1689 No-pressure vegetarian

Evergreen Kitchen: Weeknight Vegetarian Dinners for Everyone
by Bri Beaudoin with photos by Anguel Dimov

Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada (Penguin Canada), 2022
$27.00 / 9780735241923

Reviewed by Jessica Poon

*

I used to work with a woman who claimed not to enjoy eating food, with the rather amusing exception of popcorn; that she was also somebody conspicuously concerned with remaining unnaturally slender was, perhaps, no coincidence. The trick, I think, to having a hedonistic life is not necessarily to do (read: monetize) what you love, which is the kind of credo that leads to an upsurge of tragically unused art degrees; rather, I think it may come down to enjoying things you have no choice in partaking in. We need to eat food; we may as well enjoy the process. If you love food, your life will be more enjoyable than my popcorn-eating, probably orthorexic former co-worker. Life is cruel, unfair, and too short for you to do all the things you want. Get this book; thank me later.

Vancouver writer Bri Beaudoin. Photo by Anguel Dimov

Bri Beaudoin’s Evergreen Kitchen begins with an almost defensive declaration, doubtless written to assuage pre-emptively skeptical omnivores: “Let’s get this out of the way now: I will not try to convince you to become a vegetarian.” And with this declaration, I find myself simultaneously endeared — no one likes to be preached at, particularly when the preacher actually has a point and can’t be dismissed as evangelical hogwash — but also blisteringly aware of my own Sasquatch carbon footprint, my mammoth ego, my useless guilt coupled with legion resistance to change. But here is a glimmering of optimism: if you appeal to people’s hedonism — this recipe tastes amazing, versus don’t you want to be a less terrible person? — instead of their conveniently negligible moral compasses, you may be able to get them to change their habits, however marginally.

One of the most remarkable things about this cookbook is that every single recipe has an accompanying photograph. That’s right: every single recipe. I have major respect for anyone who has this much courtesy. As much as I appreciate imagination, sometimes, I just want a damn picture of a recipe, you know?

The roasted cauliflower, smashed olive, and lemon pasta is satisfyingly salty, lemony, and herbaceous. I’m not an olive person, but I’m not not an olive person and the brininess of them, paired with capers, almost has me thinking about becoming a bona fide olive person. Almost. If you skip them, just use extra capers. I subbed lacinato kale with arugula, as is my wont. The addition of dill is delightfully zingy and fresh. My roommate, who professes not to like cauliflower, loved this recipe. (I believe everyone has the right to dislike any food. But at least half the time, it’s the way something is prepared and not the food itself. It’s the food equivalent of “It’s not what you said; it’s how you said it.”) Come to think of it, after this recipe, maybe I am an olive person.

Wolfy is keen on Beaudoin’s roasted cauliflower, smashed olive, and lemon pasta. Courtesy Jessica Poon
Coconut green curry pasta. Courtesy Jessica Poon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coconut green curry pasta is like if curry and pasta decided to have a shotgun wedding and it exceeded everyone’s expectations. I skipped the brussels sprouts because I have a childish resistance I’m not looking to overcome just yet and I reckon you can omit them without feeling any pangs. If you’d like to abide by the recipe, though, my guess is that they’d add yet another interesting textural component to this already exciting dish. 4 to 5 tablespoons of curry paste were indicated. I started with 4 and realized, that, given my relative spice cowardice, that I’d be crying every time I ate this dish. I will say this, though — if you’re as pathetic as me, the tears will still be worth it and your friends will laugh at you. My advice is, go conservative with the curry paste and if you become impatient for more panache, keep adding more.

Wolfy approves of seared mushroom and creamy garlic pasta. Courtesy Jessica Poon

The seared mushroom and creamy garlic pasta might become my new religion. This dish is a serious prison meal contender. It’s a holy-shit-I-have-to-call-everyone-and-everyone’s-mother kind of dish. I made it three times in a row and felt overwhelmed with borderline indecent pleasure. I used pappardelle instead of the indicated tagliatelle (they are almost the same width, though pappardelle is a touch wider); though I am usually a bit of a pasta flirt and not particularly prescriptive, my very staunch advice is: go flat and fat, no skinnier than fettucine. Beaudoin and her husband apparently prepared this dish for their wedding guests, and upon making it myself, I can see why. I don’t want to be threatened by guillotine for saying this, unlike cilantro or basil, I think thyme is one of the herbs where you can get away with using the dried version when fresh thyme is indicated. For a vegan substitute of Parm, try blitzing cashews with nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and onion powder. Or: just use extra salt. It is silky, garlicky, thyme-y goodness. If making for guests, you should probably double the recipe because they’re all going to want more and you’re going to be annoyed at the absence of leftovers. I shared this dish with some friends and felt a creeping antagonism for them having the gall to obliterate the possibility of leftovers; that’s how good this dish is. And if you’re just making this for yourself, you might still want to double the recipe … The sauce is good enough to be a soup, if you’re so inclined. Shit. I’ve got to go make this one again. Did I mention, serious prison meal contender?

The sesame and smoked tofu soup recipe calls for sambal oelek, a Malaysian chili paste which I was theretofore unacquainted with. It’s cozy bowl food, perfect for cold weather or when you’re sick; imagine if miso soup was beefed up. The recipe calls for orecchiette, which I like to call “the ears pasta”; however, I can’t think of any pasta that wouldn’t work.

Sesame and smoked tofu soup, Courtesy Jessica Poon
Beaudoin’s cheesy mushroom calzones. Courtesy Jessica Poon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bri Beaudoin. Anguel Dimov photo courtesy Evergreen Kitchen

Basically everyone genuflects to pizza, or at least pretends to, but what about calzones? Beaudoin’s cheesy mushroom calzones are like the adult version of Pizza Pops, which, incidentally, is what a calzone pretty much is. I have the dexterity of a five-year-old; worse, probably — and so, my calzones looked like misshapen, exploding, half-hearted crescents. But what’s that saying? It’s the inside that counts. In the case of calzones, if not romantic suitors, that’s very much true. I had a flashback to my sandwich-making days: always trying to put too much damn stuff inside and having a hard time closing up the vessel. If you’re planning on making these, you may as well make the cardamom knots as well, as they both call for pizza dough. There’s a pizza dough recipe, one that claims to be dead easy — and while I don’t doubt the veracity of that — I think it would be hard to argue with the fact that buying dough is easier than making dough, even if the latter is easy.

I have an internal thermometer for annoyingly close couples who happen to work together and look Instagrammatically ecstatic for every second of it; however, although Evergreen Kitchen is indeed the culmination of a talented husband and wife team, my nausea levels were very low. The photography is vibrant and encouraging, i.e., makes you want to recreate it. Apart from myriad alluring recipes of relative simplicity, Beaudoin has some solid advice, e.g., pick through your lentils; nobody will know if you don’t peel ginger (Beaudoin doesn’t!); a good method for making rice if you don’t have a rice cooker; don’t forget the umami.

Evergreen Kitchen is a marvellously organized, beautifully photographed, utterly accessible cookbook that will effortlessly seduce any skeptical omnivore. In the same way I feel cognitive resistance towards the demarcation of genre fiction and literature, I resist the limiting term of vegetarian cooking. Straight up, Evergreen Kitchen is all about good cooking and good food, period.

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Jessica Poon and Wolfy

Originally from East Vancouver, Jessica Poon is a writer, former line cook, and a pianist of dubious merit living in Toronto. She is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. Editor’s note: Jessica Poon has recently reviewed books by Tetsuro ShigematsuKatie WelchMegan Gail ColesAyesha ChaudhryGillian Wigmore, and Meichi Ng.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

 

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