Veg in by Flip Shelton and Eating for the Seasons by Janella Purcell

Two fun, healthy takes on eating your vegetables

By Robyn Lewis
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Veg In, simple vegetarian dishes from around the world – Flip Shelton

Veg In, simple vegetarian dishes from around the world – Flip Shelton

Eating for the Seasons – Janella Purcell

 

I have an occasional desire to eat more vegetarian food, which in sort of a yin-yang way is counterbalanced by my horror of the thought of the extra work and stress that may be involved, especially as I have a young child going through an ‘I hate anything green’ phase.

This, combined with our farm life and a regular supply of delicious, free range, humanely killed sheepmeat, provides me with the perfect excuse to remain omnivorous (although for moral reasons I gave up pork years ago).

Sure, we grow lots of our own vegetables, but give up meat altogether? I did it once for two months in preparation for a trip to Nepal, and was shocked on arrival to find that most Nepalis ate meat – lots and lots of beef, goat and chicken. I couldn’t wait to enjoy some carnivorous curry.

A few years back, all we had for guidance were Really Boring Vegetarian Cookbooks. Lentil patties, anyone? Vegetables were dressed up to pose as meat substitutes, and health took a back seat. Fun? You have to be kidding. Vegetarian was Good, and that was enough!

All that has changed, and more so recently when two new books landed on our editorial desk, unsolicited and something of a surprise.

Looking at their matte covers, Eating for the Seasons: Cooking for health and happiness by Janella Purcell and veg in: simple vegetarian dishes from around the world by Flip Shelton could have come from the same publisher or designer – lots of red, orange and green, and a smiling woman glowing with health on each cover.

Janella Purcell, the brunette, is dressed like a 70s American hippie, lace dress and boots (!), climbing a ladder inside a vegetable cornucopia of all seasons. She’s 'cooking for health and happiness’ and she sure looks the part. I read on the back cover that she’s a qualified naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and iridologist, ‘passionate about good food and feeling great’.

I obviously don’t watch enough TV as ‘she’s also a vivacious and entertaining chef who has appeared regularly on Australian and overseas television, from co-hosting Good Chef, Bad Chef with Gary Mehigan to assisting The Biggest Loser contestants as their nutritionist.’ Her first book was Janella Purcell’s Elixir.

Likewise, Flip Shelton, the blonde, is a ‘writer, broadcaster and muesli-maker’, and is apparently one of ‘Kochie’s Angels’ on Sunrise, for those who don’t spend their early mornings trying to get their families ready for school and work.

Shelton talks about food on TV and radio across Australia, and ‘has written about travel and fitness for newspapers and magazines. Veg in follows the sellout success of (her) first cookbook, Green: Modern vegetarian dishes.’

She’s pictured in casual gear and trainers in a veggie store (organic, presumably), lemon grass in hand, and radiates energy and fitness like a yogi or marathon runner.

Her cleverly titled veg in promises ‘simple vegetarian dishes from around the world. No need for a passport, or a drive in the car’ or those carbon-generating international flights. The media release says you can ‘take your tastebuds around the world on a gastronomic journey even while you veg in. This is takeaway – DIY style!’

Well, apart from the DIY bit (surely the reason most of us succumb to the occasional takeaway is to have a break from cooking?), it sounds good – no queuing or plastic containers, less cost, you know what you’re eating, and there’s certainly no MSG.

Veg in is divided into ten chapters: Indian, Malaysian, Japanese, Greek, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Pizza, Chinese, Burgers and Spuds. For just over 150 pages and a small, square format, it packs in a lot of recipes, with an emphasis on simplicity.

The media release states that ‘the best vegetarian dishes from these cultures and cuisines are the focus’ and while they only skim the surface (India alone has a vegetarian cuisine dating for millennia, with thousands of recipes) veg in provides a great introduction.

From India there’s lassi, dahl, chappatis, spinach and paneer (one of my favourites), tandoori veggies and more. Malaysia provides pineapple pachadi – an excellent side dish or substitute for Melaka’s fabulous prawn and pineapple curry – laksa, coconut rice, Singapore noodles without the pork, green curry and a black rice pudding.

Those with spice-hating children might enjoy the Japanese chapter – try veg sushi rolls and tempura veg on the kids, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the requests for more. Many of these recipes are great for a quick, healthy lunch, too.

And so on, round the world, including starters and dips, salsas and breads, mains, sides and desserts. There’s an entire section on pizzas, and another on veg burgers (think tofu, chick peas and beans, not just lentils) and fritters, plus baked potatoes with fillings.

The Chinese and Mexican sections are especially good, reworking our favourite takeaways into far more healthy versions.

Whether you’re eating more vegetables for your health, the planet, and/or for ethical or other reasons, veg in by Flip Shelton is a good, inspiring place to find easy ideas. You might begin by adding one or two dishes to your weekly diet, and seeing where that takes you as your veg confidence increases.

As food critic John Lethlean says on the rear cover, ‘Flip Shelton radiates energy and it comes through in her food. If it’s true that we are what we eat, … most of us could do with a bit more of what Flip eats, on a regular basis.’

 

Eating for the Seasons: Cooking for health and happiness by Janella Purcell is a different kettle of fish, literally. For a start, Purcell doesn’t say that you have to give up meat altogether – many of her recipes include fish, which she recommends – and quite a few of her recipes can be made as side dishes to, or adapted to include red or white meat, if that is your preference.

Instead, she focuses on eating in tune with the seasons, based on the Chinese principles of ‘heating’ and ‘cooling’ of your body, and Japanese macrobiotics, not on what’s in the shops at the time (although the two may correspond).

For every season Purcell says ‘there is an organ that is most sensitive and different emotions that will be associated with that time of year’.

In winter we ‘naturally want to warm our bodies, to rest and store energy’ – even if you live in the sub-tropics – and according to Purcell we may feel more isolated, anxious and fearful.

The body can ‘shut down’ a little in winter and she recommends that it’s a time for slightly heavier, energy-giving foods, dark foods, more oil and ginger, but curiously, not for more chillies and curries, which she advises cool the body.

Most people love spring because – apart from sunshine, new growth and blossoms – it reminds us of youth, renewal and beginnings. It’s a time to replenish our energy, get outside, give our livers a break (Purcell suggests lemons, limes and other sour foods for this), and lots of salads, smoothies and juices.

She also recommends that it’s the season for seafood like scallops, prawns and calamari, rather than scale fish, and cutting down on salt and alcohol in spring.

Summer is the season to eat more lightly. She suggests starting with mostly cooked foods in early summer, when the heart and small intestine are most sensitive. In what traditional Chinese medicine describes as the ‘fifth season’, when ‘summer and autumn come together and you are drawn outside’ (and the spleen and stomach predominate), it’s the time for lots of raw foods.

In both, Purcell recommends to ‘let the energy out’, and lots of curry, spice and chillies help. Horseradish and black pepper also induce a sweat, but avoid cold substances like iced drinks and ice cream, especially in early summer. (I can see a bit of a difficulty with the timing of Christmas in the southern hemisphere!)

Autumn, in contrast, is about ‘nurturing and supporting your organs and building your blood in preparation for winter’, and the time when coughs and other respiratory disorders may appear. It’s a time for the body to ‘let go’ and also to dry out, so she recommends lots of steaming, boiling, slow cooking and soups.

Whether you believe all this or not is up to you, but whatever, it’s as good a way as any to introduce some seasonal variation into both your diet and your cooking methods, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Eating for the Seasons helpfully starts with pantry essentials – things that you will need all year, in your cupboard, fridge or freezer – to which you add depending on the season. Even if you do nothing more than to go out and buy some of these, like dashi, kombu, spelt flour, agave syrup and miso paste, you’ll be able to add some variety to your standard culinary repertoire.

She strongly recommends making your own stocks, and tells you how; her tips for vegetable stocks are easy, and excellent.

The recipes in each section start with seasonal breakfasts, then to lunch (easy midweek or more leisurely weekend) and dinners. Most are simple, although dishes like the wheat- and coconut-free laksa are not for total novices. I particularly like the sides and large array of creative dressings, for both salads and vegetables.

Those with a sweet tooth are not forgotten, especially in spring when Purcell recommends sweetening your food, and I’ll be trying the vegan chocolate cheesecake as soon as winter is over. Personally I find the sugar, butter and cream-laden desserts of the type featured on MasterChef totally unpalatable, and am always looking for a dessert of which the Heart Foundation might approve – this could be one!

There are also desserts including the highly under-utilised (in the west) agar-agar as a substitute for gelatine, which is not only vegetarian, but far easier to digest and has considerable creative potential.

Many dishes are also wheat-, gluten- and/or dairy-free, but without a compromise in taste or texture.

Each season also has a drinks section (non-alcoholic) but it’s only in spring that Purcell recommends avoiding wine and other alcohol, or reducing your intake. As with any wine and food pairing, match the ‘weight’ of the dish (texture, mouthfeel, taste) with the weight of the wine (body, palate), and you won’t go far wrong.

The two books complement each other well – veg in is a quick dip, without the philosophy or dietary underpinnings, and Eating for the Seasons is a more in-depth guide to changing your lifestyle and eating habits, as gradually or as radically as you prefer.

I’ve tried a few dishes out already; when my veggie-hating child ate one and said “totally yummy” I knew I was on a winner, and even in this carnivorous household we’ll be making better use and more variety of our vegetables in the year to come.

 

 

Veg In awarded Australia's Best Vegetarian Cookbook

Update 19 Dec 2011: Veg In has been named by the judges of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards as the Australian winner in the category Best Vegetarian Cookbook. It will now compete against the winners from other countries for the Best in the World.

 

Veg in: simple vegetarian dishes from around the world by Flip Shelton is published by Wakefield Press (Kent Town, South Australia, 2011; sc, 156 pp) and retails for RRP A$29.95.

VisitVineyards.com subscribers receive a 20% DISCOUNT when buying this book directly through Wakefield Press. Details and link here »

 

Eating for the Seasons: Cooking for health and happiness by Janella Purcell is published by Allen and Unwin (Sydney, NSW, 2011; sc 238 pp) and retails for A$39.99

It is available on Booko.com.au here »

 

 

 

 

 

 

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