It Starts with Veg by Ceri Jones

For more than half of my lifetime, the way the majority of people in the UK ate was to plan a meal around a protein, most commonly meat or fish. The carbs and veg were secondary, and chosen to compliment the protein. There’s been a gradual move away from that–accelerated in the last two decades–to the extent that many of us eat far less meat than we used to, including those who describe ourselves as omnivores.

Vegetarians and vegans have been centering vegetables in their diet for eons but for many omnivores, giving more attention to plant-based meals is relatively new and we appreciate a helping hand when it comes to enjoying more vegetables in our diet.

Book Cover: It Starts with Veg by Ceri Jones

This is where Ceri Jones’ debut cookbook It Starts with Veg: 100 Seasonal Suppers and Sides comes in; Ceri is an experienced food educator (pioneering one of the first museum food learning programmes in the UK), food writer, and chef (specialising in catering for yoga and well-being retreats). As such, the way she cooks celebrates healthy, nutritional and achievable food that is also delicious, uplifting and comforting.

I met Ceri through the world of blogging, having launched Kavey Eats in 2009. Ceri launched her food blog, Cucina Ceri in 2011, renamed to Natural Kitchen Adventures a couple of years later, and now shares all of her content and portfolio at Ceri Jones Chef. I have so admired her enthusiastic and successful switch of careers from a successful project manager of tours and concerts for an international orchestra to becoming a full time professional chef and food writer.

Ceri Jones, author of It Starts with Veg

Whilst the firm focus of Ceri’s book is vegetables, this is not a vegan or vegetarian cookbook. Roughly two thirds of the recipes are vegetarian (or vegan) but you will find meat, fish and dairy in the rest, though substitutes are suggested for some of these to make them wholly plant-based if you prefer. There are also tips on how to swap vegetables to provide greater flexibility and, ultimately, even more great ideas.

The book is full of inspiration for anyone wanting to expand their repertoire of veg-forward dishes, but it’s especially handy if you subscribe to a regular veg box and need ideas for how to use some of the vegetables you don’t often pick up when shopping in a farmers market, supermarket or at your local grocery. Indeed Ceri’s inspiration and the title of the book were born of her own needs and those of readers of her blog all who were looking for ways to reduce waste when it came to vegetables they found in their veg box but didn’t know how to deal with.

Before the recipes proper are some Ingredient Notes on several ingredients that feature commonly throughout the book such as salt and black pepper, breadcrumbs, butter, dairy, eggs, lemons and olive oil. Next, a useful introduction to several Cooking Terms such as al dente, blanching and shocking, deglazing, emulsifying, a couple of key knife skills, how to season to taste, and a few more helpful tips.

Recipes are organised by vegetable, grouped in Chapters for Brassicas, Bulbs & Stems, Fungi, Leaves, Pods, Roots, Squashes, and Summer Vegetables. Each of these is broken down into a number of different vegetables in the category–for example, Brassicas includes Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohlrabi and Radish. Each vegetable has a dedicated page describing key varieties, when it’s in season, some good ways to cook it and ingredients it pairs with well. There are anywhere between two and five recipes for each vegetable.

Monochrome illustrations of cabbage from It Starts with Veg, by artist Freya Elise Kemp

Although I really love the simple, monochrome illustrations of each vegetable (by artist Freya Elise Kemp), I am a tiny bit disappointed by the decision not to include any food photography in the book. Of course, food photography is one of the most expensive parts of the process, so I understand the reasoning but still, I am drawn in to photos of delicious food! In many cases, I can readily picture Ceri’s dishes in my minds eye, but in some cases, it’s more of a struggle to understand what the dish might be like. On the other hand, I know many cookbook lovers prefer not to have photographs at all, since they make them feel pressured to achieve a particular appearance or presentation.

All recipes are scaled to feed two people, but many can be doubled up easily without affecting cooking times much if at all. It also makes it easier to use smaller volumes of a given vegetable, such as you often get in a veg box.

Creamy Onion and Chicken Fricasee Braised Baby Gem, Pancetta and Peas
Squash and Blue Cheese Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto

Thus far we’ve made three recipes and been absolutely blown away by each one. First up, Creamy Onion and Chicken Fricassé, a French classic listed in the humble Onion section. Next, Braised Baby Gem, Pancetta and Peas, a dish that manages to be filling, warming and summery all at once. And finally Squash and Blue Cheese Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto, perfect for cooler weather when richer and heavier flavours are the order of the day.

What stands out to me about each of these recipes is how extremely well balanced all of the different flavours and textures are–something you might assume is a basic tenet of every good recipe, and it is to a certain extent–but it’s taken to exceptional heights in these dishes. In the Fricassée, for example, the sweetness of onion is balanced by the savouriness of the chicken thighs whilst the richness of the cream is lifted by the fresh and grassy parsley. The Braised lettuce dish takes this even further, bringing together baby gem lettuce, garden peas, chickpeas, pancetta, spring onions, chicken stock, creme fraiche and fresh herbs so elegantly that every bite has a different balance and texture. Likewise, the sweet and carby butternut squash contrasts splendidly against the punchiness of blue cheese, the creamy risotto rice and the crisp shards of pancetta.

If you are keen to expand your repertoire of vegetable-lead dishes, especially if you have a veg box to make best use of, It Starts with Veg is a great place to begin, full of very well tested, easy-to-follow and utterly delicious recipes.

Recipes from It Starts with Veg

We have permission from Pavilion to share these three fantastic recipes with you from the book:

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy of It Starts with Veg: 100 Seasonal Suppers and Sides by Ceri Jones from publishers Pavilion. 

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2 Comments to "It Starts with Veg by Ceri Jones"

  1. Aaron (@1dish4theroad)

    Wonderful review as always, Kavey! I did a spot of recipe testing for this book, and so delighted for Ceri it’s getting such acclaim. I think a vegetable forward cookbook is so important, on so many levels, right now.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Oh how lovely! I have done a little recipe testing for a few cookbooks and it’s such a privilege to support, isn’t it? Yes, agreed, this is such a great book to help people eat more vegetables, by eating a wider range of them!

    Reply

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