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Rukmini
Iyer

Rukmini Iyer is the bestselling author of the Roasting Tin series, which in five years has sold over 1.75 million copies worldwide. Here, she chats to InBath about here new cookbook 'The Green Cookbook: Easy Vegan and Vegetarian Dinners'.

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You say in the book that at the end of the working day you want a minimum effort, maximum flavour dinner, as hassle-free as possible but joyous on the plate. Which recipes in The Green Cookbook sum up that ethos?

There are so many! Every chapter and recipe was created to help ease that end-of-the-day panic, whether it’s batch cooks that help you get ahead of the week, or quick stove-top meals. A couple of my favourites – which I’d class under ‘emergency dinners’ – are the miso butter noodles with tomatoes and spring onions and the 20-minute cauliflower and broccoli mac & cheese. Even if I have almost no energy to cook, I can manage a five-minute stir-fry, or shuffle over to put pan of pasta on the boil, add broccoli and cauliflower and stir through my cheat’s cheese sauce (a mixture of ricotta, mascarpone, mustard, and grated cheddar). Both are on the table in under 20 minutes from the second you pick up your knife to the second you sit down and eat, and they are packed with flavour, texture and vegetables. For me that sums up the ethos of the book; it’s food that’s easy to make if you’re low on time and energy, but tastes as good as if you’d spent hours in the kitchen.

What prompted you to write The Green Cookbook and how did you decide which recipes to include?   

Life isn’t getting any less busy for me or my readers; I’m always thinking about how to make my cooking as effortless, yet flavour-packed as possible. Of course, the roasting tin is a great option for this, but there are so many other tips and tricks that I want to share with readers, whether that’s leaning into batch cooking or embracing one-pot pastas. My next book was always going to be plant-led (I’ve been pescetarian since my daughter was born, and The Green Roasting Tin is a perennial favourite with readers) and so The Green Cookbook is a natural successor. I wanted to write beyond the roasting tin to reflect the way I cook when time-pressed.

"For me that sums up the ethos of the book; it’s food that’s easy to make if you’re low on time and energy, but tastes as good as if you’d spent hours in the kitchen."

Coming up with new recipes for The Green Cookbook meant thinking about the kind of food I throw together instinctively on a weeknight, using store-cupboard staples for quick flavour fixes, and noting down which dishes get an enthusiastic thumbs up from my husband, daughter and wider friends and family who help test out recipes for me. Every recipe had to work either on a busy weeknight, or as a minimum-hassle batch-cook weekend dish, with the chapters on entertaining for friends stripped down to dishes that taste wonderful, but take very little assembly or prep-time, like my miso barley mushrooms with coriander pesto.

Have you discovered any new favourite ingredients while writing The Green Cookbook? 

I was thinking about keeping The Green Cookbook completely vegan for some time, but from reader feedback it looked like half vegetarian, half vegan was the way to go. That said, my favourite ingredient while recipe testing (or just to snack on) turned out to be an amazing vegan cheese made by a company called Palace Culture – it’s now stocked in Waitrose and I am never without their kimchi-rolled cheese. (It has a fermented cashew base, so it’s actually good for you and not like the processed stuff you usually think of with the term ‘vegan cheese’.) I also have a newfound love for good rose harissa (the Belazu one is my favourite) – it packs an instant flavour hit.

What is your best advice around meal planning?

I think the best way to meal plan, if you aren’t a seasoned meal planner, is to go at it slowly – if you know you’d find it hard to come up with a whole week’s worth of menus and then do all the shopping for it, just do two or three days at a time, and factor in ingredients that you really like. I’ve included some sample meal plans at the back of the book, including nights where you won’t need to cook at all because you have batch-cooked earlier in the week – a godsend on a busy evening.

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How do you come up with recipes that cater to vegetarians, vegans and people with food allergies? What’s your failsafe vegan recipe in this book?

Vegetarians are easy for me, as my family are all vegetarian, and I know first-hand how accessible, balanced, and interesting good vegetarian food is. Similarly, with vegan food, I’d always first turn to cultures and cuisines that are already largely vegan for inspiration – so many Indian and South-East Asian vegetable dishes use pulses, tofu or coconut milk, you’d barely notice a lack of dairy or eggs. Funnily enough, that also made it really easy to write half the book as gluten-free – I have so many friends and colleagues who are gluten intolerant, and if you’re writing lots of recipes for curries, stir fries and casseroles, they’re often both naturally gluten-free and vegan, without having to swap in specialist or very processed ingredients.

 

My favourite vegan recipe in the book is a really simple batch cook dish – it’s my ultimate bean chilli with walnuts and chocolate. The one-tin three bean chilli in The Green Roasting Tin is possibly my most popular dish among readers, but I tried a restaurant chilli with walnuts and chocolate while writing the book and it was next level – I wanted to share it with readers in this version and would happily put it on the menu every week. It’s well fit. 

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Which recipes from The Green Cookbook would you recommend for when you have people round for dinner at the weekend and don’t want to do too much washing up? 

The one-pot (no-stir) butternut squash risotto with crispy sage and hazelnuts is a total winner when you’ve got guests round. I tested the third version of it on food writer Niki Segnit over lunch, with some trepidation (her brilliant Flavour Thesaurus books inform my recipe writing at almost every stage). ‘Did you make your own vegetable stock?’, she asked, as I started to chop the onions. I surreptitiously stirred in a cube of Knorr through a jug of hot water. ‘Er. Not exactly.’ Then while the risotto cooked in the oven, I realised that despite picking my own sage, I had no block butter to make sage and chilli butter to finish the risotto. I found instead a random, slightly out-of-date ‘mixed herb butter’ at the back of the fridge. It looked ok. I let it bubble in a pan, then added the sage. An interesting smell started to fill the kitchen. ‘It smells like skunk,’ said Niki. ‘No, actually more like old-fashioned grass.’ I topped the risotto with it anyway, and it got a very enthusiastic thumbs up. But its very good with ordinary butter too. 

What are your favourite kitchen hacks to share with readers?

Well, its more advice than a hack, but if you read a recipe all the way through before starting there are often sections where you can get ahead on prepping ingredients while other things cook. If I’m making a stovetop curry, I’ll use the ten minutes while the onions are cooking to chop up all the other veg, rather than do the cheffy thing which is to prep all the veg before you stick the pan on the heat. But otherwise, it’s the usual things – microplane graters are much more efficient to mince garlic and ginger than chopping, lemon or lime juice will always improve your dish, and taste your food in the pan or tin before dishing it up to family or friends – that way you can adjust the salt and acidity and get it right well before anyone tries it.

 

What do you love to do when you are not looking after your family and cooking?

Right now, my favourite activity is to take a long nap! Followed by reading a good book, gardening and buying lovely produce at farmers markets or independent grocery shops with the dog in tow. I do love having friends round, but increasingly enjoy going to friends’ houses more as it means we can leave all the mess in our house and enjoy other people’s tidy houses. A decluttered Marie-Kondo-style house is the dream.

"I’ve included some sample meal plans at the back of the book, including nights where you won’t need to cook at all because you have batch-cooked earlier in the week – a godsend on a busy evening."

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