I got a cookbook for Christmas called “Tender.” It’s all about growing and preparing vegetables. As someone who needs to eat more, and enjoys growing, vegetables, and someone who appreciates unnecessarily fancy cookbooks, this book appealed to me when I first stumbled across it on Amazon. “Tender” had been sitting on my wishlist for a while because it seemed a little intimidating and because, well, I like having long lists of books. This Christmas, though, I finally decided to just ask for it.
Then it arrived. It is an incredibly intimidating book in person.
First of all, its size ranks it somewhere between hardcover “Song of Ice & Fire” books and a standard college textbook. Second, the author’s name is Nigel. Third, there’s a lot of text. I enjoy cookbooks that merge anecdotes and recipes – cooking, after all, has a rich sense of community and history and togetherness, whether it’s through learning to cook, sharing recipes, or cooking for a group, and I like to see that brought out alongside the cut-and-dried instructions – but this one is extremely dense. Even the recipes themselves are written out in conversational paragraphs, as opposed to numbered lists.
Plus, all the recipes have snooty-sounding titles, like, “A pilaf of asparagus, fava beans, and mint,” or “A chilled soup of goat cheese and beets,” or “Sprouting and blood oranges on a frosty May day.” Yikes.
(One of my favorite names so far is “An extremely moist chocolate-beet cake with creme fraiche and poppy seeds.”)
In sum: it is not a cookbook for beginners.
At first, I perused it reverently, studying the Instagram-ish photos of his London garden in each season, scanning the table of contents (artistically printed sideways on the page) to see which new kinds of vegetables I could learn to work with. The recipe titles almost immediately put me off, if they weren’t too long for me to decipher, “hey, this is just a salad,” or “oh, I kind of know how to make a variation of that.”
Even the vegetables themselves suddenly became intimidating. Apparently what we know as broccoli is technically “calabrese,” and there’s a whole ‘nother variety called “sprouting,” and I don’t even know if that’s the official name or the British name, so heaven help me if I ever want to try to grow or prepare it. And what is a Jerusalem artichoke, anyway?!
I was afraid I’d bought the kitchen equivalent of a coffee-table book – something that sits out on display to impress people, or kill a few minutes with idle reading, but isn’t very useful.
Then I reached the tomato section and found a recipe for simple roasted cherry tomatoes. It was even called “Roasted cherry tomatoes.” I can definitely handle that.
Below that was a recipe called “Baked tomatoes with cheese and thyme.” It contained the sentence “Whatever, just make sure the goat cheese fits inside the tomato.”
Intrigued, I read it, feeling my brain work the same connections as it does to translate a foreign language. You make the dish by hollowing out large tomatoes, filling them with olive oil, goat cheese, and herbs, and roasting them, then eating them as a side. Mr. Slater suggested couscous. Kevin and I both thought this was perfectly acceptable.
So we made them for our Sunday night dinner and they were rich and amazing and we’re going to eat them all the time now.
My translation skills are improving now. For example, that sprouting dish? It’s just a hollandaise sauce with orange zest over steamed greens. Now, I have no idea how to make a hollandaise sauce, and I would probably goof up, but at least I know what it is. Similarly, a snooty-sounding pepper recipe turned out to be a very doable dish of ground-pork stuffed peppers.
I wanted the book in order to build up more healthy veggie recipies, but – and I admit I am actually exited about this – many of the recipes are, in true British fashion, smothered in cream and/or cheese. As far as Mr. Slater is concerned, the only good way to eat cauliflower is under a blanket of cheese. Aside from the salad recipes and a few stir fries, almost nothing in this book looks like it’ll be healthy. Even the cabbage section contains a recipe for a gratin! And, if Mr. Slater is any judge, Brussels sprouts are to be eaten with bacon, cream optional. (I don’t think it even occurred to him to just roast them.)
Still, as long as the recipes contain something that grew from the ground, I’ll be perfectly happy to eat them and pretend they’re healthy, whether they’re filled with goat cheese or not.