In this moment when cooking at home has taken on new importance, there is a search for useful reference material. Many many posts could be written on this subject. I will attempt to cover some of this ground over the next little while. I find that the better basic how-to-cook books have loyal followings. I have my personal favorites which I will certainly highlight. There are others that I am less enamored of but see the value of nonetheless. I will try and do those titles justice as well. So without further ado, one of my favorites.
Chances are that anyone who has come into the store and asked me my favorite cookbook will have heard about Deborah Madison and her tome, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I bought a copy of this book a decade ago before I had chosen the world of food as a profession, when it caught my eye at a book store. For years it has been my go-to book even though I left the world of the protein-challenged back in the early 90’s. I spent ten years eschewing red meat, which in retrospect was tied to the way that I believed commercial meat was produced. I jumped back on the flesh eating bandwagon with gusto (due to a steak I just couldn’t resist) and yet still found Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was incredibly useful for everything else on the plate. Madison addresses the entire vegetarian oeuvre from how to store vegetables to yields to preferred techniques to complimentary flavors, yet she never preaches about meat substitutions. If you had only seen an eggplant in the store but never brought one home with you, Madison would see you through various different preparation options with clear, descriptive and salient instructions. Here you will find the traditional cookbook layout, starting with a fantastic chapter on becoming a cook. She advises the reader on how to shop, set up their kitchen, work with tools and ingredients, and how to pace the cooking of a meal. The latter including techniques that I imagine were learned cooking at her restaurant Greens in San Francisco in the 80’s. She also talks about vegetarian menus and how to pair wine with them, and then spends a whole chapter on foundational ingredients like butter and vinegar, seasonings and flavor profiles. Those first few chapters are extremely accessible and empowering for the both the novice and the experienced cook.
The book then takes the expected road through salads, soups, stews, pastas, beans, casseroles and the like. Sandwiched in the middle, however, is an A to Z catalog of vegetables that is worth the price of the book in itself. If I had a nickel for every time I went to this section of the book I would be drinking some mighty fine wine right now. In this section there is a description of the types of, say, an eggplant. There is advice on what to look for when buying, how to store, how to utilize and what the yield is for eggplants. There are basic preparation techniques (roasting, anyone?) and good partners for, including cross reference on sauces and seasonings that go well with eggplant. Then she gives you a handful of basic recipes. The eggplant turns up in many other places within the book, but this is a good place to start your education on this noble vegetable. Many is the time I have gotten a hankering for something that looked delectable in the market: cauliflower, celery root, parsley. Bring the charming bit home and flip open Madame Madison and there it is: a recipe for fusilli with cauliflower, green olives and herbs. If you already feel at home in your kitchen you will find this book a treasure trove of twists and turns in the world of produce. If your kitchen is that room where the microwave lives you will find a supportive gentle hand leading you down the path of kitchen love.
If you have any interest in learning where to start preparing more of these fabulous vegetables that are available to us these days I would advise you find yourself a copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Do not be intimidated by the size of this book, yes, it is big, but it covers a lot of ground and you will be using it for years. I have been.