From time to time, Casual Kitchen receives review copies of new cookbooks. My goal is to warn you away from the bad ones and draw your attention to the good ones. Here's one of the best I've seen in a while.
I've found a cookbook that matches the food philosophy here at Casual Kitchen perfectly: Almost Meatless, by Joy Manning and Tara Desmond.
Are you trying to make your diet healthier, but you're not ready to commit to strict vegetarianism? Are you looking for a collection of intriguing recipes that will help you adopt a more conscientious diet and cut your food bill? Then this cookbook is for you.
Joy and Tara start from a premise that Casual Kitchen readers will fully appreciate: most Americans eat far more meat than they really need. But these authors don't run to the opposite extreme and ram vegetarianism down our throats. On the contrary, both freely admit they eat meat and have no interest in cutting it out of their diets. I think of Joy and Tara as "moderates" in the vegetarian debate.
The recipes in Almost Meatless are generally quite easy. They avoid showy and expensive ingredients that you can't find in your grocery store, and yet these recipes still grab you because they combine ordinary ingredients in highly creative ways. Exactly the kinds of recipes that pass my Five Easy Questions Test.
A few favorites that stood out to me: Shrimp and Slow Roasted Tomatoes (page 52), Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole (page 78, a casserole-style dish that will literally leap out of this cookbook directly into your recipe filebox) and African Peanut Stew (page 35, an exotic recipe that looks like it could be made in under an hour and for less than $2 a serving). I hope to blog about each of these in the coming months.
Of course I expect a cookbook to have great recipes--otherwise I'd never recommend it to readers. But Almost Meatless goes further still, providing extensive information on the proper care and handling of various meats, as well as an extremely helpful chapter on stocks and broths (the recipes for veggie stock and mushroom broth are both worth noting).
And at the very end of Almost Meatless you'll find something you almost never find in even the very best cookbooks: a list of recommended food-related titles for further reading. Joy and Tara's reading list includes some expected books, like Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but it also suggests some interesting lesser-known titles like Aliza Green's cookbook Beans and David Joachim's The Food Substitutions Bible. I love this feature, and I think every cookbook should include a solid reading list just like this for those readers who want to learn more.
The only (minor) criticism I have for this otherwise exceptional cookbook is the omission of prep and cooking times with each recipe. I consider cook times a critical tool to help readers judge which recipes they'll have time to make on a given day. I hope Joy and Tara include this feature in their second edition.
You can buy Almost Meatless for $15 at Amazon, a surprisingly reasonable price in the era of the $50 celebrity-endorsed cookbook. I'm glad Ten Speed Press took a chance with these first-time authors--we're all the richer for it. I highly, highly recommend this cookbook.
Visit Tara Desmond's blog: Crumbs on My Keyboard
Visit Joy Manning's blog: What I Weigh Today
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