The Hot Knives Vegetarian Cookbook: Salad Daze
There are a few scenes in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they're being tracked by a posse of unknown but highly skilled bounty hunters. Butch and Sundance try every trick in the book to shake them off, but they just keep on coming, and, reluctantly, our boys are more and more impressed. Squinting at the cloud of dust on the horizon, they keep trying to make out who the riders are, and asking each other, 'Who are those guys?'
So, Hot Knives. Who are those guys? Never heard of them, and yet suddenly here they are, with not one but several books, a defunct radio show and a blog that apparently has cult status in Oregon. A pair of geeky, bearded, checked-shirted, youngish men who recommend a different beer and a different (and rather noisy) soundtrack for each recipe. Not vegans. Not particularly interested in healthy living. There seems to be some deep-frying going on, and they're not ashamed to enjoy cheese in public. And they know their cheeses. We're talking about the serious stuff.
And they betray a rather educated interest in drugs. (What's that young man on the back cover up to? No, not the one with the hip flask, the one with the lighter... ooer.) Tried to find out more about them online and ended up watching an instructive video on YouTube about hot knives, which turns out to be a method of taking drugs. Heavens, I hope that doesn't show up on my browsing history. And the language! 'Should we try frying the capers?' 'Oh fuck yes.' Gosh, they are enthusiastic. There's more unrepeatable language in this book than in any other cookbook I've seen, and I've seen a few. Phew, what a scorcher. Putting the crude into crudités? I'll say.
So we've established that I'm well out of my comfort zone. (And as my sado-masochistic self-styled pervert of a father-in-law pointed out shortly before his theatrical and much applauded death, Jane doesn't like to be outside her comfort zone. Damn right.)
Bundling my courage into both of my tiny fists, I selotape the book into a plain brown wrapper and venture to read the recipes. First impression - they look amazing, inspired. Second impression - they look intense, loaded with complications. What certain men like to do in garages or garden sheds (is it called tinkering?), these two are doing in the kitchen. I'll bet they're in there for hours, drinking and dancing about, making a hell of a mess and cutting their fingers off and laughing like drains.
These are recipes for people who get more fun out of cooking than they do out of eating. Frankly, I'm amazed by some of this stuff. 'Magic shroom dust' is their antidote to bacon, what they call the 'gateway meat' that so often lures plant eaters 'back into the blood'. Oyster mushrooms are torn, tossed with olive oil, smoked salt, black pepper, smoked paprika and maple syrup, and baked to a crisp. Then they're blitzed with some toasted pumpkin seeds, and the crumbs go back into the oven to achieve serious crispitude. Blimey, move over, Bacos.
The 'Seven Layer Trip' involves cooking pinto beans with chillies and making a layer of them in a bowl. Then making a cheese sauce (with chillies) and putting a layer of that on top. Then making a fresh tomato salsa (with chillies) and adding a layer of that. Then slicing some avocados, mixing them with mandarin juice and olive oil, and adding a layer of that. Then putting some creme fraiche (which naturally you've made yourself), some chopped spring onions and coriander, and a handful of the aforementioned magic shroom dust on top. This is supposed to be something you might nibble casually whilst sitting in front of the Superbowl. Honestly, however long would that take to make? But, to be fair, I think I'd be pretty pleased to find it in my lunchbox. If I had a lunchbox. If I found their Psychedelic rice in there, I'd be inclined to hide it. Forbidden rice, red quinoa, beetroot, pistachios, that other-worldly looking Romanesco broccoli and a kiwi gremolata? Yup, it's making my head spin.
There's a lot to take in, here, and I can't help feeling a bit overwhelmed, as if I've stumbled into the wrong sort of party and accidentally inhaled. I was expecting a book about salads. Turns out that 'any fresh veg that doesn't take the back seat to rice, noodles and cheese fries we consider salad'. OK then.
'We're still nerds who just wanna work on our kitchen tricks in dirty cut-offs while drinking lukewarm twelve-percent-alcohol ales - and try to find some time to write about the new and fucked up things we've conjured up to do with vegetables. Prime your gullets, say a prayer, and celebrate our Sabbath with us.'
I bow to their awesome obsession. I've never before witnessed this level of kitchen-based fetishism in the generally placid and modest world of Vegetaria. They're capering devils. We may need to call in an exorcist. But let's get them to write down a few more recipes first.