Cubesville 18: Roots and Influences
Roots and Influences: Convergent Evolution
Nicky Garratt was the original guitarist with the UK Subs, playing on their first five albums in their most successful period. Long before I was vegan, the UK Subs were a great influence on my musical taste, and those albums still strike a chord with me. How fitting then that some years later Nicky should produce a vegan cookbook that got me poring over the shelves of the local Asian superstores for new ingredients and really stoked my passion for food.
With a heart full of inspiration, we caught up with him to get his philosophy on why he chose traditional Arab, Indian and North African cuisine for a collection of animal-free cooking. “I do respect regional cuisines,” he says. “I don’t think you should just throw out hundreds of years of tastes and appearance; you shouldn’t eat just tofu!”
Mango & Mint is a totally diverse range of recipes, which Nicky intersperses with ancedotes and reminiscences, sometimes drawing from his experiences with punk; featuring articles such as “Thanks for Giving me What I didn’t Want”, “eaters Without Borders” and “Jersey Krishna”.
But Nicky’s vegetariansims began well before his involvement with punk. “For people who know me through bands, I’ve included a lot of other sugg in the book,” he says. “It makes me less anonymous. Punk came along, and I got really interested in it, but I had a life before that – I’d been in bands since 1970 and I didn’t throw out my records. When people interviewed me about what bands I liked, they expected the Sex Pistols or Clash, but I was saying Magma and Soft Machine.”
Nicky says his inspiration for documenting these recipes was the substandard food he received as a vegetarian touring different countries with the UK Subs. When the best you can hope for is steamed vegetables or tofus, food becomes an obsession on the road. And the UK Subs were the first western punk band to tour Poland- early 1980s Eastern Bloc wasn’t a haven for vegetarians. Neither was the UK.
Mango & Mint contains hundreds of recipes, which Nicky confesses he has made individually, and with a breath-taking attention to detail – a staple like hummus, for example, involves retaining nine chickpeas for garnish on the intersections of a 3×3 grind of paprika. Wow.
And Mango & Mint is certainly not short of breadth – choose from desserts such as coconut halva, orange sesame candy or a smile nut brittle. Pickles and chutneys feature 21 recipes made from scratch, while main course range from chana masala to North African pasta, taking in the virus of Egyptian broad beans on the way. Nicky even gives a master class on how to make your own pita breads and pooris- something those of us who live in cosmopolitan areas with goof grocers wouldn’t have high on our priorities.
Nicky says the key to compassionate diet is to eat a broad range of different food, which usurps the traditional British focus on meat. “ In my book I wrote about the kill being at the centre of the table,” he says. “A buffet allows the most compassionate way of eating.”
He adds that he wouldn’t class himself as “vegan”, in the same way he wouldn’t class a person skeptical of god as an atheist. He does, however, maintain honesty and compassion. “The dark secret in humanity can be seen as one of betrayal,” he says. “Free range is seen as compassionate, but it’s a dreadful thing to do- to pretend to be an advocate for an animal and betray it. In a way it almost seems better to have a factory farm – it’s less of a betrayal. Of course I don’t agree with factory farms, but it is a more honest approach.”
In #15 we interviewed Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who came from the Brooklyn punk scene and revolutionized vegan cooking with recipes and techniques that completely surpassed non-vegan contemporaries. Nicky’s book has a similar strength; it is unapologetically vegan, neither trying to mimic non-vegan ingredients, nor draw non-vegans into the folks. And why should it? With a passion for excellence and a culinary philosophy inspired by diversity, Mango & Mint draws from traditional Eastern and North African recipes to open new doors in vegan cooking.