Some time back, The Menu eagerly took delivery of what purported to be a definitive tome on vegan cuisine from one of the world’s premier cookbook publishers. It proved instead to be one extremely damp squib, little more than a rifling of myriad global cuisines for already existing plant-based recipes, the best of them, ironically, an Alain Bras recipe with the meat element removed and if new vegans—the fastest growing sector in world food—were in the market for an inspiring and creative lodestar for their culinary endeavours, this publication would have left them largely disappointed.
Accordingly, The Menu is especially delighted to receive the quite excellent Cornucopia: The Green Cookbook, a collection of vegan recipes from the eponymous Dublin restaurant, serving vegetarian food since 1986 and increasingly moving over to an entirely plant-based menu, and this cookbook that does what the aforementioned ‘bible’ so singularly failed to do, delivering a varied, creative and eminently achievable set of recipes and allied culinary information that makes for a superb introduction to vegan cuisine for the novice yet holding equal appeal for the seasoned cook.
Written by Cornucopia chef Tony Keogh with food writer Aoife Carrigy, it covers the gamut, from breakfast, soups, snacks, lunches, salads, sweets, sauces, sides and full-on dinner dishes. If The Menu has any caveat it is that it is not quite The Menu’s ideal vision of a truly Irish vegan cuisine, one built around an entirely local larder, as recipes often employ more than a few imports (including nuts) and even avocados (a utterly unsustainable monoculture product that is now the cause of multiple murders in Mexico as the drug cartels try to take over the billion dollar-plus avocado trade).
This is not Cornucopia’s fault per se, rather that of a deeply compromised global food system, and if there is change ahead for the better, he expects this fine Dublin establishment to be the forefront of that movement—and brandishing an equally enjoyable and updated culinary tome to match. Meanwhile, The Menu expects to make great use of this fine publication.
The Menu has a keen interest in the stars, even if he is invariably staring up at them from the gutter, so a Gastronomy & Astronomy weekend (Nov 15/16) at wonderful Knockranny House Hotel in Westport, sounds tailor made for a combination of two great passions, beginning with an evening’s fine dining courtesy of head chef Seamus Commons before wrapping up tight for a night time expert-guided ‘star-fari’ to the grounds of Murrisk Abbey for a spot of stargazing. Package includes two nights B&B, one dinner and guided stargazing. (www.knockrannyhousehotel.ie)
In light of the ruination visited on the mighty bee, one of the planet’s most crucial pollinators, by the industrial agricultural sector’s egregious use of chemicals, The Menu, a most passionate advocate of natural Irish honey, cannot recommend highly enough the upcoming Galway Beekeepers’ Association Honey Show & Fair (Nov 16). (www.galwaybeekeepers.com)
When Jerry Kennedy, of the splendid Dingle Butcher, dispatched a leg of Blasket Island Lamb to The Menu, he advised adding little other than seasoning before cooking for it was ‘fatty—and the fat is full of flavour!’
Sound advice, for The Menu is also a keen believer that good meat fat is a sublime repository of flavour, though he nonetheless added a few additional ‘aromatics’ to the roasting tin before subjecting the meat to a long, slow braising of six hours and rising before finally serving it up for a special occasion, fully confident his additions would add to, without overpowering, said meat.
Following its consumption of the magnificent joint, The Menu could indeed hymn praises of its saline sweetness (the French describe similar as ‘agneau pré-salé’ or ‘salt marsh lamb’) and a depth of flavour that was almost gamey, its essence of lamb amplified to near stratospheric proportions from the pure island diet of heather, grassland, wild herbs and even seaweed, but, in the heel of the hunt, the awed silence from each and every diner as they tasted that first mouthful, spoke more volumes than any words could ever do, it being the finest lamb any of them had ever tasted.
Of very limited availability outside of Dingle, it can currently be exclusively sampled on the menus of the Cork-based Market Lane group of restaurants. (www.dinglebutcher.com)