Vegetable cooking has come an awfully long way since Deborah Madison started cooking vegetarian food, which the celebrated cookbook author circumspectly notes in the introduction to her 14th cookbook, out next month from Ten Speed Press. A veteran not just of cookbooks but of kitchens — she cooked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, opened her own restaurant Greens in San Francisco, and has cooked in Santa Fe and in Rome — Madison has documented the trajectory of vegetable cuisine over decades, as the rest of us have followed her, relied on her and largely played catch-up to her own sure sensibility.
“In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes” sounds simple, understated, even ordinary — maybe a homey walk-off from someone with a stack of James Beard Awards on top off all those cookbooks (Madison was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame last year). It is not. Rather there are over 100 recipes — some new, some old, all reworked — for the kind of dishes that have made Madison’s books central, pivotal objects in our sauce-decorated libraries. There is an imprimatur by Yotam Ottolenghi (as if she needed it), and solid, pretty pictures by Erin Scott. There is chatty, workmanlike prose distilling what Madison has learned over her long career (“grow something!”). The recipes themselves, which aren’t divvied up into artificial or cute chapters (thank you), come in plain alphabetical order. And what recipes.
Madison is terrific at that rare thing: making food that is simultaneously both plain and creative; wholesome yet also inventive and on-trend. So: masa crêpes with chard, black beans, avocado and pickled onions; stinging nettle soup with nigella seeds; artichoke and scallion sauté over garlic-rubbed toast. She plays off basics, making shortbread with anise, loading black-eyed peas with yogurt and tahini. A pot of lentil soup, that health food standard, uses red lentils, turmeric and ghee and comes dosed with homemade berbere, the addictive Ethiopian spice blend that dyes the soup red and jettisons the flavor. (Make a lot of this; it will become as much of a necessity as the recipe for zhough, a green chile paste from Yemen, in Madison’s remarkable 2002 book “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets.”)
The conceit of this latest cookbook is that it’s Madison’s “most personal” book, a kind of kitchen catalog of what she cooks at home. This is a nice trend, and one that many of our best cookbook writers have lately been following (the most recent books from Diana Kennedy, Nancy Silverton and Alton Brown have all been in this vein). This makes pragmatic sense, probably both for the authors and their publishers, but it also makes a lot of sense for the rest of us too: We want to come home and make delicious, inventive yet uncomplicated dishes as much as the professionals do. Madison’s new book helps us do exactly that; it’s as inventive and uncomplicated as the dishes themselves.
Cookbook of the Week: “In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes,” by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press, $32.50)