A few weeks ago, I shared my review of Mat Follas’ new Bramble Cafe & Deli in Dorchester’s elegant Poundbury estate. Today I want to talk about Mat’s latest cookbook, Vegetable Perfection.
When I first interviewed Mat back in 2009, shortly after he launched his first restaurant The Wild Garlic, I think it’s fair to say his attitude to vegetarian diets and recipes was in a state of evolution. During the planning phase and just ahead of opening the restaurant, Mat had many conversations with fellow foodlovers online, many of whom urged him to provide several veggie options on his menu. He said then that he understood their point of view but that, frankly, he didn’t agree with it. The previous evening, he’d had just one vegetarian customer in the restaurant, with the rest firmly focused on his fish and meat dishes. His aim, therefore, was to offer one great veggie dish on the menu, the kind of dish he as an omnivore would also enjoy eating; that day’s veggie choice was an enthusiastically described umami-rich fennel thyme gratin. He was also busy exploring ways to encourage children to eat more vegetables, by first converting their parents, something he talked about at the Dorset County Show that year; and his interest in foraging leaves and vegetables was already well-established, with foraged ingredients featuring regularly in his cooking.
Just 6 years later, Mat has learned to love vegetables so much that he has released a cookbook of over 100 delicious vegetarian recipes, many of which are vegan or have vegan substitutes provided. In the introduction, Mat talks about overcoming the preconceptions of his upbringing in an era of a meal being ‘meat and two veg’. Indeed his initial plan for the cookbook was to make it vegetable-based but not ‘restricted by only using vegetable products’ and it was only when he started developing and testing recipes that he realised how little the recipes benefited from the use of meat, and that he ‘could always find vegetarian alternatives that were just as good to use, if not better’.
Writing the book has been ‘a journey of discovery to the amazing flavour combinations available when [he] stopped being mentally limited by the requirement of a meat product on every dish’ and the book is filled with vegetarian recipes Mat personally loves; vegetarian dishes he would choose to eat over a meat dish.
A bugbear of Mat’s, as it is for many vegetarians I know, is the prevalence of vegetable dishes that simply imitate meat; so instead of sharing a boring bean burger recipe he developed a crispy smoked potato rösti-like patty that he layers with grilled halloumi, mushroom and tomato for the ultimate vegetarian burger. Where he does use vegetables in place of meat, like the Mushroom Toad-in-the-hole recipe, he makes ‘the vegetable the star of the show – it’s not hidden or trying to imitate the flavour of meat’. Incidentally, that’s one of the recipes Pete and I made recently and to my surprise, the intensity of flavour of the juicy portobello mushroom really was just as delicious as sausages, even though it was an entirely different beast.
Vegetable Perfection: 100 tasty recipes for roots, bulbs, shoots and stems is divided into recipes according to which part of the vegetable is used or botanical groupings such as members of the Solanaceae family. After his Introduction, there’s a guide to vegetarian and vegan substitutions (helpful for those used to cooking with meat and fish ingredients), followed by chapters covering Vegetable juices; Roots; Brassicas and greens; Tomatoes, peppers and aubergines; Bulbs and alliums; Potatoes, squash and corn; Peas, beans and pulses; Stalks, stems and soft leaves and Fungi. At the end, a Store cupboard chapter covering sauces, dressings, ketchups, chutneys, pickles and oils.
Most recipes have photographs accompanying them, though where there are two short recipes to a page, only one is usually pictured. Styling is simple, homely and appealing – much like the recipes themselves – and plating is not at all faffy or cheffy. These dishes really are the kind of food you want to eat at home, making this a great cookbook to have on the shelf.
So far, we’ve made Mat’s (four cheese) Cauliflower cheese, Mushroom Toad-in-the-hole and Homemade baked beans, all of which have been delicious.
Bookmarked to make soon are Sprouting broccoli, hazelnuts and fondant potatoes, Red onion tarte tatin with goat’s cheese and dandelion sauce, Coddled eggs with creamed leeks, Courgette and gruyere soufflé and Sweet potato chips (which are tossed in a miso oil before baking).
Unlike some restaurant chef cookbooks, this one is firmly written for a domestic cook, using domestic kitchen equipment and as such, the instructions are easy to understand and to follow.
Recipe from Vegetable Perfection
If you fancy the sound of Mat’s four cheese cauliflower cheese recipe, here it is.
If you decide to buy this book after reading our content, please consider clicking through our affiliate link, located within the post and in the footnote at the end.
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Vegetable Perfection from Ryland Peters & Small
Vegetable Perfection by Mat Follas (photography by Steve Painter) is currently available from Amazon for £14.88 (RRP £16.99).
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!79 Comments to "Mat Follas’ Vegetable Perfection"
I think the way Mat’s thinking has evolved has moved with the way a lot of us are heading – enjoying more vegetable based dishes while still enjoying meat. I like to see vegetarian dishes mixed in with the meat ones on a menu, so that if I’m not in the mood for meat, or just fancy the sound of one of them, I can order it without worrying that I might be depriving a vegetarian of their meal. When they are tucked away in a separate section (and usually Wild Mushroom Risotto and Pumpkin Ravioli) I often worry that they will have estimated the number of vegetarian diners they can expect and just catered for that number, and a meat eater ordering from that section will throw all their calculations out.
Anyway, I seem to have rambled a long way from my favourite vegetarian dish, probably because I can’t make up my mind. My ultimate comfort food is macaroni cheese, so probably that, but Gurkha-style dhal-baht comes a very close second.
Yes, I much prefer Mat’s approach of providing vegetarian dishes that anyone may like to order, and as you say, these days as omnivores are more inclined to order a veggie dish when eating out – it’s not only for the vegetarians any more.
Ratatouille – I love that whatever seasonal vegetables I have I can make this with good homemade crusty bread to mop up the juices. I’m growing quite a few veggies this year and am hoping to make lots of it with the courgettes, onions, tomatoes and fresh herbs I am growing. I love veggies, always have. Although we eat meat it’s always accompanied by a big bowl of salad or homemade coleslaw. With my renewed venture in growing my own this book would be perfect to help me create the most of our produce.
Thanks for the opportunity to win and great post. Sammie x
Thanks Sammie. I totally agree that it’s wonderful to grown your own and use these in your cooking, we do the same and it’s very satisfying!
I love an indian dish called baingain bhartha, its smoked aubergine cooked in tomatoes and onion gravy.I would love to win this book since I am a vegetarian too.
Nayna, great choice, I love that dish too!
Sounds like a great addition to any discerning cooks bookshelf! Great giveaway!
Yes, it’s a great resource, especially to people like me who don’t do enough interesting things with vegetables!
I bought the book recently (you made me aware of it when you tweeted about it a few months back). The portobello mushrooms stuffed with champagne and jerusalem artichokes is a delicious autumnal dish; and there’s much more I want to make, such as the samphire tart.
The book is different from other vegetarian cookbooks – no faddy ingredients or techniques here. For instance, there’s no inappropriate & ubiquitous use of coconut oil, and no ‘courgetti’, ‘cauliflower rice’ or other such craziness. Just solid, sensible recipes for everyday cooking.
Yes yes yes that’s such an accurate observation, Sejal – so many cookbooks fall back on fads of the time, ingredients, techniques etc. It’s refreshing not to have that here!
This looks like such a great book because it is unique – I haven’t seen anything like it before. It looks like a must for vegetarians.
I really like it, I can’t comment from a vegetarian perspective but certainly I really like Mat’s approach and ideas.
I have to say I’m going through an aubergine phase at the moment, but I also love courgettes and tomatoes and being Polish, I also eat plenty of beetroots and cabbage. Pleased to see Mat is doing so well – I remember following his success post-Masterchef.
Me too, good old Ming!!!!
This sounds like such an interesting book. I love how Mat’s thought process about vegetarianism has had such a major evolution. As a veggie for 25 years, I’ve certainly been caught out by the meat-and-two-veg eaters who can’t fathom what I would eat and even my in-laws just send me to the shops to buy myself something to eat while they cook a gammon and chips. Sigh. So Mat’s change from seeing veggies as a bit of an annoyance to writing a book that celebrates veg is great. I’ll have to get this book as I don’t like overly cheffy ones but his way of coming at this from a meaty angle while cooking veggies sounds really interesting.
Your possibly unintentional pun ‘even though it was an entirely different beast’ cracked me up.
Heh, good spot, pun not intended! 🙂
It is nice to hear someone writing a book for vegetarians, with vegetarian dishes in their own right, instead of poor imitations of meat dishes. Vegetarian cuisine, especially Indian vegetarian cuisine, is full of 1000s of delicious dishes. Baingan Bhurta/Bharta (mash), dal-bhat are common staple of many north Indian homes and some of the favourites of mine. Good luck and best wishes to Mat Follas, not many people have written good vegetarian books suitable for home cooks :).
Yes indeed. There are a lot of vegetable cookery books but this one has a lot of food I enjoy. I can bring it for you to look through next time I see you if you like?
Such a big turnaround! I’m loving the variety in his recipes and would love to try the Red onion tarte tatin with goat’s cheese and dandelion sauce some time 🙂
My favourite vegetarian dish is a grilled courgette and green bean salad, with a tahini & citrus dressing, sundried tomatoes and mint! It’s my go-to salad for any BBQ, dinner or lunch, its so vibrant, delicious, healthy, flavoursome, it just ticks all the boxes! Rosie x
My favourite veggie dish is vegetable lasagna made with vegetarian cheese. The best thing I like about it is that it doesn’t contain tomatoes, which I loathe with a passion! So simple to make – choose your veg (I like broccoli, carrots, green beans, sweetcorn) – cut to sizes that will enable them to cook in approximately the same time and arrange in layers with lasagna sheets, topping each layer with well-seasoned bechamel sauce and some grated cheese. On the top layer, add some breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan to the grated cheese. Voila – ready for the oven! A complete “one-pot” meal but if you are serving omnivores, you can serve it with whatever they like in the meat/poultry department.
I really agree with Mat about being fed-up of “imitation meat” dishes and would welcome any inspiration for putting vegetables at the centre of menus.
Looks like a fantastic book and I love the part you mentioned about the book being for homecooks, unlike books written by restaurant or celebrity chefs. That’s what I always try to do in my cookbooks, to make them as usable to the evryday cook as possible.
This book looks lovely, I’m going to send one to my daughter!
One of my favourite vegetable based dishes is a celeriac and potato pie. Not nearly as dull as it sounds. Containing just the two ingredients with seasoning (s&p and tarragon) encased in puff pastry, this exceeded my expectations by being really luxurious.
Although an omnivore, I love to try new veg based recipes.
Would love to win a copy of Mats book.
Doesn’t sound dull at all!
I would love a copy of this cookbook! The umami fennel thyme gratin sounds amazing! I’m not a vegetarian, but I love fruits and vegetables SO much!
I love Mat Folas! I am gutted I haven’t had a chance to eat at Wild Garlic yet. I just need to find a good excuse… Living with a vegetarian and as someone who appreciates vegetarian food to it’s fullest I do get VERY frustrated when there is only one vegetarian option on the menu. For me the vegetables shouldn’t ever be an afterthought. It’s not enough to have a well cooked bit of fish or meat and a few veggies on the side. I don’t have a favourite vegetarian recipe as such…but if I had to choose something right now I’d pick a rich, buttery gnocchi dish with roasted butternut squash, sage and pine nuts 🙂
I’m afraid The Wild Garlic closed a couple of years back but you can still visit and enjoy Mat’s cooking at his new place, Bramble Cafe and Deli in Dorchester. There’s a link to my review in the first paragraph above. Hope you make it there soon!
My favourite vegetarian dish is Indian classic Tarka Daa with Jeera Rice, a mix of spices fried in oil or ghee, and then folded through the creamy cooked mixed lentils..comfort food ! Love to win this book, I am also vegetarian 🙂
I love vegetarian Indian curries or a nice pasta arrabiata. Anything that has lots of flavour and then I really don’t miss the meat.
I think that this book will be useful not only for vegetarians, it certainly everyone will find something interesting for themselves. Nice cover 🙂
It’s a lovely simple cover isn’t it?
Sounds perfect for me! I’ve added it to my wishlist.
My fave vegetable dish at the moment is red pepper and stilton frittata 🙂
I’ve been vegetarian for 30+ years now and am loving that some many people are now happy to eat meatless meals. it means that there is greater variety for me when I eat out! Currently eating anything cheesy or spicy (or indeed a combination of the two!)
Hi, Followed a link from Guardian and landed here(to be more specific on your crumpets recipe)..stuck here now for last hour! 🙂
The books seems nice and “normal” – most vegetarian books these days simply make me zone out with their ingredient listing.
Yes I hear you! Hope you enjoyed making crumpets!!
I love a Moroccan yam and chickpea curry.
Sussex Pond Pudding is a a delicious lemony pudding best served with custard.
love vegetable lasagne
I love a bowl of veg in thick gravy
I love sweet potato, spinach, and red lentil dahl. Still got that wonderful curry satisfaction, filling and comforting and the lentils pack it with as much protein as meat
I adore chargrilled aubergine – rubbed with garlic, sprinkled with lemon juice then drizzled with olive oil.
Kale and potato with basmati rice. A favourite warming comfort food.
i love quorn pieces with broccoli, pasta and cheese sauce. it plain but i love it
There’s a lovely dish from the Terre a Terre cookbook that involves soba noodles and a sauce made of miso, pickled ginger, mirin and other things. The flavours are so complex, I make it over and over again.
I love sweet potato fries and chickpea and bean burgers!
Mushroom Risotto is my favourite vegan dish. I love the creamy texture of the rice and it fills me up 😀
sweet potaote -chips, mash, even toasted. and its all healthy
The vegan corn burgers i get at festivals like cornbury
Vegetable lasagne – I love the creamy cheese.
I love Aloo Gobi (Potato and cauliflower curry) and Aloo Palak (Potato and Spinach curry) which are great with flatbreads.
I’ve been experimenting with vegan food after being veggie for many years, and my favourite at the moment is baked tofu in a satay sauce. It’s very more-ish, and tastes a little like takeaway food only much healthier.
Burmese tofu, oven baked in ground peanuts
I love smoked tofu ! with moroccan cous cous
I’ve come to like all vegetables over the year, but sweet potatoes are probably my fave veg at the moment and I love it baked like jacket potato
Any green salad with a potato salad with a yoghurt base or a lovely baked potato.
One of my favourite veggie dishes is cauliflower cheese – because anything drenched in cheese sauce is a winner 😉
Roasted vegetable pizza with pesto. Just love the flavour of roasted veggies and am a pizza addict.
Roast Cauliflower and cheese soup
My favourite vegetarian/vegan dish is winter vegetable stew, it’s really simple to make, wholesome and really filling.
I love lentil bolognese, a hearty meal that all the family enjoy and low cost too
My favourite veggie dish is Vegan pizza easy to make
Spring veg pasta, with courgette, peas and broad beans, plus whatever leaf veg I have growing at the time. It’s very fresh and a great way of using up extra courgettes!
My favourite veggie/vegan dish is an avocado and sweet potato salad 🙂 It always has a leafy green base, avocado, sweet potato and what else I put in depends on what veg I have! Usually with some seeds or nuts for extra protein
I adore vegetarian lasagne with spinach and creme fraiche. The flavours work together so well.
One of my favourite vegetarian dishes to make is cauliflower cheese, because I’m a huge cheese fan!
Roasted Vegetables – for depth of flavour
Roast Vegetable Pizza, because it’s really tasty and satisfying!
I love green lentil and amaranth patties because they’re healthy and simple to make. They’re versatile too cos you can add different herbs/spices or serve them with different condiments, veggies or salad so they’re like a different dish each time.
I love Tagliatelle Broccolo – our local Italian restaurant serve a really fresh tasting version of this – the owner doesn’t even have to ask what we have come in for on a Saturday lunchtime ;))
Hmm lost half my comment! – I love that it fills me up with out being full of heav sauces, or cream – and gets lots of vits & fibre into me
This books sounds great. I really don’t want cheffy type books at home. Unless they are a great read, they don’t tend to be very useful. I don’t have a favourite dish as I love so many different types of food and it all depends on what time of year it is too. But it’s very hard to beat a plate of new potatoes just dug minutes before cooking with mint of course and doused in plenty of good butter.
It’s almost impossible for me to pick one favourite dish, to be honest, as I love so many vegetables!
Something I make most often though is a caponata style stew, with tomatoes, chunks of aubergine, garlic, sultanas, tons of olive oil and a dash of vinegar. Aubergines win at almost everything.
I really love a veggie lasange 😀 xx
I love a vegetarian bolognese!
Oops missed my reason – it’s because my Mum makes it so tasty!
I love my own red lentil stew so much that I eat it at least once a week. Generous amounts of butter, lemon, tomatoes and huge quantities of garlic are what make it so enjoyable.
My Mum’s is even tastier, for years she served it to vegetarians, which included me at one time. Apparently not realising – one would hope at least – that chicken stock is in fact made with chicken…
Do salads count? If they do, it’ll have to be fattoush because it’s sunshine & summer on a plate. If they dont, it’s got to be cauliflower & broccoli cheese. Why? Because of the oozy creamy cheesiness of the sauce, the extra tasty little burnt bits on top and the tasty veg underneath all that. Mind you, if the cauliflower and broccoli are too soggy, it ruins the whole thing!