By Mika Bareket
Tender: Volume I
I do not like the exterior design of this book, a drab study in blue. The spine’s title is reversed, European-style (read: annoying). And the worst part is culturally specific text debossed forever on the front cover, reading: As the church bells chimed on New Year’s Eve… Heaven help this atheist Jew.
The interior contents, though, I love with something akin to religious fervour. Like Slater’s Kitchen Diaries before and Appetite long before (and sadly out of print), this tome has quickly become my bible. I have referred to it weekly, if not daily, since its release, and keep it not with my other cookbooks but rather on my coffee table, despite the disappointing cover.
Tender is organized alphabetically by vegetable, with several recipes per. Each category begins with an ode, Slater’s warm and celebratory thoughts on the vegetable, followed by a list of varieties and their attributes, as well gardening tips for the virtuous. Scattered about are sections called “And…,” musings on which herbs and spices pair well with each vegetable, a Slaterian trademark and for good reason – they inspire readers to play “write your own recipe” using basic and trustworthy rules.
While vegetables do play centre stage here, this is not a vegetarian recipe book. Rather, it is for those who base their cooking decisions on what is most in season. My shopping adventures begin at the produce stand. Spotting the bushiest, brightest, most local veg, I take note then see what the butcher or fishmonger has in store. At this point I turn to Tender, flipping through for ideas using said bushiest and brightest, picking up any aromatics needed to turn parsnips, into Root vegetable korma, in this case, a vegetarian meal, or perhaps a bottle of wine to accompany A supper of young parsnips with sausage, if looking for meaty comfort.
Slater’s recipes, and this is true of all his books, range in effort and time required. Some, as in Chard with black pepper and cream require little more than washing and steaming. When the mood strikes, A risotto of leeks and pancetta keeps the cook active for nearly an hour, all the while wondering if it’ll be worth the copious washing and stirring (it will). For angels in our midst, there is A classic meat and onion pie which needs an overnight marinade, hours of simmering, and rolling out pastry. Something for every mood.
Ugly on the outside, many times rewarding on the inside – Tender is like a gnarly celery root cooked, mashed, and slathered in butter. Perhaps better.
Mika Bareket owns Good Egg, a shop dedicated to the culture of food. She lives and works in Kensington Market.