7 useful takeaways from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Ultimate Veg’

Arthi Subramaniam
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jamie Oliver’s Super-Comforting Gumbo incorporates celery, onion, garlic, plum tomatoes, chickpeas and green peas along with red wine.

Chef, author and meat-lover Jamie Oliver did not want to compromise on flavor when

he sought to write his first-ever vegetable-focused book.

And he doesn’t. “Ultimate Veg” (Flatiron Books; January 2020) illustrates not only that an all-vegetable dish is flavorsome, creative and exciting but also that no one should ever feel the need to apologize for making one.

Refreshingly, the recipes do not call for the vegetables to be drowned in cream, smothered in cheese or cooked to death, nor does Oliver combine them with meat substitutes to justify their worthiness.

If you are a vegetarian, buy the book to expand and elevate your repertoire, and if you eschew vegetables, buy the book to see what you are missing out on.

Here are seven useful takeaways from “Ultimate Veg”:

Think global: Tahini, harissa, curry powder and miso all come in handy to give a global touch. Morph the Indian street snack, bhel puri, into a salad with the addition of radishes, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and pomegranate. Or make Yemini-accented pancakes with bread flour and yeast, and serve them with a smoky tahini-flavored eggplant.

Add elements of surprise: Toss together unexpected ingredients with the usual ones for delicious results. Add an apple along with carrots, radish and vermicelli rice noodles to make Crunchy Summer Rolls. Whip HP sauce (England’s favorite brown sauce) and butter together and spread it on thin slices of bread for Ploughman’s Nachos, and top with cheddar cheese and pickled onions.

Embrace improvisations: You don’t need taco shells to make crispy tacos. Simply tear a fresh tortilla and place the quarters between the domes of an upside-down muffin pan to hold their shape and bake for 10 minutes. Dry fry mushrooms for a minute instead of in oil to bring out their nutty flavor.

Don’t hold back on the spice: To make a Comforting Congee Bowl with soft-boiled eggs and mushrooms sing, add star anise and sliced fresh red chili. For an Angry Pasta Fagioli, throw in whole red chilies when cooking the butternut squash and carrot for a warming heat. Or kick up parsnip soup a notch by flavoring it with garam masala and fresh ginger.

Remember booze can make things better: Pour in white wine when making a mushroom risotto or dry white vermouth for a tomato risotto to elevate the flavor. Deglaze caramelized bits of vegetable with a Chianti red wine for a hasselback with root vegetables, lentils and spinach. Porter beer makes for a richer tasting Burns Night Stew with dumplings. And a gumbo with red wine belongs in a league of its own.

Season to taste: Oliver never lists or includes a measurement for salt and pepper as part of the recipes’ ingredients. But he mentions them in the directions at the step or steps they need to be added. And it is always to taste.

Make an eye-catcher: Think of all-natural colorful makeovers to please the eye and palate. Add spinach to a flour-milk batter to make verdant spinach pancakes topped with an avocado-tomato salad and served with cottage cheese. Doll up an umami-packed black bean burger with a dollop of plain yogurt and tomato-onion relish and slices of mango and avocado.

Super-Comforting Gumbo

Note: You don’t have to pan-fry the okra; just dry-fry it until it is nicely charred. But make sure the okra is tender.

1 onion

3 cloves garlic

3 stalks celery

3 mixed-color peppers

3 tablespoons peanut oil

3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 fresh bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

6 tablespoons red wine

1 (14-ounce) can quality plum tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas

7 ounces frozen peas

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

2 fresh jalapeno chilies

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

7 ounces okra

Peel and finely chop onion, garlic and celery. Seed and roughly chop the peppers.

Pour 3 tablespoons of oil into a large pan over medium heat. Mix flour to make a paste (loose roux).

Cook until dark brown, stirring constantly, so it does not catch and burn.

Add the chopped vegetables to the paste along with bay leaves and thyme leaves. Cook for 20 minutes, or until softened and dark nutty brown, stirring regularly.

Add cayenne pepper and paprika. Add wine and allow to reduce by half before scrunching in the tomatoes.

Add the chickpeas (juices and all) and enough water to cover, then simmer over a medium heat for 25 minutes or until reduced to your preferred consistency. Add peas for the last 5 minutes.

Season to perfection with sea salt and black pepper. Meanwhile, finely slice the chilies and place in a bowl. Stir in the vinegar and a pinch of salt to make a quick pickle.

Dry-fry the okra in a large nonstick frying pan on a medium heat until lightly charred. Then halve and scatter over the gumbo.

Serves 6.

— “Ultimate Veg” by Jamie Oliver (Flatiron Books; Jan. 7, 2020)