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A&E >  Food

Cookbook review: A taste of London’s new fast food, from Leon

‘Leon: Fast Vegetarian’

By Henry Dimbleby

and Jane Baxter

(Conran Octopus, $29.99)

Quick Look: Leon, the London-based fast-food group that specializes in locally sourced, simply cooked, seasonal ingredients, shares more than 150 vibrant, vegetarian recipes in this charmingly illustrated collection.

What’s Inside: Red and green ribbons help mark your spot in this colorful, 303-page celebration of “happy-making” meatless dishes. The introduction comes with helpful information for gardening with children, keeping a well-stocked pantry and fixing common culinary mistakes – like over-salting or adding too much spice. At the back, there are sample menus and stickers for labeling jams, chutneys or leftovers. Pages in between are filled with vignettes and flavorful, quick-cooking, vegetarian recipes – like turnip pancakes, beet hummus, stuffed vegetables, kale crisps, piña colada meringue, and wild garlic, potato and almond soup.

Adorned with fanciful patterns and vintage photos, including some showing the authors as children, this cookbook offers sides of nostalgia, whimsy and inspiration along with its recipes. Dishes are divided into two parts – Star Turns (mains) and Support Cast (small plates). They come with tips and variations, and they’re gorgeously depicted in imaginatively styled photographs.

There’s a kayaker eating a bowl of chilled cucumber soup, sitting in the boat on a shore. Figurines, standing upon a pile of pilaf with cashews and raisins, appear to be waving at readers. Author Jane Baxter stirs celeriac rémoulade sitting atop a tractor.

Jerusalem artichokes, decorated like people, with mushrooms for hats, sit in front of a cityscape fashioned from cut-out cloth. There are heart-shaped cinnamon toasts, shredded Brussels sprouts arranged in the shape of a crown, and couscous scooped onto a plate to resemble the number of vegetables in the dish: seven. The feeling is delightful, fun – and a little wacky. And that seems to be the desired effect.

The first Leon restaurant opened in London in 2004 with the goal of changing the face of fast food. Ten years later, now with several cookbooks and 15 restaurants in the United Kingdom, that remains the aim. According to its website, www.leonrestaurants., “What fuels us is the belief that food should taste good and do you good. And that everyone should be able to enjoy it.”

What’s Not: Like the name suggests, you won’t find any meat in these dishes. But it’s not a vegan cookbook; some recipes call for eggs, cheese, heavy cream or crème fraîche. And there aren’t too many dessert options.

Turnip Pancakes

These pancakes are a cross between the Chinese yum cha version and Korean chive pancakes, according to the introduction to this recipe in “Leon: Fast Vegetarian.” Served with soy, fresh ginger and chili dipping sauces, they’re good as an appetizer, main dish or party food. And they’re fast and easy to prepare.

3 turnips

1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated

1 1/4 cups water

1 cup rice flour

1 teaspoon chickpea flour

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 bunch scallions, chopped, plus extra for garnish

1 tablespoon sesame oil

A pinch of cayenne pepper

2 red chiles, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed


2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 to 3 tablespoons sunflower oil, for frying

Peel and grate turnips. Put into a saucepan with grated ginger and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Set aside and let cool until tepid.

Place the rest of the ingredients apart from the sunflower oil in a bowl and slowly add the reserved cooking liquid, whisking until a smooth batter is formed. It should have the consistency of heavy cream. Add the grated turnip and check the seasoning.

Heat 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil in a nonstick skillet and drop in the batter a scant tablespoon at a time to form small, round pancakes. Flatten them a little with the back of a spoon.

Cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown, then serve sprinkled with extra scallions.

Kale Crisps

Use Tuscan kale for the best results. And keep checking on the kale while it’s in the oven, making sure to move the leaves around so you aren’t left with some that are soggy and others that are burned.

1 (10-ounce) bunch kale

1 teaspoon olive oil


Lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Wash kale well and strip leaves from central stems. Dry leaves between towels or using a salad spinner. Toss kale in olive oil and place in baking pan. Roast in oven for about 15 minutes, until crisp. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt and a squeeze of lemon.

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