Hetty McKinnon’s “Family” Vegetarian Cookbook, Reviewed by a Carnivore

Hetty McKinnon’s “Family” Vegetarian Cookbook, Reviewed by a Carnivore

If you’re a meat-eater who thinks vegetarian food can’t provide satisfaction, read Hetty McKinnon on coconut.

“For me,” she writes in her new cookbook, “coconut is such an indulgent flavor. It is so richly intense, eating it feels like a sinful experience. I transgress often with coconut.” That’s the introduction to a recipe for a hot soup, after which you might just need a cold shower.

The rest of the book isn’t quite so explicit, although McKinnon provides all the details you need to make dishes like caramelized onion cashew cream, five-spice cauliflower steaks (with mushroom “XO” sauce), and choc-orange self-saucing pudding.

McKinnon got her start in Sydney, finding success with a salad-delivery service called Arthur Street Kitchen. She now runs Neighborhood Studio, a creative space in (natch) Brooklyn, and publishes a multicultural food journal called Peddler. She’s also a mom, and Luisa Brimble’s light-drenched photos of McKinnon’s Family fill the pages of the new cookbook.

Everyday nourishment is the book’s culinary theme, but McKinnon also highlights the way dishes can celebrate and bridge cultures. She includes several profiles of friends who share their stories and favorite recipes; comedy writer Lisa Marie Corso, for example, recounts her Italian-Australian upbringing and instructions for a hearty eggplant parmigiana.

I’m not either a vegetarian or, really, a cook — but my partner enjoys vegetarian cooking and has a good eye for practical, tasty recipes. She immediately cracked Family and found two winners in the opening salad section. As she and our friend whipped up the primavera rice salad, they chortled at my delight in the crunchy textures and subtle flavors. (My own cultural contribution to the mix was a few dashes of Penzeys Northwoods Fire spice.)

As I write, she’s off to a Lord of the Rings movie marathon bearing a bowl of McKinnon’s roasted cauliflower with peas and mint-pea yogurt. Even the dwarves would drop their mutton legs for that.

I’m still not sure if I’m sold on the joys of compost stock or “the magic of beans,” but I have a hunch that Family will prove a roadmap to a lot of satisfying meals in our home. I didn’t grow up in a house where roasted cauliflower was “highly sought after,” but now I’m on the same page as McKinnon’s kids: ready to ditch the Spam.

Jay Gabler