Friday, August 21, 2009

How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, a Mini Review

I had been meaning to pick this book up for quite a while, finally splurged and grabbed a copy. I had seen interviews of Mark Bittman where he talked about his food philosophy and since this closely paralleled my own, I figured this would be a useful book.

Now I have only cooked a couple of things from this so far, but wanted to give everyone my impressions of the book overall. First off, this is very much what I call a FOOD book as opposed to a cookbook. What this means is that there is a lot of good basic information about how to prepare food as opposed to just an endless string of recipes. I prefer food books to cookbooks. A cookbook will have a recipe calling for Kaffir Lime leaves, a food book will tell you what they are, where they come from, how to use them, and hints on how to find them. I spent two very pleasant evenings reading this book, another difference from a cookbook, a cookbook you will leaf through and read interesting recipes, a food book you can sit down and read.

Mark's stated reasons for this book is that the American diet contains too much meat, and producing and consuming all of that animal protein isn't doing us or the planet any favors. Besides, we are missing out on some simply wonderful meals because we feel we need to have meat at every meal. I discovered this myself several years ago while dating a vegetarian. I was doing all the cooking and wasn't going to cook two meals just because she didn't eat meat. I bought a couple books and started making meatless dishes at home and having meat when we went out. To this day some of the recipes I discovered during that time are still my favorites. Mark states in the book he doesn't expect everyone to become a vegetarian, he isn't. He just wants people to cut down on meat consumption and try some new things or ways to cook that they may not have explored before.

I love the layout of the book, Mark talks first about the focus of the chapter. Vegetables, grains, breads, soups, and then gives basic techniques for cooking. For instance in the chapter on beans and legumes, he starts out with a very basic recipe for cooking these which would work with any of the varieties, he then offers two additional methods and discusses pros and cons of each. Then he has a chart showing the different types and substitutions if you want to make a recipe and can't find or are out of a particular ingredient. All of the chapters are laid out in a similar manner and the book is worth the cover price for the cooking and substitution charts if nothing else.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be flexibility, there are substitutions for everything and different versions of many of the recipes. I think this stems from Mark's background as a home cook instead of a trained chef. The nice thing about that is most of us are not classically trained either, so we can relate to this style of cooking. As a person cooking for one most often, I appreciated his suggestions for making a larger amount of things like grains and beans that take a long time to cook, then using them through out the week in various recipes that could be put together quickly.

There was only one thing I was disappointed in with the book, many of the recipes were very basic and simple. Mark is a fantastic cook and I was hoping for some knock your socks off recipes. However, since the point of the book was to teach people the basics of cooking vegetarian I should have expected that. That's not to say the recipes in the book aren't great recipes, I was just looking for a little more pizazz than I got.

Overall I would add this book to my collection of must have cooking references. Ever wanted to know how long to cook quinoa? What to do with that half a head of cabbage in the fridge? It's in there, but more importantly this book makes eating locally and sustainably a reasonable choice, you could cook out of this book for a year and not make a dent in it's information.

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