Reviewed by Gerard Healy
A family-friendly cookbook from Helen Tzouganatos containing over 100 recipes for busy cooks. Each recipe is accompanied by a mouth-watering colour photograph taken by Jeremy Simons, which adds greatly to the appeal. Since I enter any kitchen with a large L plate on my back, I was attracted to the ‘Easy’ part of the title. While some basic knowledge of cooking is assumed, most of the recipes do look relatively easy to manage.
The text is divided into sections on starters, mains and sweets, with further sub-divisions for types of meats. The writer has also included a trouble-shooting section on eleven common mistakes that home cooks make and what to do about them. For example, her advice for resting meat after cooking suggests that if you cook steak for six minutes then you should rest it for three minutes before eating (p 11). This allows the muscle fibres to relax and let the juices flow back into the meat and so make it more tender to eat.
Another informative chapter deals with the Gluten-free kitchen. Ms Tzouganatos comes across as really knowing what she’s talking about with dozens of tips about the best ingredients to have in your pantry or viable alternatives if these are unavailable. She was diagnosed with coeliac disease 12 years ago and her eldest child is gluten intolerant, so she has first-hand experience to draw on. Also, the book is endorsed by Coeliac Australia.
But do the recipes work? Well, I road-tested a few to find out.
Shepard’s Sweet Potato Pies (p 238) looked good and the end result was tasty as well. It can be prepared and served in individual ramekins or from one larger dish, which was my option. The writer breaks each recipe into three parts; an introduction which extols the reasons for choosing the dish and some tips, a list of ingredients and the method to be followed.
Being a beginner cook, I probably took longer than most to prepare all the ingredients and then juggle the various stages of the actual cooking. While most of the instructions were reasonably plain to follow, there were some I found slightly vague e.g. ‘heat in a pan over low heat’. Some extra vegetables, such as broccoli, peas or beans, could be added to the Shepard’s Pies to round it out. Overall, though, a winner.
Next dish was Pasteli (Toasted Sesame bars), which appealed for two reasons, taste and simplicity. They are quite easy to make with the only tricky step the melting of the sugar and honey mix. I did halve the amounts recommended, partly because I thought the amounts looked too much for what I needed. If you’re cooking for a family then the full amounts would be suitable.
In the footnotes it says you can substitute other nuts for peanuts, so I tried cashews. You can also use almonds, macadamias or pistachios or even go nut-free and increase the amount of sesame seeds. Feedback from others was positive, which is one of the joys of cooking of course.
Some parents of younger toddlers may want to avoid these bars because of the sugar content and perhaps older folk with less than perfect teeth may also need to be cautious since the bars are quite firm to bite into.
One possible problem is that some recipes include some ingredients I’ve not heard of. For example, test yourself on these: za’atar, cherry bocconcini, kefalograviera cheese, GF white miso paste, GF tamari or coconut aminos, calypso mango and Vietnamese mint leaves. These were all from the salad section but we’re told that they’re available at most supermarkets.
While Ms Tzouganatos is proud of her Greek heritage, she includes recipes from many other cultures, as the list of salad ingredients above hinted at. If you do like Greek food, her Moussaka recipe (p 215), with lamb instead of beef for the Bolognese, sounds great and it can be prepared ahead of time.
I would recommend this cookbook to everyone, but especially to those who want to prepare gluten-free or dairy-free meals for their families.
Helen Tzouganatos is a Sydney-based television presenter and keen home cook. She started a blog in 2015 to share her recipes and is the host of SBS Food’s ‘Loving Gluten Free’ program. She and her husband have three children, who provide her with reliable feedback on her recipes, she informs us!
Easy Gluten Free
by Helen Tzouganatos
Pan Macmillan Australia
ISBN: 978 1 76098 017 7
$39.99; pp 272