For a number of years, in my twenties and beyond, I was a vegetarian. I was convinced that pursuing this path was right for me for a variety of reasons although my most compelling concerns were environmental. I actually still believe that limiting our consumption of animal products can be an effective way of living a little more lightly on our planet although I started eating meat again quite some time ago. Certainly the options are much broader now for those choose a vegetarian or vegan diet some or all of the time. In fact, the opportunities for upscale vegetarian dining have never been better from Dirt Candy in New York City to Cafe Gratitude in Los Angeles to Millennium in San Francisco to Arpege in Paris (which isn’t vegetarian but features a very vegetable heavy menu).
Lately, I’ve felt a yearning to return, at least partially, to vegetarian dining but I don’t want to approach it in the same manner that I used to. For example, a vegan lunch or dinner back then would have consisted of a stir fry heavily embellished with nuts and tofu or maybe a pizza made with soy based cheese. A vegetarian meal might be rice and beans with a thick garnish of cheese and maybe some sour cream for good measure. A lot of this, cheesy, nutty, soybeany heaviness had to do with a general anxiety, promoted especially by such counter culture “bibles” as Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet and the original Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, that vegetarians must combine the “incomplete” proteins found in grains and legumes or consume dairy products in order to attain a healthy diet. This view has been widely discredited in recent years and current dietary wisdom holds that vegan and vegetarians alike share the same nutritional challenge faced by the majority of Americans namely – eating enough of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I’ve always been a little surprised at the number of folks I’ve met who practice a vegetarian diet who don’t really like vegetables. To be honest, I was one myself. It has only been in recent years that I’ve truly begun to embrace the beauty and deliciousness of vegetables and fruits. Nowadays, an ideal vegetarian lunch for me is an iteration of the good old southern vegetable plate featuring field peas, sauteed kale with garlic, sliced tomatoes, and corn on the cob with maybe watermelon for dessert. Yum!
Are you interested in exploring vegetarian and/or vegan options in your diet? Maybe you are a practicing vegetarian who just needs some new mealtime ideas. Either way, DCPL has the resources to help.
I’ve mentioned Mark Bittman and his books in other posts but let me, again, recommend his How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. Long time vegetarians and beginners alike will find that this is one book that lives up to its title. From Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice to Ziti Baked with Goat Cheese and Olives, this volume is comprehensive plus and vegan options abound. This could be the only vegetarian cookbook that you’ll ever need.
Deborah Madison, who opened Greens, the San Francisco fine dining destination in 1979, has updated her much loved, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to incorporate more modern techniques and ingredients. The result is The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and boy is it a stunner. Not everything here is “quick and easy” – or cheap for that matter – but every recipe is positively sumptuous. Try the Tangerine Pudding Cake with Raspberry Coulis if you don’t believe me.
“Umami” is a term that gets thrown about in a lot of circles – including some of mine – but what does it really mean? Well, it is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “pleasant taste” and is meant to describe a certain savoriness in food that results from our taste receptors picking up a substance called glutamate. Asian fish sauce and steak are held up as prime examples of umami carrying foods but other foods are rich in umami as well including mushrooms and tomatoes. Dina Cheney’s Meatless All Day: Recipes for Inspired Vegetarian Meals is something a little different in vegetarian cookbooks. Cheney incorporates 45 “power ingredients” into her recipes to boost umami. Some of these include parmesan cheese, miso, and caramelized onions. Whether or not meat eaters will “never miss the meat” is debatable and the recipes are a bit heavy on cheese and eggs but overall this is a worthy addition to your vegetarian cookbook shelf.
Finally, let me highlight two well-written and beautifully photographed cookbooks that will appeal to anyone – vegetarian or not. River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who is probably best known as Britain’s leading exponent of “nose to tail” eating but he is actually a champion of sustainable cuisine in general and these days declaims the virtues of a more plant based diet. Written in a comfortable, chatty style River Cottage Veg is just plain fun to read and the recipes are fantastic. Asparagus Pizza anyone? Mollie Katzen’s (she of the previously mentioned Moosewood Cookbook) latest offering is The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, and it is a beauty. Katzen’s aim here is to “layer” flavors for a more sophisticated dish. Examples are Orange Rice and Black Beans and Kale and Grilled Bread Salad with Red Onions, Walnuts and Figs. Just reading about Farfalle and Rapini in Creamy Walnut Sauce makes me want to get in my own kitchen and cook!
Vegetables rule…although I have yet to find a recipe for eggplant that I’ve really been satisfied with. How about you? Are you a vegetarian or interested in exploring those options? What are some of your favored cookbooks? Let me know and if you happen to have a good eggplant recipe to send my way, please feel free.