Cooking outside the box – the Abel and Cole cookbook

by sophie on January 25, 2007

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Cooking Outside the Box: The Abel and Cole Seasonal, Organic Cookbook is the first book by Keith Abel of the Abel and Cole organic home delivery company. Abel and Cole offers weekly nationwide deliveries and seems to be one of (if not the) biggest box schemes in the UK (as an entirely unscientific poll, I know that at least two of my ten closest neighbours get a weekly delivery from their egg-yolk yellow vans).

I’m really enthusiastic about this book and hope that Keith is already pen to paper writing his next one! Cooking outside the box is a rare thing; a book about seasonal, planet-friendly cooking that doesn’t assume that the reader is either a vegetarian or already a confident cooker and buyer of only the best ethically sourced produce.

The friendly tone of the book strikes a happy balance between providing loads of guidance for those that need it, and fostering a bit of culinary experimentation for those who want to make the recipes their own (or who are simply operating under the constraints of their latest box delivery!). Measurements are in handfuls, dollops and mugfuls and virtually none of the recipes have more than about three steps to them. There is even a helpful list of which vegetables you can easily substitute for which others (one of those things which is just obvious to some people and a black art to others), and guidance on temperature settings for electric and gas ovens as well as agas and over-enthusiastic fan ovens like mine.

The book is organised into four sections by season, with a different selection of seasonal fruit and veg being the focus of each quarter. There are a very broad selection of recipes in this book but the majority are either vegetarian or vegan and labelled as such. Alongside them are a selection of meat recipes (including a few for game in Winter) and just a few fish recipes. Recipes range from new takes on old favourites like Baba ghanosh and Abel and coleslaw (ho ho!) to some really unusual ideas that I can’t wait to try: Lamb with courgette, lime and ginger; Baked strawberries with honey whipped cream; and Roasted beetroot penne. Each section ends with some good tips on how to use up the excesses of that season, for example for soups or good juice combinations (think warm apple and pear juice with a hint of lime in the Autumn).

From a nutritional perspective this book is pretty good. All of the recipes are a big tick (and sometimes two or three ticks) on the five-a-day fruit and veg chart. Most of the fat is of the healthy varieties; olive oil is used throughout, as are nuts (most of the nut containing recipes are not dependant on them if you happen to be allergic). Keith’s cooking style includes full-fat, full-flavour dairy products (double cream, parmesan, butter) but in relatively modest quantities. Sometimes I think it’s worth doing the maths on these things to get a bit of perspective; the Roasted Squash and Wild Rocket Risotto (which I tried out last week) has one tablespoon of double cream in it per serving which made it taste very luxurious and was well worth the 75 kcals and just under 5g of saturated fat that it added to the dish. At these kinds of quantities it might just be better to keep the recipe as intended, enjoy the taste and buy cow-friendlier organic cream (I can’t always get half-fat organic cream). There are plenty of other recipes in the book requiring similar small amounts if you are worried about having lots of leftover cream.

What this book isn’t, and which I suspect a few people might have been expecting it to be, is one of those all-encompassing encyclopaedia of veg tomes which aim to enable you to identify and prepare anything that your veg box supplier or friend with an over-productive allotment may throw at you. There are a few unusual things in there, for example a recipe for kohlrabi (have a look over at Chez Pim if you are still non the wiser), but on the whole the veg in the book are refreshingly not obscure, as are all the supporting ingredients. So you shouldn’t feel that you would need to sign up to a veg box scheme before this book would be any use to you (but then again if you were looking for an excuse to try one out then I am sure that the two purchases would go wonderfully well together). If you did want one of those kinds of books a couple of suggestions are Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian Cookbook (available in the UK and US) and Leith’s Vegetarian Bible (available in the UK or US), or even go to Abel and Cole’s own web site which has a huge recipe selection.

I should also add that the book itself looks gorgeous, in a homely, rustic, matt finish kind of a way, rather than in a glossy ‘lifestyle and entertaining magazine’ way. Photos are of the recipes (obviously!) but also of suppliers, raw ingredients, family, pets and toys; it’s not one of those books with a photo of every recipe but then do you need to see a picture of asparagus risotto to gauge if it turned out right? Lots of credit is due to Christian Barnett and Nicky Barneby, the photographer and book designer respectively. I can’t think of a clever way of describing how beautifully the typesetting and photography complement each other so you’ll have to find a copy and look for yourself!

The best thing that I can say about Cooking outside the box is that it is a resolutely not at all serious and not even slightly patronising book about cooking with fruit and veg. This is a major achievement in itself in a world that has some very serious cookery books, particularly those aimed at the organic end of the market. My next task will be to try the Parsnip and Shallot Thingamabob!
At the moment Cooking Outside the Box: The Abel and Cole Seasonal, Organic Cookbook is only available from amazon in the UK.

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