‘Vegetarian Cooking’ author updates her award-winning book

05/28/2014 12:00 AM

05/26/2014 3:03 PM

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 Madison’s 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 Francisco’s 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. It’s 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 I’ve 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 isn’t. She calls herself an honest omnivore/locavore. She states in her introduction that she wants to know the variety of the plant or animal she’s 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, it’s salt. Now it’s 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, it’s now under suspicion, and it’s 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 Can’t Be Tofu,” said with a smile that she still cooks with tofu, just not as much. She’s 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. “I’m not a big fan of stir-frying. I’d 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 other’s 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 Madison’s 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, she’s 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. Madison’s 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 weren’t usable.

Madison taught cooking for about two decades, but she hasn’t 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.


Roasted beets, apples, and onions with cider vinegar

Serves 4

This is a bold dish, far greater than the sum of its parts. Any leftovers make a great little salad or item on a composed salad plate. Use any color beet or mixture. Red beets are most common, but this would be stunning with chioggia and golden beets together. Vegan (with sunflower seed oil).

This versatile recipe is good hot and great cold. I made it with Granny Smith and Fuji apples.


4 beets steamed and cut into ½-inch dice (see * below)

2 cups diced Granny Smith or Arkansas Black apples, skin on

½ onion, diced

¾ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon brown sugar, optional

1 ½ tablespoons butter or sunflower seed oil (see head note)

Freshly milled pepper

Apple cider vinegar or horseradish, for serving


Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter or oil a 4-cup casserole or gratin dish.

Toss beets with the apples and onions, season with the salt, vinegar and nutmeg. If you favor extra sweetness, add the sugar as well. Slide the vegetables into the baking dish and dot with the butter or drizzle with oil. Cover and bake for 1 hour. Serve right from the oven, warm, or even chilled. Season with pepper and have extra vinegar or horseradish on the table if you like their extra bite.

*To steam beets: Set scrubbed unpeeled beets (with tails and an inch of stems on to keep in juices) in a steaming basket, cover, and steam until tender when pierced with a knife – about 35-40 minutes for a large beet, 20-25 for smaller ones. Watch the water level for longer steaming and add boiling water if the pot runs dry before the beets are done.


Curried cauliflower and peas

Serves 4

This curry is exceptional – and quite easy – but you do need green mango powder, asafetida and garam masala, all of which are available at Indian markets. Serve this over steamed rice. Vegan.

For the new book, Madison revised this recipe to punch up its flavor. She changed the vegetable oil to coconut oil or ghee (clarified butter) and doubled the asafetida and the fresh ginger. The result is a delicious, vibrant dry curry that’s easy to prepare once you have all the spices.


¼ cup coconut oil or ghee

½ teaspoon toasted ground cumin

½ teaspoon asafetida

½ cup peeled and finely diced fresh ginger

4 teaspoons toasted ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground mild red chili, or ½ teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces, including the stems

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

½ pound sugar snap peas, strings removed

2 teaspoons ground amchoor (green mango) powder

1 teaspoon Garam Masala


In a wide pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin and asafetida and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the ginger, coriander, chili and turmeric and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the onion, lower the heat, and cook until limp, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Next add the cauliflower and salt.

Mix everything together, then pour in ½ cup water, cover the pot, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook for a few minutes more, until they’re bright green. Add the amchoor powder and garam masala, stir together, taste for salt, and serve.


Red onion and spinach sauté in coconut oil

Serves 2

Onions alone, and greens alone, are the best sautéed in coconut oil, but together they make more of a dish and less of a bite to have with something else. If you really want to round this out and make it a solo main dish, I suggest adding cooked chickpeas. If you just want to make it for yourself with half an onion and a handful of spinach, that works, too.Vegan.


2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil

1 large red onion, halved and sliced about ½ inch thick

Sea salt

I bunch spinach leaves, washed and roughly chopped, stems removed

Juice of 1 lime

Coconut butter to finish


Heat the oil in a wide skillet, then add the sliced onion. Cook on high heat, tossing about the pan, until some of the pieces get some color on them, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt. They’ll still be firm, but sweet. Add the spinach, sprinkle with another pinch or two of salt, then turn it into the onions until it has wilted, another 5 minutes or so. Taste for salt.

Squeeze the lime over the dish, then garnish with crumbles of coconut butter.


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