How do you make a hardcore non vegetarian develop an affinity towards the plant kingdom? Quite tough, actually. Particularly when you are a Calcutta-bred Bengali boy who needs his daily dose of rice and fish curry (interjected with chicken, mutton or eggs) to survive and looks down upon the vegetarians as an inferior race! Well, that makes matters worse.
I was a difficult child when it came to vegetables. My perpetual disdain for greens had kept me by and large a carnivore. Until I started living on my own away from home. Thanks to the inspiring words of my vegetarian friends and the time-consuming affair of cooking chicken or meat dishes, I turned my attention to vegetables.
And then began the romance! I discovered a whole new world of plant-based diet. No, I haven't discarded meat, but the green family doesn't put me off anymore. (My vegetarian friends say that I no longer give them you-don't-know-what-you're-missing smirks.)
Despite my new-grown affection for vegetables, I still find cooking them rather intimidating. Transitioning to veggies isn't always that smooth I guess! That's why when I came across the Plant-Based Cookbook on my office bookshelf, I immediately grabbed a copy for myself as I wanted to explore innovative yet simple vegetarian recipes. Trying out recipes from a cookbook is always fun, more so when it's a DK book.
I'm no MasterChef, but cooking has always been a therapeutic exercise for me. Although cooking veggies can be a little challenging at times (with all that peeling, chopping and occasional boiling)! But as I read on the book, I learnt how cuisines across the globe rely very little on meat, instead vegetables, grains and legumes constitute the bulk of the meal.
Apart from the staggering number of vegetarian recipes (400 dishes, phew!), another impressive feature of the book is the interestingly informative walk-through of the various plant-based cooking techniques, along with charts listing the time every technique takes for different vegetables.
After reading, it was time for hands-on cooking. But then the dilemma was to zero in on one or two recipes out of the dizzying array of delectable dishes! Well, I didn't let myself get too ambitious and decided to prepare two easy-cook Italian recipes that require minimum effort and maximum output (that's how a bachelor defines effortless cooking).
Giambotta, an Italian summer vegetable stew, was my first book-to-cooking-pan experiment. Surprisingly, the dish turned out to be interesting. Somewhat similar to the Indian mixed vegetable curry, the only difference is here that this tomato-based stew isn't too high on spice content. But since I'm a chilli-person, an extra dash of chilli flakes worked fine for me.
Before I ventured into the kitchen, my only apprehension was if the stew would cater to our Indian palate, which isn't satisfied unless you add an entire farm of spices! But the litmus test on my friend (and a guinea pig for all my cooking experiments) paid off well. Despite being a spice-loving Punjabi, he certified that the Giambotta tasted delicious!
Thankfully, Giambotta is neither too hard to master, nor needs a lot of effort. It's more about chopping the vegetables (the more, the merrier) and cooking them all up together, culminating into a filling, yummy stew that reminds you of home.
Next in line was One-Pan Pasta Primavera. I've always been fascinated by one-pan pasta dishes (thanks to YouTube) and this was my golden opportunity. Here too, I followed the same rule: throw everything in one pan! And voilà, it turned out perfect!
This dish literally requires you to put everything in the pan (including the raw spaghetti) with vegetable stock and then go back to your chores, returning in 15–20 minutes to savour mouth-watering pasta! Add some oregano and chilli flakes – ah, heavenly! You can also throw in some mushrooms to get that meaty texture (in case you're missing meat badly).
Having pulled off two recipes successfully, I think it's time for some more adventure in my kitchen. Well, that's a story for another day.