[12 June 2014]
I can’t imagine the work that went into revamping Deborah Madison’s 1997 magnum opus, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The title says it all, and despite its 740 page heft, this welcoming cookbook became the go-to manual for vegetarians and their veggie-curious friends. Now, 17 years later, Madison has revamped her masterwork. Et violà: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Re-reading an old favorite was deeply enjoyable after page one and the kefir lime incident. O Proofreaders at Ten Speed Press, it is kaffir limes, not kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk drink commonly found in supermarkets near the yogurt. Kaffir is a type of lime, often associated with Middle Eastern cuisines. Being a publishing concern specializing in cookbooks, I suspect you know this. And hasn’t the poor lime sustained enough abuse lately? This once-cheap fruit now costs almost $4 a pound due to extreme weather; crates are now going for as much as $30, drawing the unsavory attentions of organized crime. The least you can do is properly name the poor fruits.
The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has undergone a complete redesign, effecting changes likely to shock devotees of the original edition. The dated color photographs are gone, along with the charming illustrations, which weren’t. The font headings, brown in the first edition, are now blue.
Content is most important, of course, and the changes to The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone are all to the good. Persnickety readers may quibble with recipe deletions, but individuals so staunchly wedded to specific preparations probably own the first edition, anyway. These people can best deal with the new edition by treating Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone like the Joy of Cooking: recognize and accept that each edition has its quirks.
The past 17 years have seen rapid changes in dietary thinking and the culinary landscape. The thoughtful, informed consumer can drive herself mad trying to determine a diet healthy to body, planet, and pocketbook. To write a cookbook under these circumstances must be challenging, but Madison does her cheerful best to offer solid information on healthful vegetables, dairy, grains, and soy.
Interestingly, Madison doesn’t identify as vegetarian. Rather, she calls herself a locavore, consuming only local, organic, humanely raised meat and produce. She writes:
“Most of the time, I happily make a meal from what others place on the side of their plate without even thinking of it as vegetarian.”
Much of The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone remains reassuringly the same. The pesto recipe I reach for each summer when the basil comes in is still there. Ditto the artichoke, celery root, and potato gratin. The dour-sounding yet delicious Turnip Soup with Gruyère Croutons is still there. And “Vegetables: The Heart of the Matter” is mercifully untouched.
For many readers, this one included, this chapter is indeed the heart of the book. I can’t think of finer quick reference for any cook, rank beginner or snooty expert. Heaven knows the night will come when you’re standing in the kitchen, mind blank with exhaustion, gripping a bunch of raw broccoli. Open up to page 306: Madison bails your sorry ass out with “Good Partners for Broccoli”, “Sauces and Seasonings for Broccoli”, and a few fine recipes. “Chopped Broccoli” sounds pretty boring until you throw a quantity of butter or olive oil at it, finishing up matters with a nice long squeeze of lemon. In 20 minutes you’ve gone from sheer exhausted panic to sneaking lemony florets with your fingers.
The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone does incorporate new recipes and information, too. Like its carnivorous colleagues, vegetarian cuisine has benefited from an increased interest in cooking and better availability of quality produce. Seventeen years ago, ingredients like farro, tamarind, and sea greens were hardly common American pantry items. Now farro is the hip pasta alternative and tamarind resides in any self-respecting foodie’s refrigerator door.
As for sea greens, suddenly seaweed has gone artisanal and become frighteningly expensive, selling for $7 a package at my market. Madison can now write confidently about these foodstuffs, for not only will readers understand her, they are likely to have cooked and eaten these foods. This was not the case in 1997.
Some of the biggest shifts in culinary thinking center around fats. Madison takes up the discussion with coconut oil. Once a culinary bugbear, coconut oil is now vaunted for its healthy properties as a cooking medium. This leads into an extended discussion of olive oils. Sweeteners are also given deeper explanation, which will hopefully frighten people into awareness about artificial sweeteners like Stevia, and the toxic-sounding Truvia.
There’s more on sprouted foods—flours, beans, seeds. Pasta, once a vegetarian standby, has become verboten. Carbs! Gluten! Calories! Madison offers gluten-free options, like Einkorn, rice, and yam noodles while reminding readers of emmer and whole wheat pasta.
The grains section, following current culinary fashion, has expanded. Now we have Green Barley and Kale Gratin, the proverbial vegetarian blue plate special. Couscous and quinoa, once exotics, are now darlings of the grain circuit, popping up all over the book, in salads with pine nuts and mangoes, with curry dressing, treated as risotto and cooked in mushroom broth.
A sidebar on rice educates even as it dismays; that marvelously soothing, perfectly digestible food is poisonous if ingested in large amounts. Rice, it turns out, is excellent at sucking up available arsenic in soils. So wash your rice and cook it as you do pasta, in lots of water, and cut your intake.
One of the biggest changes to the new edition is the chapter entitled “The Soy Pantry”. In The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Madison rechristens it “Tofu, Tempeh, and Miso” and takes tofu firmly to task.
Tofu, considered a vegetarian staple food, has abruptly fallen from favor. We are learning that some soybeans are treated with hexane, a neurotoxin. Its soy food cousin, textured vegetable protein (TVP) is described by Madison as “sawdust-like”. Each, surprisingly, is difficult to digest. Both foods are to be eaten in small amounts, if at all. Madison advises seeking out small-batch, artisanally made tofu or learning to make it yourself. Her normally measured, easygoing tone verges here on outrage, here. Take heed.
Breakfast is perhaps the easiest vegetarian meal. Here Madison jazzes things up, replacing the first edition’s fruit frappes with shrubs and switchels, old-fashioned fruit drinks back in vogue. And of course, there is the de rigeur kale smoothie, calling for coconut water, lemon, and ginger. Please pass the Prilosec.
Desserts are updated, and like so many California cooks who did time with Alice Waters, Madison’s take a page from Lindsay Shere’s classic fruit desserts. But criticism is inappropriate here: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a compendium, not a dessert cookbook.
Other changes include facelifts to the quick breads section and the dessert fruits. But these are frills: nice to have, but not why you’re here. You’re here to make a vegetarian dish: for yourself, a friend, family. If you are like me, you aren’t worried about side dishes or desserts. That’s the easy part of the meal.
Maybe you are a new vegetarian, or cooking for a friend or family member who is vegetarian. You’re worried about the center of the plate, where the cow or chicken or pig fits. You need to put something there, something tasty and nutritious, something that won’t tap savings.
Or maybe you’re a long term vegetarian who doesn’t need help with filling the center of the plate, because the center is filled quite nicely, thank you, but you are always searching for delicious recipes because you love to cook.
The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is for all of us. There are plenty of inviting dishes to cook: pizzas, soups for all seasons, those verboten pastas, salads. You can serve Potato and Leek Gratin. Make chopped broccoli. Add lots of lemon juice. Or prepare Tortilla Español, which is a Spanish omelet thick with potatoes, cooked in olive oil. Serve it at room temperature.
Cook from either edition of Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and you, your family, and your guests will be well fed. Longtime Madison fans will welcome an update to a beloved book, while new readers have a treat in store.
Photo from DeborahMadison.com
Finally, I urge hardcore carnivores to seriously consider The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This a book true to its title, a book for everyone.Madison does not preach vegetarianism. Instead, she offers an encyclopedia of lovely recipes that happen to be meatless.
Spring is just giving way to early Summer. The first vegetables and fruits are coming in. There’s no better time to grab a copy of The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and get cooking.