Cookbook review: East by Meera Sodha
Chances are you’ll find Meera Sodha lurking in your kitchen somewhere – and no, I don’t mean that in an alarming way. Perhaps you rely on a copy of her award-winning cookbook Fresh India to rustle up your family’s favourite curry. Or maybe her ‘New Vegan’ column in the Guardian has had you thinking ‘Hey, this is plant-based food I can get on board with’. Wherever you find Meera (figuratively, of course), you can count on her recipes to be reliable, not too finicky and packed with flavour, texture and colour!
Such is the thinking in her new cookbook East. You’ll find ramen, katsu curry, bibimbap, pad Thai, egg fried rice and more Asian-inspired favourites, plus a couple of slightly more obscure ideas including miso brownies and a Japanese twist on cacio e pepe. It’s the sort of cookbook that has you inadvertently saying ‘ooh, that looks good’ or ‘I need that in my life’ with every turn of a page. And with 120 recipes crammed inside, Meera introduces you to dishes from every corner of the East and South Asia whilst placing vegetables at the heart of them all.
How good are the recipes?
The book is divided into 11 sections; you can search by a specific meal such as salads, noodles and curries or take inspiration from the ingredient-lead sections for recipes with rice, tofu, pulses and eggs.
I landed first on a paneer, tomato and kale saag. The photo was the lure for me – cubes of fried cheese nestled in a creamy coconut sauce – as well as the fact that I already had most of the ingredients in my cupboard. Meera explains in the introduction that this recipe persuaded her to finally fall in love with kale – and persuasive it is.
The dish itself is easy to make – it’s a one-pot recipe that predominantly requires stirring and simmering – and the ingredients are ones you’re likely to already have at home. The result was a coconut-y, spiced, mildly-hot curry punctured with wedges of fried paneer and, as you can imagine, tasted rather good. Although the kale is blitzed in a food processor and wilts to nothing, I expect you could swap it for spinach if you prefer. The same goes for the cheese: if you’re vegan, leave it out.
Next up: chilli tofu. With a reputation for being notoriously bland, I was curious to see how Meera treated this favourite amongst veggies. Again, the familiar-looking ingredients list caught my attention and, as with the curry, the recipe came out looking exactly like the picture. I expected the tofu chunks to be a little more crisp (the method asks you to coat them in cornflour and fry first) but the sweet tomato and soy sauce coating took away from that a little. It was still delicious though and a recipe I will definitely return to in the future.
How’s the photography and design?
The photos are bright, crisp and not too busy and most recipes are accompanied by images. Each dish sits against a monochrome background so as not to distract from the food, while flat overlay shots really emphasise the use of colour and texture in each recipe.
Who’s the book suitable for?
If you love Asian-style food, then East is a wonderful resource if you want to start cooking more of it at home – without the meat. A lot of the recipes are great for time-poor cooks and, although the odd recipe does ask for more specialist ingredients, it primarily caters to those who can only make it to their local convenience store. If you’re looking to expand your repertoire of vegetarian dishes or want to learn a bit more about how to use spices, then East will do that for you.
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