I was thrilled to receive Deborah Madison’s newest cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, from Ten Speed Press for review. It is a gorgeous book, and one I’ve had my eye on since I first heard about it. Gardening and cooking in one book? Yes, please!
Madison divides the chapters by plant families. Her argument for this is that related vegetable and herbs usually compliment and enhance each other. It seems logical, especially once you see what falls into each family. Carrots and dill are related, for instance, which explains why they go so well together!
Each chapter is further broken down by plant. She talks of the vegetables’ flavor and cooking properties, how they grow and what their nutritional benefits are. The nutrition facts are interesting, but begin to wear by the third chapter. They’re useful when you’re looking up individual vegetables, but overwhelming when you’re just reading through the book. I do love that she talks about individual heirloom varieties, like my beloved Paris Market and Dragon carrots. She obviously can’t cover them all (have you seen the Seed Savers Exchange catalog?), but it is nice to see some heirlooms getting a shout-out.
Madison’s descriptions and gardening stories not only encouraged my “grow all the basils!” habit, but also inspired me to try something new in the garden this year — maybe anise hyssop, pineapple sage or lemon thyme.
The plant sections end with notes on which unexpected parts of the plants are edible (carrot tops! cauliflower cores! kohlrabi leaves!) and a list of good companion ingredients, such as certain oils, cheeses, herbs or nuts. Recipes starring the vegetable-of-the-section follow, though I’ve found that some of the best recipes are in the plant intros, like the roasted carrots with butter, shallots and herbs on page 11, or the crisped Jerusalem artichokes on page 62. That recipe even has me willing to give Jerusalem artichokes another shot, though I didn’t like them the first two times I tried them. Maybe this recipe will be the magic one that changes my mind?
But before I get to trying Jerusalem artichokes again, I couldn’t resist trying the wilted arugula and seared mushroom salad with manchego cheese from page 171.