Fast Fresh Flavourful
by Natasha Celmi
Publisher: Notion Press (2020)
I would like to preface this rambling review of Fast Fresh Flavourful by Natasha Celmi with a small confession. In all the years I have loved cooking and done it regularly, I have never actually followed a recipe. Now, to some people this sounds quite horrifying. I’ve had friends watch in rapt disbelief as I emptied jars of mixed herbs and paprika over vegetables before I roast them “just because”, and have thoroughly terrified my mother because once I make a dish, it is statistically impossible for me to recreate it. I’m a big believer in the “close enough” philosophy when it comes to food (which is probably why I hate baking and am terrible at it). My sacred rule for cooking is if it doesn’t taste good, add more garlic, trust me it works. To me a recipe book is more a guide than a bible, and if you find yourself stuck in a rut of lackluster weekday meals, then this concise vegetarian book is an ideal and simply written guide.
The world of cookbooks is certainly an interesting one. The tough part of choosing the right cookbook for you is genuinely being honest with your skill levels. Whether you need your hand held by a Joy of Cooking-esque cult icon, or a hyper focused book on the flavours of Chettinad cooking, it’s definitely overwhelming to say the least. Natasha Celmi has been on the food scene for quite a while. She is a chef and food entrepreneur (who started a gelato chain in Bangalore – oh how my heart leaps!), so she has experience within the industry. Her introduction is worth the read to catch a glimpse of who she is as a person, and our shared love of Nigella Lawson definitely means she is legit (in my eyes). As someone who travels to Italy a lot, her Mediterranean recipes even have the added stamp of authenticity!
Possibly the best and most approachable part of the book is that introductory chapters are the detailed and helpful key to planning your approach to these recipes. For those of us reading who only know how to boil water for Maggi or chai (not that I’m judging), the sections on meal planning and cooking methods are helpful, not just in terms of the recipes in the book, but also in general. The recipes are simple enough that once you get the hang of them, it is fairly easy to begin substituting and experimenting. For example, the small plates section has a recipe for a caramelized onion hummus, which not only provides an excellent basic hummus recipe but also opens it up to your own variations. I could think of variations for days, like a sun-dried tomato hummus, harissa flavoured spicy hummus or whatever you have on hand to top it with.
The formatting of the recipes is equally straightforward and insightful. I especially appreciated how each recipe had a make ahead/leftovers section which is considerate of those of us with busy schedules or just cooking for one. The dishes are a good mix of cuisines, although if you were looking for a cookbook specifically on Indian food, I wouldn’t suggest this one. The majority of the recipes are Mediterranean or South-East Asian inspired with no specific section on Indian foods. I would also forewarn you to consult the shopping list section on the introduction because ingredients specific to these cuisines sometimes require a little bit of prior planning to acquire. Although the individual recipes themselves are often quite brief with their ingredient lists (and thank god for that, I wouldn’t want to tire myself out just reading about ingredients), it might be worthwhile to note that common Asian ingredients like lemongrass and Kaffir lime or herbs like basil and mint are easily grown in a kitchen garden.
Now for all of my meat eaters (who may or may not have made it this far), I have some controversial opinions. The recipes in this book are extremely simple to substitute with meat. As I mentioned before, I treat recipe books like the Pinterest boards of the literary world- so I look to them for inspiration more than guidance. For example, the “Blissful Bowls” section is perfect for a filling main meal. The Japanese Tofu Noodle Bowl both looks and sounds delicious, but the teriyaki orange tofu topping (fun alliteration there) could just as easily be a grilled teriyaki orange chicken. If you’re looking for that added protein in your meals, Natasha’s recipes are accommodating. The street-style Pad Thai noodles could always be enhanced with some meat or even an optional egg as she helpfully hints. The key to healthy eating is always tailoring the recipes to YOU, so this book is good start to not being intimidated by eating better.