This month we review a book that proves gourmet recipes can be achieved in under 30 minutes.
Quick, Easy Recipes with a Gourmet Twist
By Alan Roettinger
Book Publishing Company, 2010
With his new cookbook, Speed Vegan, chef Alan Roettinger may be just the right person to inspire people to return to empty kitchens they've long abandoned. Writing this cookbook was a unique challenge for this talented chef, who usually planned ahead and took as much time as needed to prepare special dishes. The task he faced for this book was to create tasty dishes that could be prepared by home cooks within 30 minutes.
A world traveler, this personal chef has cooked for entertainers and presidents in many countries and has had to rely on his ingenuity and intuitive skills to prepare food in kitchens with minimal equipment. At the beginning of the Speed Vegan project, Roettinger was an omnivore. By the time the book went to press, he had adopted a totally vegan diet and experienced surprising health improvements, discovering he had more energy, needed less sleep, and felt vigorously athletic.
Understanding that learning to cook can be daunting he says, "Making something good to eat is the most ancient activity of civilized human beings. If illiterate people could do it with stone knives and clay pots, surely you will be able to do it with today's refined tools." He considers a recipe "just a guideline, the blueprint of a dish's construction " and provides detailed suggestions for essential kitchen equipment and pantry items.
The chef's "must have" equipment list includes standard items for today's kitchen: blender, food processor, baking sheets, saucepans, sauté pans, and stockpot. He mentions his favorite knives are Swiss-made by Victorinox and his preferred blender is from Braun. To protect knives he suggests a cutting board made of self-healing material and says the salad spinner is "Speed Vegan's natural friend."
Pantry items are listed in three categories: shelf stable foods; foods refrigerated after opening; and items kept refrigerated. For hard-to-find foods or condiments, the chef advises stocking up when you locate them. Included in that category are ancho chile powder, pasilla chile powder, herbes de Provence, ras el hanout, Spanish smoked paprika, extra virgin red palm oil, porcini mushroom powder, tamarind concentrate, tekka, truffle-infused virgin olive oil, and green garbanzos.
The new cook and even kitchen wizards may find some of the chef's favorite herbs and spices unfamiliar. Take his advice and delve into Jump Starts, a chapter that provides shortcuts to being able to create recipes with speed. This section contains homemade sauces and condiments like Garlic Oil, Chipotle Mayonnaise, and Sundried Tomato Paste he keeps on hand to add special perk to his culinary creations.
While Hot Eggplant and Seitan Open-Face Sandwiches appear in the snack section, they would actually make a sensational light lunch for anyone who loves the flavor of grilled eggplant. A stunning full-page color photo of this dish appears opposite page 86 and is so enticing one can almost inhale the exotic aromas.
Asian flavors take the stage in many of the recipes. One example is Glass Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce, a tasty salad that tosses translucent mung bean vermicelli with cucumbers and fresh cilantro and bathes them in a spicy Thai-style peanut sauce. And it's assembled and ready to serve within 30 minutes.
Smoky flavors are a favorite of the chef who employs both smoked salt and smoked paprika to smother the Smoked Portobello Mushroom Salad with a rare flavor treat. Another salad that comes alive with a nuanced flavor blend is Grilled Radicchio Salad. Paired with greens like arugula and dotted with sliced roasted red bell pepper, the medley is enhanced with balsamic vinaigrette and punched up with homemade Roasted Garlic Puree and Dijon mustard.
Pasta dishes, vegetable specialties, and legume and grain dishes all have special touches that make home cooking an exciting, highly palatable adventure. And the chef's mastery of spices even reaches into the section on Sweets. Imagine Chocolate Pots de Crème laced with fresh basil leaves and crushed peppercorns or Dried Fruit Compote sparked with crushed cardamom seeds.
Adding visual appeal to the book are several pages of bright, mouth-watering, full color photographs displaying several of the recipes. The dishes are simply, yet attractively styled and send the message that one could easily recreate these recipes at home.
The headnotes, while highly informative, are delivered in a casual, often warm and humorous style and offer an inside peek at the chef's delightful personality.
Speed Vegan demonstrates how easy it is to create exceptional foods with lively flavors and fragrances by spending no more than a half hour in the kitchen. It's a spice-blessed volume that dares to play mind games with the cook by teasing the senses. Seasoned cooks as well as neophytes will appreciate this rich, flavor-infused, easy-to-prepare collection of recipes. We wish Alan Roettinger much success in his vegan journey.