You might call Deborah Madison a vegetable wizard. She can make a head of cauliflower star at dinner.
That may seem like a stretch, but home cooks can do it, too, with Madisons assistance.
A natural teacher with a knack for flavor, she eases a cook into bold spicing and efficient techniques. Her flexible approach is comfortable, and her delicious results may even get a reluctant vegetable eater to ask for seconds.
That smooth skill comes with practice. In 1997 Madison released her cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Epic in size and scope, it was the result of seven years of research and recipe testing. Leading up to that book were years of cooking and teaching. She had worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, lived and cooked at the Zen monastery in San Francisco, cooked at the American Academy in Rome, started Greens restaurant in San Franciscos Marina District and written her first cookbook, The Greens Cookbook, with chef Edward Espe Brown.
Her 2013 beautiful Vegetable Literacy with full-color photographs and recipes recently won the 2014 James Beard Award in the Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian category. Its not her first Beard recognition. In 1998, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone won the prestigious James Beard Cookbook of the Year award. Now Madison has released a revised edition.
It was my idea to do the revised edition, Madison said in a recent interview in a bustling Davis coffee shop. There have been major changes in food thought and availability since I started working on that book in 1990. And in acceptability. Vegetarians and vegans are no longer on the fringe.
For that reason Ive flagged the vegan recipes throughout the book with a circled V, and noted, where possible, how to make a recipe vegan with simple omissions or substitutions. I just made it easier for vegans.
That cultural change in the wide acceptance of vegetarians has drawn Madison deeper into the plant world. People may assume she is a vegetarian, but she isnt. She calls herself an honest omnivore/locavore. She states in her introduction that she wants to know the variety of the plant or animal shes eating and how it was raised. She usually eats what she grows in her garden and what she gets by trading with her ranching neighbors in Galisteo, a small village south of Santa Fe, N.M.
Nothing is more important than starting with ingredients that are of the best quality we can manage, she writes.
With that in mind, she said she started her revision project by giving the first book a thorough critical read, flagging what could go or needed adjusting. An example of her attention to the smallest detail is in how she lists salt as a recipe ingredient. In the first book, its salt. Now its sea salt. The latter was her intention all along, but cooks missed that detail if they skipped the introductory section in the first book.
Another change throughout the book is the oils for cooking and for salads. She writes about the changing the kinds of oils to use or not use, guiding cooks to make informed decisions. She does encourage cooking with safflower or sunflower oil.
Some of the new 666 pages are nearly identical to the original cookbook, but most have been at least tweaked. Changes include shortening recipes titles, altering ingredients and adding about 200 recipes. There are about 1,600 recipes in all. Now, in an organizational change, Madison lists all the recipes at the front of each chapter. They are also indexed.
Madison opens her chapter on soy products with the latest thinking about the health effects of soy. Once the darling of vegetarians, its now under suspicion, and its recommended to be eaten in small quantities. In her chapter on soy products she touts the benefits of fermented soy products, such as miso and tempeh, and suggests readers start their own research at www.whfoods.com. For people who eat with their eyes, tempeh, a fermented soy product, might be a hard sell.
Madison, who wrote a wonderful small cookbook titled This Cant Be Tofu, said with a smile that she still cooks with tofu, just not as much. Shes particular about the source of her tofu. She even mentions her preferred brand, Eden, and the one she avoids, Silken.
Not all the ingredients Madison added are new, just new to many home cooks in the States. Among them are oils and fats from Asia, such as coconut oil, coconut butter and ghee (a.k.a. clarified butter). Other additions include the more familiar heirloom tomatoes and potatoes, which are available in farmers markets and some grocery stores. Our immigrant populations have brought a lot of their exotic spices with them, making ingredients such as curry leaves easier to find.
One of the toughest jobs during the revision was deciding which recipes to jettison. She omitted some that were high fat or too complicated, and some stir-fries that she replaced with sautés.
It was hard to decide what to leave out, she said. Im not a big fan of stir-frying. Id rather sauté. New dishes include tartines (French open-faced sandwiches), a yellow squash soup with saffron and basil, and a vegan pizza that passed her taste test.
In telling the fate of one high-fat recipe headed for the dustbin, Madison shows her sensitivity to her fans. During a talk about the new book, she mentioned her plan to omit the luxurious risotto gratin dish full of Fontina cheese. Two young women in the audience insisted she keep that one because they always cook it for each others birthday. The risotto survived.
Madison said she likes getting email from her readers and often adopts their ideas. She likes them so much she dedicated this edition to all my readers who have cooked from the book, shared it with others and occasionally sent that note that makes the years spent writing and cooking ... worthwhile.
Among Madisons many fans in Sacramento is Charity Kenyon, retired attorney and slow food governor in the Central Valley.
We love Deborah Madison! Kenyon said by email. The most recent book we have of hers is Vegetable Literacy. Once she got away from the fancier Greens recipes (which we still love and use), she made cooking with fresh, local vegetables very accessible, desirable and interesting. A great bridge between farmer and fork. A gifted teacher.
Recipes that were altered for flavor include curried cauliflower with peas (see recipe). Madison changed the cooking oil from vegetable oil to either coconut oil or ghee and doubled some of the spices, including going from a quarter-cup to half-cup chopped fresh ginger.
I made this delicious dry curry with the new spicing, and it was a winner at home.
A spectacular new recipe that works as a warm dish for dinner and a cold salad for anytime is the roasted beets, apples and onions with cider vinegar (see recipe). This super-easy recipe takes time because beets are slow to cook (the pressure cooker is faster) and everything needs to be chopped. The recipe is flexible and its colors make any meal presentation a winner.
Although Madison says the best tools in the kitchen are your hands and good knives, shes a modern cook who uses her slow cooker, pressure cooker, blender and food processor.
Madison credits her students with some changes in her book. But even with all these changes for health and flavor, people who love the first edition will find her updates gracefully written into the text. She urges cooks to take advantage of the updated information, but never she dips to the guilt trip.
One thing cookbook readers will miss in this new edition is color photographs. Most cookbooks today are full of lush color pictures of food. Madisons new book has none. Not even the elegant drawings from the first edition made the leap. About such a daring omission in our visual world, Madison said her publisher, Ten Speed Press, decided to skip color photos as a way to save money. The photos in the first book were outdated, Madison added, so they werent usable.
Madison taught cooking for about two decades, but she hasnt done it for a while. Now that her revised epic is complete, she said she may return to it, but then shrugged her shoulders a bit and described how much work teaching is. After doing this opus twice teaching might seem like a walk in the park.