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Darn near 'complete'


Pet peeve of the week: any cookbook that claims in its title to be "complete."

And there are plenty of culprits. A quick Internet search found nearly 150 such cookbooks published in recent years, offering complete takes on everything from cookies to condiments to cooking for Kwanzaa.

Ignore the factual inaccuracy (foodies can only dream about the Platonic "complete" cookbook); it's also just plain dull. "Complete" doesn't tempt one to turn pages, or fantasize about plump roasted tomatoes oozing with mozzarella.

It's more a dusty-card-


Congress sort of word.

As a result, I usually pass over just about any cookbook that alleges completeness. And the lesson here is what a loss it would have been had I treated Charmaine Solomon's recent cookbook so callously.

But first, it needs a new title. Complete Vegetarian Cookbook won't pull you in on the strength of its name. But its stunning breadth of recipes _ more than 600 _ and sumptuous photography should.

The real strength of Solomon's book is the nod it gives to the melting pot cuisine of her adopted home of Australia. Here the Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern and French tastefully mingle into a richly seasoned cuisine.

"These cultures have depended on meatless meals for centuries, and it would be impossible in a book that aims to present the whole gamut of vegetarian cooking not to draw on such a rich source," she writes in the introduction.

Though not intuitively organized (dishes are divided by cultural influence, so there are multiple similarly named chapters), recipes such as rainbow layer crepes and strawberry and orange soup seduce with fresh twists on rustic goodness.

Many of Solomon's recipes do rely on plenty of dairy, but vegans should have little trouble replacing much of it. Her luscious looking tarte aux pommes would do fine with either butter (called for) or soy margarine.

Despite my own incredulity about complete cookbooks, she goes a long way to providing a smattering of everything, from salad dressings to breads to beverages, including four variations of hot chocolate.

And because some of the ingredients called for were foreign even to this seasoned lover of exotic dishes, Solomon's glossary was a big help, especially its suggestions for substitutions likely found in U.S. markets.

Try her spicy steamed potatoes for spuds with a bit of zip.

Spicy steamed potatoes

1 pound small new potatoes

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ghee or oil (olive or sesame)

1 small cinnamon stick

3 cardamom pods, bruised

2 whole cloves

1 bay leaf, crumbled

{ teaspoon turmeric

For garnish:

{ teaspoon cumin seeds

{ cup yogurt (or soy alternative)

{ teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander, or 2 fresh chilies, seeded and sliced

Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel. Place them in a saucepan with just enough water to nearly cover. Cover, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain immediately and use a fine skewer to prick the potatoes all over. Set aside.

Place onion, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon water and salt in a blender and puree.

Heat the ghee or oil in a saucepan over a medium flame. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and cloves and bay leaf and cook for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric and stir well to combine. Add the mixture from the blender, stir well and cook for several minutes until quite fragrant.

Rinse out the blender with about 2 tablespoons of water. Add this and the potatoes to the pan and stir well. Cover and cook over a low flame for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

In a dry saute pan, cook the cumin seeds until dark brown. Allow the seeds to cool and use the back of a strong spoon or a coffee mill to grind them coarsely.

In a small bowl, combine cumin seeds with yogurt, garam masala and a pinch of salt. To serve, spoon yogurt mixture over the potatoes and sprinkle with fresh coriander or chilies. Makes 4 servings.

Source: "Complete Vegetarian Cookbook," Charmaine Solomon, Ten Speed Press, 2002