New cookbooks make it easy to eat your veggies

New cookbooks make it easy to eat your veggies

Ruth Taber / Special to the Times
Article Launched: 01/09/2008 12:00:00 AM MST

Once upon a time, vegetarian meals were boring and drab -- packed with brownish foods made from beans, rice and grains. My, how times have changed! Colorful, savory multi-ethnic flavors have taken over this healthful food domain with help from savvy food writers.

Hot off the press are four new books covering everything you need to know about creative vegetarian cooking; the delectable dishes may inspire many to eat less meat and more veggies without feeling deprived.

"How To Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman (Wiley, $35)

I'm amused by Bittman's chutzpah titles (his last book was "How To Cook Everything"), but after skimming through 2,000 recipes on 1,000-plus pages, it appears that he's delivered the goods. Bittman would like all of us to increase the proportion of plant-based food in our daily diets -- an inexpensive way to stay healthier.

Almost every recipe offers variations. You like pancakes? Try adding cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt to the batter; ginger lovers can add crystallized or minced ginger for "gingerbread pancakes." Leftover stale corn tortillas? Add them to the chilaquiles (scrambled tortillas), a delicious egg dish and close relative of matzo brei -- using matzos instead of tortillas.

More goodies include "creamy baked noodles with eggplant and cheese" -- a mouth-watering pasta dish that makes it easy to skip red meat and a list of "Big-Deal" veggie dishes (39 of them) for special occasions.

I like his special recipe symbols for meal planning: "F" takes less than 30 minutes, "M" means the dish can be made ahead of time, and "V" denotes a vegan recipe -- no eggs, no dairy. The basics of buying and storing fruits and veggies, a nut and seed lexicon, the scoop on tofu (explaining the Umami factor in adding flavor to our food), an oil "lexicon" are all included and easy to reference.

Describing his newest book, Bittman says he's offering recipes for "simple, straightforward, good-tasting cooking. It just happens to exclude meat, poultry and fish."
Try it -- you'll like it!

"The Healthy Hedonist Holidays" by Myra Kornfeld (Simon & Schuster, $19.95)
Multicultural, vegetarian-friendly holiday meals will be enhanced with Kornfeld's recipes. Covering 15 festive menus (from breaking the fast at Ramadan to celebratory Fourth of July dining) Kornfeld offers "flexitarian" eating -- tasty food for strict vegetarians or semi-vegetarians.

Hedonism -- pleasure/happiness -- should exemplify holiday meals; Kornfeld believes the host or hosts should enjoy the festivities as much as the guests. This can be difficult with a guest list of picky eaters, but she solves the problem with a culinary smorgasbord of recipes: a vegetarian main course as well as a fish or poultry entrée.

Most important, Kornfeld invites us to expand our cultural horizons; recipes for a Kwanzaa feast, a Hanukkah latke party, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick's Day dining are some of the included holidays. Her recipe for Old-Fashioned Skillet Corn Bread (New Year's Day recipes) made with cheddar cheese, green onions and corn kernels along with the cornmeal is a winner -- any time of the year.

The multicultural-healthful eating combination makes this cookbook unique. Icing on the cake: a timeline for menu planning, prep and technique tips and above all, the simple, easy-to-follow recipes are delicious!

"One-Dish Vegetarian Meals" by Robin Robertson (Harvard Common Press, $14.95)
Robertson just made life easier for the vegetarian who isn't enthusiastic about messing around in the kitchen after a fatiguing day at work: great-tasting, nutritious, quick and easy dinners prepared in one pot.

The recipes, an eclectic collection (also embracing other ethnicities) include variations on tried and true comfort-food meals including stews, chilis, casseroles and lots of main-dish pasta and rice dishes.

Americans have been slow to embrace some of the nutritious root veggies available year-round; Robertson's recipe for linguine and root vegetable sauté is a tasty way to enjoy pasta mixed with rutabaga, parsnips and carrots -- sprinkled with toasted pecans.

Rice and cabbage with apples and raisins made with basmati rice can be varied by adding curry powder for a taste of India or caraway seeds for an Eastern European accent. Black-eyed peas (traditionally eaten on New Year's Day for good luck) are mixed with sweet onions in Southern fried rice.

Robertson's one-pot cooking works well for both vegetarians and omnivores who will enjoy the sophisticated flavors followed by easy cleanup in the kitchen.

"Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen" by Deborah Madison (new paperback, Broadway Books, $19.95)

When there's no meat -- what do we eat for supper? Madison answers the question with more than 100 seasonal recipes. Vegetarians or those who would like to eat less meat will enjoy the creativity of this advocate of healthful eating.

Madison describes supper as more impromptu than dinner -- a "willingness to make do with what's available and to cook and eat simply." Supper can be a sandwich, a collection of small appetizers, an omelet or pancakes. I like her advocacy of eating less for supper. As an older adult, I find eating smaller evening meals makes me feel and sleep better.

The "eggs for supper" chapter offers great additions to any cook's repertoire. Noteworthy dishes include scrambled eggs in a tortilla prepared with either salsa ranchero or salsa cruda with avocado and a corn omelet with smoked mozzarella and basil.

Madison covers cold-weather dishes, summer suppers and includes wine pairings to complement the food. A longtime advocate of local and sustainable foods, founding chef of Greens (vegetarian) Restaurant in San Francisco and author of nine cookbooks, Madison now lives in Galisteo, N.M.

Ruth Taber is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals; she may be reached at:

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