Life Style

In Praise of Veg! How Cookbook Author Alice Zaslavsky Fell in Love with Vegetables

The best part of adding a new cookbook to my collection is learning to fall in love with ingredients, both familiar and new, in ways that leave me jaw-dropped and saying how did I not think of that? That’s the magic of food, after all. Every cook can use the same ingredient and create a recipe entirely their own. When I added In Praise of Veg, the latest cookbook from award-winning author and broadcaster, Alice Zaslavsky, to my collection, I found myself not only flipping through pages of vibrant imagery but taking note of the techniques that can make vegetables the highlight of any meal in ways that I had never thought of.

While many of us are leaning more on plant-based lifestyles these days, even I must admit that it’s easy to get into a recipe rut with vegetables. But most of the time it’s because I’ve forgotten to treat vegetables like the flavor-packed stars they can be. Especially when leaning on in-season produce, a few simple techniques paired with a unique perspective can turn even the most humble of vegetables (hello sweet potatoes I’m looking at you) into something exciting again. Luckily, that’s where this book, labeled the ULTIMATE cookbook for vegetable lovers, comes in.

I was excited to chat with Alice about some of the highlights from the book – including a new take on a classic tomato panzanella salad recipe – along with the secret to making vegetables taste delicious every time you cook them.

All recipes and images excerpted from In Praise of Veg: The Ultimate Cookbook for Vegetable Lovers by Alice Zaslavsky. Text Copyright © 2022 Alice Zaslavsky. Design and Illustrations Copyright © 2022 by Murdoch Books. Photography Copyright © 2022 by Ben Dearnley. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

How did your cooking philosophy influence your new book, In Praise of Veg?

I’m a pretty slap-dash kind of cook – I like to find shortcuts, I’m always looking to quality condiments, pickles, herbs, and spices to do the heavy-lifting, and I love colour… which is why vegetables are always where my cooking starts. I’m also still very much a teacher at heart, and I believe that the more you know, the better your quality of life, which is why In Praise of Veg is just as much a reference book as it is a cookbook. I want people to be able to absorb the wisdom of what to do with each vegetable, and then riff on it themselves. And there are plenty of shortcuts and vibrancy throughout – including the way the chapters are laid out based on the colour of the veg, so it’s super easy to flip to the right page when you need it. 

What would you share with someone who wants to incorporate more plant-based recipes into their life?

Veg-forward is the best way to describe my food philosophy – not vegetarian or vegan necessarily, but when you start with the veg, it’s much easier to reduce your intake of animal protein, and think of it more as an accoutrement rather than the main event. Over time, you’ll naturally find yourself leaping more confidently into full meals that are plant-based, without feeling like you’re missing out. 

All recipes and images excerpted from In Praise of Veg: The Ultimate Cookbook for Vegetable Lovers by Alice Zaslavsky. Text Copyright © 2022 Alice Zaslavsky. Design and Illustrations Copyright © 2022 by Murdoch Books. Photography Copyright © 2022 by Ben Dearnley. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

This Panzanella Salad Recipe is so delicious! Any tips for success our audience should know when making it?

The number one tip for any recipe – particularly one that’s so seasonal, is to seek out the best produce you can. Tomatoes are so glorious in summer, and the knobbier they are the better. Follow your nose – aroma is super important, as is the vibrancy of the tomato’s glossy skin, whether that’s bright crimson, or a deeper shade of plum. And if the prospect of making your own ricotta puts you off (I promise – it’s much easier than you think!) just grab a good quality one from the shops and sprinkle some fennel seeds through. No judgment!

Which three recipes from the book should someone cook first?

Ahh! There are over 150! This is a toughy! I would say, at this time of year, the fool-proof corn fritters, the feel-good nachos, and maybe the blender beet brownie… they’re the kind of recipes that’ll go on high-rotation after one try.  

What do you hope people experience when they make one of your recipes?

I love making friends and connecting with people, and my greatest discovery has been the immediate way in which writing recipes has created this delightfully direct like with people from all around the world.  The thing about cookbooks that’s extra special (and I know this myself, because I’m a cookbook fiend!) is that they feel like you’re being handed somebody’s journal. It’s a deeply personal experience to commit your cookery to paper, and the process is fairly lengthy, so each recipe has to count.

My hope is that when I meet someone who’s got In Praise of Veg at home, or even in their hands at an event, that they admit to how splattered its pages are with passata, or how grubby the edges of pages are with olive oil. I want these recipes to be used – and I want the book to be read like a novel. For there to be moments of delight… maybe a joke we share, an ‘aha’ at an alliteration, or a feeling that they’re deeply seen. I want them to know that it’s worth it to grab the book off the shelf rather than just google the recipe for a pumpkin soup. 

All recipes and images excerpted from In Praise of Veg: The Ultimate Cookbook for Vegetable Lovers by Alice Zaslavsky. Text Copyright © 2022 Alice Zaslavsky. Design and Illustrations Copyright © 2022 by Murdoch Books. Photography Copyright © 2022 by Ben Dearnley. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

What’s the secret to making vegetables taste really good every time?

When in doubt, treat veg like meat!

Burnish your brassicas! Chargrill your lettuce! Roast a squash like you would a rib, and you’ll never go back.

The quality of the veg itself makes a difference – the more seasonal it is, the better it’s been grown, the freshness – all of that means you don’t have to do much to make it taste good. The book’s full of tips on how to pick the best, how to store it, and the like, but if I had to choose just the one, I’d say: find a local CSA box (community supported agriculture), a farmer’s market, or just a really great grocer – that way, you always know that what you’re buying is the best you can find, and then all you need to do is final touches!  

Scroll on to get the recipe for Alice’s Fennel and Tomato Panzanella Salad Recipe…


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