Book Review: Vegetable Literacy

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison is the next book on my summer reading list.

I don’t remember how I came across this particular book, but I’m vaguely familiar with Deborah Madison. I’ve heard that she’s the queen of vegetarian cooking and was part of the early 1970s farm-to-table movement, along with Alice Waters. She’s written other cookbooks in the same vein as this one, including Local Flavors, which Barbara Kingsolver references several times in her book (another of my summer reads), Animal, Vegetable Miracle.

Vegetable Literacy is a cookbook organized into twelve chapters, each focused around a particular botanical family of produce. For example, there is a “Sunflower Family” chapter that talks about Asteraceae including endives, cardoons, artichoke, lettuce, and tarragon among other edible plants. Another chapter is the “Nightshade Family” chapter, which discusses Solanaceae, such as eggplants, potatoes, and tomatoes. Each chapter has a few paragraphs describing each vegetable, herb, or fruit she features followed by a handful of recipes featuring those plant.

I really liked this book! I understand why Deborah Madison is so well-regarded. I didn’t try any of the recipes (yet), but several of them sounded very intriguing…Corn Cookies with Almonds and Raisins? Tarragon Mayonnaise with Orange Zest? Toasted Barley and Burdock with Dried Trumpet Mushrooms? Orange and Rosemary Compote? Yummm….these all sound so tasty. And I could keep going. There are so many good-sounding recipes in here.

Some of the recipes are a little bit bougie (truffle salt? really?) and she can be a bit preachy about using only the freshest, best ingredients, but the recipes were interesting and unique, so I decided to overlook those parts. She also has suggestions for “Using the Whole Plant,” such as using the stringy guts of squash to make a stock for risotto or soup.

This book also introduced me to several vegetables and herbs I had never heard of, including hauzontle, cardoons, quelites (which is actually lamb’s quarters), rau ram, salsify…

In each section she suggests specific varieties of fruits or vegetables to grow. For example, in the zucchini section, she suggests Black Beauty zucchini, which is the kind of zucchini that I grew last summer and that I’m growing (er…failing to grow) in my garden right now! This book is the best gardener’s kitchen companion that I’ve come across so far. I want try to grow as many of the varieties she suggests as I can!

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