If you love to make soup, eat soup, read about soup or even just look at pretty pictures of soup, this is the book for you. Long ago, Deborah Madison was chef at Greens, the iconic vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco, and since has had a formidable career as author of award-winning cookbooks. It is easy to see why she has been so successful. This is a thoroughly classy book, well designed, beautifully photographed, chock full of sensible, enticing recipes. It’s a book I wish I’d written, and I can’t remember ever saying that before. Maybe it’s just that she and I are on similar wave lengths. Although I only recently stumbled upon this book, I’ve been cooking soups similar to hers for years. Some of the recipes contain milk, cream or butter, but most of those could easily be adapted for vegans. Organized both by soup type and by season, it’s a book I expect to turn to often. Although it was published in 2006, it’s still available in stores and on Amazon. So, if you love to make soup, do yourself a favor. And please, invite me over to taste the results.
More and more of us are turning to the internet for recipes. But what about cooking classes? That too. Here are links to 24 fun 3-5 minute video cooking classes. Teacher for these classes is Mark Bittman, author of “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” ”How to Cook Everything,” and New York Times blogger and food writer. A number of these classes are vegan and feature whole grains and whole grain flours. You’ll access many of the recipes in the videos by clicking on the related article. And keep in mind that Mark is a bit of a character!
WISDOM FROM OUR GRANDMOTHERS, RULES FOR HEALTHIER EATING
Although Michael Pollan’s official job is journalism professor at UC Berkeley, his more important role is that of author/activist, trying to cajole America into radically reforming how we produce and consume our food. In his new small book, he pares it down to 64 rules, mostly to-the-point and easy to remember.
One rule is ”from grandmothers, both Jewish and Italian, it might be my favorite rule: ‘The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.’ There was an understanding that white flour may not be good for you, and whole grain might be better long before the current research on whole grains. I’m trying to resurrect that cultural wisdom. This book is full of the wisdom of the grandmothers. But it takes some work. There is also some nonsense. There are old wives’ tales that are nothing but old wives’ tales.”
Read the full New York Times interview with Pollan about the book here.
MEET AUTHOR AND TV COOKING TEACHER CHRISTINA PIRELLO
Although she’s one of the best known vegan/whole foods cookbook authors and teachers on the East Coast, Christina Pirello is not as well known on the West Coast as she deserves to be. You’ll find scores of straight-forward, useful recipes on her website, many of them relating to the 140 episodes of “Christina Cooks,” her PBS TV series. As far as I can tell, “Christina Cooks” is not currently airing on any of our local PBS stations–call your PBS station and inquire. You may want to add her most recent books, “Christina Cooks” and “This Crazy Vegan Life” to your library. A breezy five-minute video interview is here. Christina’s cooking style is practical, and she makes it fun.
VEGETARIAN COOKING ON BAY AREA PBS STATIONS
A vegetarian-based series currently on KQED’s schedule is “Delicious TV’s Totally Vegetarian,” but only on it’s digital KQED Life (Comcast 189). Hosted by Toni Fiore, the program airs Friday afternoons at 3:30 p.m. Watch highlights here.
(Menu Planning Tips from the Monday Night Chef)
Have you ever invited friends for dinner only to find yourself in a panic later over what to cook? It can be a challenge. What will your friends enjoy? What’s in season now? Which dishes go with which? How much can you afford to spend? Do you have the proper equipment? Is there time? Do your friends have allergies? Yes, cooking for people can be a minefield, but it can also be amazingly gratifying.
It may comfort you to know that James Holloway and I and the other chefs for our Monday night dinners, although we’ve been cooking for decades, face most of the same challenges you do when putting menus together. It’s a matter of scale, but we do have limitations of time, space, money and availability of ingredients. Alas, not everything our fertile minds can conceive is doable in the kitchen!
Happily, we have a framework which makes it easier. By agreement, our menus are vegan, based on seasonal whole foods (organic as much as possible), begin with soup, go onto a main course of four or five dishes and conclude with dessert and tea. And the main course itself is structured around a whole grain (or whole grain product), a protein (beans, tofu, seitan), vegetables, raw or cooked leafy greens and sometimes a pickle or sea vegetable. And so it isn’t too difficult to slip something into each slot.
Let me up the ante. Suppose you have to compose eight different menus to serve over two months. It gets more interesting, doesn’t it? You don’t want to serve rice every week or cook only bean soups or end with cake each time. Also, even in our moderate climate, presenting a cold soup in January or a hot casserole in August may raise questions about one’s sanity.
Sane or not, we cooks must plunge ahead. So where do we get ideas? From cookbooks, for sure. I especially like well-researched ethnic ones. Tradition offers clues as to what goes with what: quinoa, corn, squash and beans in Latin America, miso, aduki beans and short grain rice in Japan, chick peas, tahini and bulgar in the Mediterranean, collard greens, cornbread and black-eyed peas in the American South, beets, cabbage and kasha in Eastern Europe. Ever on the look out for ideas, we cooks peruse restaurant menus, watch TV cooking shows, dredge up childhood memories, mine holiday traditions. Shopaholics, we are ever shopping for the next great idea.
As in many endeavors, it’s a matter of balance. Inspirations from Europe and the Americas contrast with those from Asia. When I write a two-month menu, I try to research at least a few dishes I’ve never made before to augment favorites which I cull from an archive of our menus going back to the late 80’s. Comfort foods (neatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy) contrast with foods we know to be good for us (kale and millet, anyone?). For Thanksgiving I like the tried and true: cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes. And in most every cycle I plan a menu which honors the Japanese tradition many of us learned early on in this journey.
And so, when we write menus, how do we know what you’re going to feel like eating two months from now? We don’t really, but it helps to imagine what it’s going to be like on the plate. Will there be contrasting but complementary aromas, flavors, colors, textures? Will it suit the occasion? Will you feel better for having dined with us? Most of all, will you come back next week? We don’t know for sure, but after 22 years we kind of hope so.
In a future post I’ll write about what makes a good cook book, but here are the ones I consulted while writing menus for the October-November 2009 cycle:
“The Real Food Daily Cookbook,” by Ann Gentry, Ten Speed Press, 2005.
“Vegan Fusion World Cuisine,” by Mark Reinfeld and Bo Rinaldi, Beaufort Books, 2007.
“Veganomicon,” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Marlowe and Co., 2007.
“World of the East Vegetarian Cooking,” Madhur Jaffrey, Alfred A. Knopf, 1981.
–Gary Alinder, September 26, 2009