Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: Leon by Allegra McEvedy. Published by Conran Octopus 2008

Being a lover of cookbooks I was thrilled to receive this as a wedding gift, not only because it is a fab book but it is one I hadn’t seen before. Leon is now a favorite in my collection for its real food philosophy, recipes and for its beautiful, engaging design.

Since receiving the book I've learnt that before Leon the cookbook came Leon the ‘fast food’ chain with a difference. This is not fast food of the fat and sugar-laden variety, no this is "naturally fast food", the principle behind the business is “food that tastes and does you good”. Based in London, the vision of the owners of Leon is – “to change the face of fast food”. There are currently 12 Leon restaurants serving "naturally fast food" to over 100,000 people a week. 

The first half of Leon the book is ‘The Ingredients Book’ where fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, fish and dairy are given a good going over. This is a British book so the growing regions discussed are relevant to Europe, but don’t let that deter you because you’ll miss out on all the other interesting and useful information. Once you read your way through the origins and uses of ingredients ranging from artichokes to black-eyed beans to sumac, and on to which cut of beef, chicken and lamb cooks best which way, work your way through the cheese European cheese selection and brush up on which vinegar and oil to use for what and then you will be bursting to get cooking with the second half of Leon: ‘The Recipe Book’.

Each recipe has an introduction paragraph for your reading pleasure and the recipes are very doable, with the vast majority calling for ingredients you’ll have on hand – if you have a well-stocked real food pantry J

The 'starters, sharers and sides' chapter is one I delve into regularly for tasty bites such as sweet potato falafel, Sicilian grilled vegetables and the roasted garlic and pumpkin hummus.

On my Leon main course wish list still to try are ‘Tom (Really) Yum’ soup, Moroccan Meatballs and the ‘(Not very) Kashmiri Rogan Josh’.

McEvedy's recipes are flavoured generously with a vast array of herbs and spices, no fancy tricks or ingredients just good honest fare that you can enjoy just as easily for a midweek family meal and equally on the weekend when you have friends over. For instance, lemon, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, onion and white wine create the flavour base for chicken, asparagus and lemon cassoulet.

If you have a birthday party or celebration to make a cake for, turn to page 274. There you will find ‘Alex’s Henry the Hedgehog’. It is essentially a hedgehog style recipe that involves getting messy and shaping the mix by hand into a hedgehog complete with slivered almond spikes.

There’s a welcome touch of humour and cheekiness to be found in these pages, eating real food needn’t be all so serious as some books look and read more like a text book.

I stumbled across this article about Leon co-owner and cookbook author, Allegra McEvedy who is also a columnist for the Guardian newspaper. A number of recipes from the book follow the article including the outrageous decadent ‘Leon Better Brownie’ recipe. I love the quote from McEvedy's biography that spells out her personal philosophy to live and work by "that there are more ways for a chef to make a difference than by winning Michelin stars, and good food should be available to everybody".

Today with the rain here and an incredible harvest of tomatoes from our garden, Leon’s roast tomato, chilli and cumin soup is next on my list to try.

What are you cooking?

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