and stir, then add the blended mixture and fry, stirring, until the onion no longer smells raw, about 1 minute. Rinse out the blender with 2 tablespoons of water, add to the pan with the potatoes and stir well. Cover tightly, turn the heat very low and steam until the potatoes are cooked, 20 to 25 minutes.
Roast the cumin seeds in a dry pan over medium-high heat, stirring until dark brown, then pound until roughly crushed. Combine the yogurt with the cumin, garam masala and a dash of salt. Serve the potatoes topped with the yogurt mixture and sprinkled with cilantro or chiles.
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