Simon Hopkinson: The Vegetarian Option

Simon Hopkinson has not become a vegetarian just to write a brilliant new cookbook.

Nevertheless, as he writes in The Vegetarian Option (Stewart, Taboori & Chang 2010):

Dishes cooked without carnivorous or piscatorial leanings can be every bit as exciting as those with. This has nothing to do with a particular “choice,” which is why the title is qualified by one very important word: “option.” (p. 8 )

Rather then restrictive (“the very idea of restriction of any kind would resulting a life not worth living”), his cuisine is inventive. These are recipes for dishes that don’t need meat to taste good, rather than dishes from which meat has been removed. Bring your own sense of good taste and feel free to use the chicken broth instead of the vegetable broth – he let’s you choose.

The Vegetarian Option breaks down by main ingredient. Tomatoes & Olive Oil start the book after those bouillons, with a lovely recipe for Tomato Jelly with Basil & Goat Cheese (p. 16) – the colors will remind you of a sunset in summer and taste just as intense. There are fine photographs by Jason Lowe (including these simple layered jellies) – especially the black and white photos of raw ingredients.

The Asparagus & Artichoke chapter follows. Hopkinson writes of asparagus soup: “A good asparagus soup should be limpidly smooth, a lovely pale green (from the skins added late in the cooking process), and with just a touch of cream added as a final enrichment” (p. 23). Lines like these make Simon Hopkinson one of our very best writers about food.

Many of his recipes include ingredients or methods from different European, Asian, and Japanese traditions from kimchi to ramps, and Asian leeks “vinaigrette” with salted duck eggs (p. 70) or fried eggplant with skordalia (p. 108) a Greek sauce or Summer squash or tomato masala (p. 141). But the best and most interesting aspect of Simon Hopkinson’s cookbook is that he makes the reader believe that even a golden cheese soufflé (p. 106) is a cinch to make.

There is just one thing left to do: rush to the nearest farmer’s market and start to cook.

Globe Artichoke Soup

serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound leeks, trimmed, sliced and washed
1 1/4 pound artichoke heart (fresh or frozen), chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 cups stock
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup whipping cream
fresh black truffle (optional)

Heat the oil oil in a roomy pan, add the the leeks, and stew until softened. Add the artichokes and garlic, stir around for a few moments, then season and pour in the stock and milk. Bring up to a simmer, cover, and cook gently for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the artichokes are very tender and almost falling apart. Do not worry about the split appearance of the liquid, it will be resolved at the next stage.

Now process the mixture in a blender until very smooth indeed. Pass through a fine strainer back into the (wiped-clean) pan, and then whisk in the butter and cream, while keeping the soup hot over medium heat. Once all is ready and velvety smooth, pour into heated soup plates and thinly shave over it some black truffle–or not, as the case may be.

(Adapted from The Vegetarian Option)

(Photo of Simon Hopkinson from CookSTR)

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