The vegetarian food writer and cookbook author Anna Jones has a prolific approach to cooking. Her first book, called ‘A Modern Way To Eat’, captured the imagination of an audience seeking a healthier and lighter menu. As a result, she has become known for her quick, fresh, and tasty award-winning dishes that have taste bud-tingling appeal and cater not only to vegetarians but also omnivores alike.
Anna’s recipes are not just tasty but they are visually eye-catching too. Bursting with colour, the aesthetic is simple and informal, and, importantly, with a feel that you could recreate this at home yourself. Think Saag aloo ‘Shepherd’s’ pie and Piquant Smoked Paprika pasta bake - each dish is irresistible.
We were lucky enough to get a few moments to sit down with Anna in her home borough, Hackney, and ask why she loves the area so much, what we might expect from her latest book, called ‘Easy Wins’, and about the creative fruits born from turning vegetarian.
Can you tell us what it is that you love about living in East London?
For me, it’s the community of creative people that thrive around Hackney. The cultures and people that are reflected in the food and the ingredients I can buy on my doorstep are what make Hackney Hackney. I’ve always seen this borough of London as a great testing ground for restaurants and it’s where some of my favourite and more experimental, interesting cafes and restaurants start out. I love to watch and support their journeys.
Who or what was it that initially sparked your passion and interest in working within the food Industry?
I’ve been cooking from a young age. My mum and dad’s friends used to pay me to cook or ‘cater’ their dinner parties. So it feels like it's something that's always been in me. It was working at Jamie Oliver’s that allowed me to see the wider potential of the industry and how I could fit into that.
What was your favourite dish when you were growing up?
My parents had a wonderful friend who was Spanish when I was younger and she used to make the most amazing tortilla. It became a family classic and was always the dinner I’d be most excited to see appear at the table.
What has been the most rewarding thing about becoming vegetarian and focusing your attention on vegetarian recipes?
I think it’s made me a more creative cook than I was when I still ate meat. When there are ‘limits’, it encourages you to be even more fiercely creative than you might usually be.
Has family life and becoming a mum influenced any new cooking habits or changed the way you approach meal times?
It has. Most meals are cooked from scratch in 30 minutes on weeknights here. The breadth of meals we eat has certainly been streamlined to 10 - 20 meals that I know my kids will love to eat.
Do you have a ‘go-to’ recipe that you like to cook for friends and family?
I like to make platefuls of sharing food when people come to my house so that there’s lots of reaching and passing and fun and mess. Recently I’ve made lots of tacos, but my favourite thing to make, if I have a little time, is dumplings. There is a recipe for mushroom and miso dumplings in my new book, it pleases everyone.
Can you give us some insight into what people might expect from your new book, ‘Easy Wins’, and also when it will be published?
My next book, Easy Wins, takes 12 hero ingredients that are guaranteed to make your food sing. It's packed with 100s of super-simple recipes that are unreasonably delicious as well as being kind to the planet.
With a focus on such beautiful and colourful ingredients, do you have a particular approach when working with so many different eye-catching colours and textures?
I think I have a palette of colours that I naturally gravitate towards - earthy and natural tones not unlike the ones you might find in food. In 'Easy Wins' I’ve tried to bring in pops of primary colour too, but when you work in food, it’s the colour of the food that needs to inform everything else.
When it comes to hosting, what would be your sage advice for laying a table? Informality is key for me, my dining table is right at the heart of my kitchen. On the table, you’ll find low glasses and candles, and I make sure any flowers on the table are low too so they don’t cut across the conversation. A nice, simple tablecloth can change your everyday table into something you look like you’ve thought carefully about. When people are coming around I might bring my favourite linen napkins out and again it's all about earthy, natural colours that will let the food sing. Don’t feel that people have to walk into a set table when you invite them over, let people get involved, people like to have a job. It’s not all on you as the host.
Is there a vegetable that you think is underrated but a true cooking gem?
Swede. Makes the best chips.
When going out for dinner, which types of food do you find yourself opting for?
I love South Indian food and Sri Lankan food. Spiced but fresh and rich from coconut milk.
Which eatery do you think is so fab that you wish it to remain a secret?
Hai cafe Vietnamese in Clapton. If you can catch them when they are open.
Is there a country or region that continues to prove influential in your cooking experiments and habits?
I am most influenced by Italian, Mexican and South Indian cooking.
Portrait by Issy Croker.