Savvy Cookbooks: Vegetable Literacy

Vegetable Literacy

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.

Arugula Mushroom Salad3 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.

Arugula Mushroom Salad2

Wilted Arugula and Portabello Mushroom Salad

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Wilted Arugula and Portabello Mushroom Salad

I chose to use a red wine vinaigrette I already had on hand for this salad. If you don't have one already made, simply whisk one part red wine vinegar with three parts extra virgin olive oil. Make sure to use high quality oil -- nothing too grassy -- so that it doesn't overpower the flavor of the vinegar.

Slightly adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy.


  • 4 large portabello mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinaigrette (see note)
  • 3 1/2 cups arugula
  • Romano cheese


  1. Twist the stems off the mushrooms and use a spoon to scrape out the gills. If some of the edges get ragged from the scraping, simply cut off the edges. Quarter the mushrooms.
  2. Heat half the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Arrange half the mushroom pieces in a single layer in the hot oil. Cook until browned and tender, flipping the pieces occasionally with tongs. It should take about 6-8 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate, and repeat with the remaining oil and mushrooms. Move the second batch of cooked mushrooms to the plate.
  3. Reduce the heat to low. Add the vinaigrette. Careful, as it will sizzle and spatter a bit. Add the arugula to the hot pan and toss just until it is wilted. Remove the arugula from the heat quickly so that it doesn't cook too much.
  4. Arrange the portabellos on four plates, and pile arugula over the mushrooms. Shave some Romano cheese over the top and serve warm.
A great book for gardeners and cooks alike, I give Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison:

4 out of 5 stars.

FYI: This book was sent to me for review, but this didn’t affect my final rating. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.


  1. says

    I got this as a gift this weekend from my dad. It was a lovely surprise to come home too, I have 2 of her other books that I adore.