Whether you think plants taste better or not, there’s no denying that the time has passed when a main had to include meat. Even if the plant-based fad fades away, it’s unlikely that conversations around sustainability will, and Plants Taste Better is a good guide for chefs to apply plant-first thinking to their cooking where the focus is – as it should be – on taste.
Author Richard Buckley is chef-proprietor of the Acorn restaurant in Bath and worked as a head chef at Demuths, also in Bath (both meat-free), for five years, so he knows how to run a vegetarian restaurant. The book offers recipes that will appeal to both the professional chef and the domestic cook.
Skip the unnecessary introduction (“Take a carrot and hold it in your hand. It’s a carrot right?”) and dive in. The book is separated into snacks; soups, pâtés and light lunches; salads; mains; desserts; and breads, and he addresses aspects that professional chefs need to consider, such as waste, colour and presentation. For example, if you say ‘green lentils’ on a menu, guests expect them to be green, but of course when cooked, green lentils often turn grey. He suggests using herbs and spinach to address those expectations and improve presentation.
Buckley urges ‘root to fruit’ cooking through recipes that use the parts of vegetables that are often thrown away or used for stock, such as cauliflower hearts in the recipe opposite – “not just because it’s trendy but because it’s the right thing to do”. Other tips include using unwanted leaves for purées or sautéing them for garnish.
One of the most fascinating chapters is on pâtés – and no vegetarian could feel left out if served one of Buckley’s vivid concoctions: bright green pistachio pâté with orange segments and powdered orange zest, lemon yellow carrot and cashew pâté, and a rich mushroom parfait with port glaze excite my curiosity.
Vegan desserts, such as macerated strawberries with pine nut parfait and thyme meringue, and chocolate mousse with passion fruit gel and chocolate tuille, are simple but would not look out of place on any menu.
Plants Taste Better by Richard Buckley (Jacqui Small, £25)