Buenos Aires – It’s a grey and rainy day, and we’re going to stay in for most of it. I thought it was a good time to finish up a couple of book reviews I’ve been working on…
Much as I love vegetables, being a vegetarian has never been truly an option for me. But when two books on vegetarian cooking arrive in my mailbox on the same day, I figure someone at least wants me to pay attention. I used to think that vegetarians were all a little, well, squirrely. And they didn’t eat anything that tasted good. Not that vegetables don’t taste good, but, well, the vegetarian restaurants I’d encountered seemed committed to brown, mushy or really, really chewy, tasteless food. Misery in dining as a way of life. Over the last few years though, I’ve discovered some truly wonderful restaurants that are meatless. The two big changes seem to be an appreciation for really exploring the potential of vegetarian cuisine, and, perhaps as important, dropping the dogmatic approach that up until only a few years ago dominated the scene.
The first book I opened is the cookbook from the chef and staff of the Millennium restaurant in San Francisco. Aptly enough, not only for the restaurant but for the age we’re living in, the book is called The Millennium Cookbook; Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine. And it is. Extraordinary. First, the book is beautifully designed. Eye-catching photos, both color and sepia-toned, are liberally placed throughout the book. The graphic layout and color choices for text are equally enticing. Secondly, the book is a pleasure to read. The authors start by noting that their readers undoubtedly have different motivations for picking the book up – and all are equally valid.
One of my pet peeves are recipes in cookbooks that either just plain don’t work, or require a level of skill or knowledge that the average home cook just doesn’t generally possess. The Millennium Cookbook successfully avoids either pitfall. Recipes are clear, concise and well laid out. Where references are made to special techniques or ingredients, there are appropriate reference sections in the back that cover these. Nutritional information is provided for those whom are interested. Most importantly, the recipes work. I picked a random sampling of half a dozen and tried them out. All were delicious!
The second book I approached with trepidation. Heaven’s Banquet; Vegetarian Cooking for Lifelong Health the Ayurveda Way already had the ring of dogma and brown, mushy food. Happily, my fears were unwarranted. The book certainly contains whole sections devoted to spirituality and vegetarian cuisine, and it is peppered with quotes and quips from spiritual texts. However, there is an easy-going, at times almost tongue-in-cheek approach to the presentation of the food and its relationship to life.
The book is nicely laid out, the recipes are easy to follow, and, like the Millennium Cookbook, the recipes work. There is also entire sections devoted to recipes covering interesting basics like making your own cheeses, seitan, spice mixtures and chutneys. Though illustrations are few and far between, they are present to illustrate specialized cooking techniques when the author feels something is a bit more complicated.
For vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, these two books provide not only good food, approached from vastly different directions, but enjoyable reading as well.