One of the most interesting vegetarian cookbooks I’ve seen in a while is the aptly titled “A Modern Way to Eat.”
The book is by Anna Jones, a British food stylist who honed her skills working for celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for seven years.
Jones’ taste for vibrant vegetarian dishes is enough to whet just about any appetite. But this book has a lot more going for it. It’s clever, well-organized, and, most important, it strikes the perfect balance of filling, healthy and exciting food.
That’s what makes the title so apt: More people are realizing that they need lighter food and more vegetables, but they want dishes that are just as fun and satisfying to eat as the heavier meat and starchy foods that they are replacing.
Jones points out that while the number of vegetarians may be rising slowly, the number of people cutting back on meat is skyrocketing. Brits, Americans and people all over the world are waking up to the fact that more vegetables and less meat, especially red meat, can pay dividends in the reduced risk of disease, longevity and overall well being.
“Today, almost everyone you meet, of any age, is becoming super-conscious of what they eat and the effect on their health,” Jones wrote in the introduction of “A Modern Way to Eat” (Ten Speed Press, $35).
People also are more interested in where food comes from — and how its production affects the environment.
All of which is leading people to the idea that vegetarian food, or at least vegetable-centric food, is the way to go.
In the beginning of the book, Jones makes six promises about her food, and I quote:
• It is indulgent and delicious.
• It will make you feel good and look good.
• It will leave you feeling light yet satisfied.
• It will help you lighten your footprint on the planet.
• It is quick and easy to make and won’t cost the earth.
• And it’ll impress your family and friends.
That’s a pretty tall order. But Jones delivers, and she does it in style.
Part of that has to do with Jones’ approachable style. She’s not preaching vegetarianism; she’s just serving up good recipes.
“For me being vegetarian is easy and how I live; for you it might be different, a few nights a week without meat maybe. I think we all need some good ideas,” she says.
Part of her success, too, is she doesn’t try to make “health food,” and she doesn’t just replace meat with a bunch of carbs.
“We are reaching a middle ground, bridging the gap between heavy cheese- and carb-laden vegetarian restaurant offerings and the nutrition-led green juice diets,” Jones says. “We want the best of both worlds, mind-blowing flavor that does us good: a stacked-high burger that is super tasty but also healthy, a brownie that is devilishly chocolaty but boosts your energy too, a breakfast pancake that leaves us satisfied but packed with nutrition.”
Too much super-healthy food just leaves her hungry, she says. And a lot of carbs and dairy is too heavy. Instead, she uses “spice, texture, flavor and easy grains to satisfy without heaviness.”
Jones has given a lot of thought to her approach. She even maps for readers the eight steps she takes in creating a recipe: choosing a “hero” ingredient, cooking method, supporting ingredient, accent ingredient, flavor, herb, crunch and final seasoning.
Of course, the devil is in the details, and that’s where Jones really shines. Her recipes are intuitive and inventive, familiar and yet fantastic.
Through more than 200 recipes — about a third of which are vegan or gluten-free — Jones has hidden lots of surprises.
Banana, blueberry and pecan pancakes don’t contain flour or butter. Oats and pecans replace the flour. Mashed bananas replace the butter. The recipe even skips the dairy by using almond or coconut milk in place of cow’s milk.
Jones makes quesadillas (cheese sandwiches) with no cheese; sweet potatoes flavored with chile and maple syrup form the foundation of the filling.
She re-imagines eggs Benedict with sweet potatoes subbing for the English muffin, and spinach and caramelized onions in place of Canadian bacon. Her egg-free “Hollandaise” is a puree of cashews, avocado, tarragon and lime.
She is apologetic for including a burger recipe in the book, then proceeds to concoct a fascinating patty that combines pureed beans with sautéed mushrooms, rice, breadcrumbs, garlic, dates, tahini and soy sauce.
Her black-bean tacos may not seem original, but they have neat touches — a dash of cinnamon in the beans, a bit of apple in the slaw.
Other recipes in the book include mushroom and parsnip rosti pie; popcorn tacos; lentils and beets with salsa verde; saffron-spiked ratatouille topped with a fried egg; and mint, pistachio and zucchini balls.
And let’s not forget dessert. Sweets include salted caramel crack brownies, coconut vanilla loaf, cardamom lemon glaze cake, pistachio and elderflower cake and Lady Grey fig rolls.
The book has lots of sections for cooks who like to improvise or for those who just like flexibility. She suggests 10 different ways to serve avocado on toast. She has about a dozen suggestions for pure fruit for breakfast.
One two-page spread is titled “One Soup: One Thousand Variations.” Another is “Vegetable Underdogs: What to Do with All the Weird Stuff.”
Jones may not be reinventing the wheel, but she is making vegetarian food very appetizing for everyone.
“So in this book I have tried to bring together a type of food where clean and healthy meets delicious, where sustainable meets affordable, where quick and easy meets hearty,” Jones says.
“These recipes will make you and the planet healthier; they will make you richer and won’t have you spending hours in the kitchen.
“This is a new way of eating, the way I eat, the way my friends want to eat, and, I believe, how we will all move toward eating in the future.”