Book Review: Veggiestan by Sally Butcher

Sally Butcher, the shop-keeper, proud Peckhamite and author of the award-winning ‘Persia in Peckham‘ has gone and written another fantastic cookery book, this time entirely vegetarian. There’s quite a trend for veggie recipe books at the moment (which seemed to surge when people started swooning over Ottolenghi) but I  beg of you to consider chucking your money at something a little less mainstream. Go off the beaten track and take the first side road to Veggiestan.

Veggiestan is of course a fictional place, invented by Sally to reflect the position of vegetables in the Middle Eastern diet. Meat usually takes a back seat and is either optional or reserved entirely for special occasions. We could do with adopting this attitude a little more in the West, I say. I mean, some people still don’t think they’re having a meal unless it’s got meat in it. Now, this may come as a shock to my readers, but I don’t eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner; in reality it’s about once a week (or maybe twice, not including Meat Liquor visits or bacon sandwiches) that I cook those big hunks of pork, beef and lamb and increasingly I find myself eating more fish and vegetables. There is something rather vulgar, I think, about eating  meat every day, not to mention the fact that is isn’t particularly sustainable or indeed terribly good for you.

Veggiestan is a visual carnival of a book; the cover bold and tactile, zig-zagged with fabric like fuzzy felts (remember them?) Bright patterns and photos are abundant throughout; presumably the budget shot up on the back of the first book’s success. The structure runs thus: bread and pastries; herbs and salads; dairy and eggs; soups, legumes and pulses; rice and grains; vegetables; recipes with fruit; sauces, pickles and preserves and of course, sweet things to finish.

I like to make at least 3 recipes from a book before I write about it. In fact, I started before it was even published as Sally asked me to test a recipe (yes she’s a friend – disclosure); this was how I found myself cooled by a silky, chilled yoghurt soup (above), a lifeline on a sticky summer evening. Hard to imagine eating it right now, I realise, but there’s a hot yoghurt soup recipe in the book too, for all your yoghurt soup needs. Yoghurt is one of the things Iranians are really into you see, as am I.

We see eye to eye on other ingredients too, herbs for example. Lots and lots of herbs. A plate of mixed fresh herbs (sabzi) are eaten like salad leaves at the beginning of a meal to stimulate the appetite; different herbs are believed to have various health-boosting properties. The Iranians also get right on down with mixing sweet and salty flavours, like the dates and feta in this salad (Salata Jamr wa Jubnat Feta) – one of my favourite recipes from the book. The textures are glorious too; squidgy dates against crisp fried chips of khobez flat bread.

I also loved this pomegranate salsa; sweet, ruby pops of pomegranate stud a ballsy salsa. I actually ate this with grilled meat but we’ll gloss swiftly over that.

Finally, more of a winter warmer: an Afghan carrot hotpot (Qorma-e-Zardak), which made me remember just how darn good carrots are when made the centre of a dish rather than an afterthought on the side ‘for a bit of colour’. The spicing is very well judged too, so the flavours remain distinct. I often think of lentils as something I eat when I’m skint but this felt like a treat on a cold Monday evening, especially with the hum of a scotch bonnet singing through (hello, Peckham influence) and a good hunk of fluffy bread for a bit of dippage.

One of the most impressive things about the book is the sheer amount of work that has gone into it; you’re drawn into the story of each dish as Sally delves into the etymology of recipe names and the anthropological background. She tries to tell me this is ‘purely the result of procrastination’ but whatever the motivation, the book is all the more richer for it.

There are still so many recipes I want to cook: fig jam with nibbed pistachios; Yemeni ‘fire relish'; Iranian aubergine pickle; baked stuffed quinces; pumpkin kibbeh. I think I’d better stop there. Some ingredients may be unfamiliar, but Sally makes them entirely accessible; her warmth, wit and complete down to Earth-ness are the key. This is exactly what Sally is like in real life by the way, but you don’t need to take my word for it – get yourself down to her shop. She’s the lady with the cheery “hello!” and the big red hair. Oh and ask her to sign the book while you’re there, it could be worth a few bob one day.

Afghan Carrot Hotpot (serves 4)

2 medium onions, chopped
oil, for frying
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped
1cm knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch ground cloves
600g baby carrots or the equivalent of grown up carrots, cut into wedges
300g yellow split peas
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons sour grape juice or 2 teaspoons vinegar
About 500ml veg stock (I found I needed a little more to cover mine but then I did have very beasty carrots)

Fry the onions in a littl eoil in the bottom of a big saucepan and add in the garlic, chilli and ginger. When the onions have started to soften, add in the spices, carrots and split peas, followed a couple of minutes later by the tomato paste and fresh tomato chunks. Add some salt, then either the vinegar or sour grape juice, and then just enough stock to cover all the ingredients. Bring to the boil and set to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the carrots and peas are cooked through.

Serve over plain white rice or with bread and most definitely with yoghurt. I added a good handful of fresh mixed herbs too.

Sally also gives a recipe for a ‘Salaata’ which sounds like a very nice accompaniment:

3 small continental cucumbers (or half a regular one)
3 tomatoes
3-4 spring onions
Half a bunch of coriander, trimmed
Handful fresh mint, trimmed
1 small regular onion
2 small, hot green chillies (optional)
Juice 1-2 lemons

Just chop all the ingredients together – bigger than a salsa but much smaller than a regular chunk. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with lemon then cover and pop in the fridge for about half an hour to let the flavours mingle.

Sally’s book is currently worth £25 but you can buy it for the frankly outrageous price of £15.54 on Amazon

Sally also writes a Veggiestan blog, a Persepolis blog and does the occasional Persian pop-up at Anderson’s in Peckham. She also runs Persepolis, the shop, with her husband Jamshid. Phew!



Category: Books, Food From The Rye, Peckham | Tags: , , , , , , , 29 comments »

29 Responses to “Book Review: Veggiestan by Sally Butcher”

  1. Vanesther

    Love the sound of this book – will definitely be getting hold of a copy. In particular the yoghurt soup sounds divine; don’t know if I’ll be able to hold off til the summer to try that one out.

    And I totally agree about needing to rid ourselves of this notion that we need meat for a ‘proper’ meal. It’s so much more of a pleasure when it’s just an occasional treat.

  2. Helen

    Do try the yoghurt soup if it’s your thing – it’s so delish. Oh and let me know what you think of the book!

  3. Sharmila

    I’ve had my eye on this for a while – will definitely be ordering it now.

    Totally agree with you on the meat front. Coming from a family where meat was the exception (my mum is vegetarian), I find it incongruous when people get weirded out by the concept of not having meat as part of every meal.

  4. Fiona Beckett

    I’ve been gloating over this book for a couple of weeks. It’s full of post-it notes flagging up the recipes I want to cook. Love Sally’s writing too which the publisher admirably doesn’t appear to have edited.

  5. Helen

    Yeah it’s an easy habit to fall into, eating too much meat. I mean, obviously I enjoy my fair share but even I have limits!

  6. Helen

    Good point about the lack of editing…refreshing.

  7. Ziu

    Thanks for sharing! Sounds fantastic – I almost never cook meat at home so a veggie book filled with Middle Eastern flavours ticks all the boxes for me!

    Off nore, any ideas if/when Sally’s first book is getting a re-print? I’m really keen to get my hands on it too.

  8. Helen

    Hi Ziu, do you live locally? You can buy it in her shop and many local shops too.

  9. Ziu

    Thanks for sharing! Sounds fantastic – I almost never cook meat at home so a veggie book filled with Middle Eastern flavours ticks all the boxes for me!

    Off nore, any ideas if/when Sally’s first book is getting a re-print? I’m really keen to get my hands on it too.

  10. Ziu

    Oops, sorry for a duplicate comment.

    Not really, I live up North (still London, though!). So I guess its a trip down South for me :)

  11. Helen

    Yeah go on, live a little ;)

  12. Lizzie

    I’m trying to eat less meat too and I think this book will really help; my vegetarian repertoire is saturated with cheese. Lovely pics as always.

  13. Helen

    So is mine! “How can I make it taste good?” CHEESE! Yeah, need to get away from that.

  14. thelittleloaf

    This book sounds gorgeous… Like the majority of the country I’ve got a copy of Plenty and have been loving River Cottage Veg on TV. I used to be vegetarian but since going back to eating meat seem to have completely forgotten how to make veg the stars of the show. Hopefully books like these will help me back onto that path, even if I’d never give up meat completely again :-)

  15. Helen

    Yes, I mean I am a carnivore through and through but I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of eating meat at almost every meal. That’s just weird when you think about it! It’s a fab book and visually stunning, as I said. Do try it!

  16. Susan

    Really lovely review. I love cookbooks that I want to read, not just use, and the fact that you’ve tested the recipes is heartening. (I love that you couldn’t resist adding scotch bonnets, I am similarly addicted.) I am anti-Amazon but I will come round the shop and pick up a copy.

  17. Shu Han

    I eat meat but for me, a must have at every meal is vegetables! I really liek that you’ve brought that point up, and thanks for the book review. the food looks gorgeous and definitely worth a second or third look even by carnivores!

  18. Robert

    I had noticed the book several weeks ago…. The date and khobez salad sounds wonderful as I never finish up my khobez bread before it goes stale. In these times, avoiding waste and enjoying good food is becoming more important. Now I’m off to source a copy!

  19. Helen

    Thanks Shu Han; I’m a die hard carnivore so if I love the book, you definitely will!

  20. Helen

    Yeah, it’s a perfect way to use up stale bread and it’s probably the reason the salad came about in the first place. Same with bread salads in other cultures, like panzanella.

  21. Craftilicious

    Thanks for the heads up – I have the first book (picked it up when I visited the shop on my last visit to London) Sally was so lovely and welcoming irl and the first book is fab so I have to have this one too.

  22. Helen

    Yes do buy it – you need the complete collection!

  23. s

    i really want to buy this book for my friend who is vegetarian- she is from Iran. i was fascinated to see the Afghan recipe with carrots bec us Afghans are such carnivores! it is delightful to see a book which actually showcases vegetables instead of meat from our part of the world! x s

  24. Helen

    Fab! I think you’ll love it.

  25. Craftilicious

    My copy just arrived and it’s GLORIOUS!

  26. Brown

    Tried the Carrot Hot pot and Salaata last night… was excellent…Veggistan has been added to my xmas list thats fo sure!!

  27. Helen

    Fantastic! So glad you liked it. It’s lovely the next day for lunch too if you have any leftover – it just gets better.

  28. Brown

    oh there is indeed left overs and thats what my dinner is when I get in from work…did it with a bit of Sea bass which worked quite well. Am living with a veggie now so been trying lots of new veggie dishes…with a meat/fish side for me :)

  29. Lottie

    This book was recently recommended to me and I cannot wait to try it. Treating myself to a visit to the shop this afternoon to purchase a copy ! its a little bit of a trek from north west London but will add to the memories:)

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