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Deborah Madison updates her classic book on vegetarian cooking

  • Washington Post
  • Published Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at 3:58 p.m.

When Deborah Madison wrote “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” who knew that the title would end up being so close to prophetic? The book has more than 400,000 copies in print, which isn’t literally everyone, of course. But when I think of all the photocopied and e-mailed recipes I’ve seen, the dog-eared, sauce-splattered editions on the shelves of libraries and home cooks and restaurant chefs, 400,000 suddenly seems like a conservative estimate of the book’s impact.

Madison opened up a universe of possibilities for cooking vegetables, and a streamlined, elegant, modern sensibility that made many of the vegetarian cookbooks that came before hers seem fusty by comparison. This year she updated it. “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” (Ten Speed Press, 2014) is an even fresher, honed version of her formidable vision, including an easier-to-read design, 200 more recipes (bringing the total to more than 1,600), and a new introduction. Out: soy milk and deep-frying. In: coconut oil and the slow-cooker.

Q. How does the book reflect some of the biggest changes in vegetarian cooking over the past two decades?

A. There’s just been kind of an explosion of ingredients. Today you have almond milk, hemp, rice, coconut – all these non-dairy beverages. There are lots more possibilities for smoky flavors. Back then, if you were a vegetarian and you were trying to work smoke in and you didn’t want to use liquid smoke, your only choice was chipotle, so everything was hot. Now we have smoked paprika and smoked salt, even smoked tea. Ghee has suddenly become popular. It’s not a new ingredient, just new to many of us. Or coconut oil, people are nuts about that. I love it, too. Dairy has gotten so much better. We have access to grains we didn’t then: einkorn, farro, spelt. We have red and black quinoa.

Certain things I took out. I’ve never been a fan of canola oil, and I am less and less – same with soy oil, same with corn oil. I thought, I’m just leaving them out, even if they’re organic or supposedly GMO-free. So many times those oils are rancid, and there are better fats to choose from anyway.

And I always wanted to label the recipes that happen to be vegan, because so many people use this book because they’re cooking for somebody else – a child, a spouse or a family member – so why not make it easy? I didn’t try to turn things into vegan recipes; I just labeled things that just happened to be. Romesco sauce just happened to be vegan.

Q. Are there things that haven’t changed much, and you don’t think they will?

A. There are certain American recipes and foods that are constants, for instance, but we can still make them better. Cornbread, that’s a constant, but now maybe you can find freshly milled cornmeal from your farmers market, or use really great buttermilk and make it even better.

Q. You dropped deep frying from the glossary of basic cooking methods. Why?

A. I realized there is no deep frying in the book. I just don’t deep fry. I think a lot of people try to avoid it.

I did want to take out certain recipes that were possibly not appropriate because they were maybe too complicated, or too rich. One was a risotto gratin, and it’s really good and really rich, and it’s basically risotto that’s baked with lots of butter, and it gets nice and crusty, but I thought, nobody has ever said they make that, and maybe it should go. Then I was giving a talk about that book, and two women said, “You can’t take that out, because we always make it for each other’s birthdays.” Sometimes food is a celebration, so that’s important to remember.

I had a lot of stir-fries in the first book. But I’m not really a stir-fry person, so I went back and looked at the chapter again and pared it way down, and added a group of recipes that are simple sautes; they may use turmeric or chiles or lime, but they don’t require a wok. They’re a little more casual to make. It’s what I tend to do, when all else fails and I don’t have an idea or much time.

Q. You’ve also lost some enthusiasm for soy products, particularly tofu and soy milk.

A. In the ’90s, we behaved like tofu was going to save us. I knew people who just pureed it every morning and ate it plain. Why? Now we know that not so much tofu is better and that fermented forms are best. I left it in because I do think it’s a good food – we have it a couple times a month, and you can make it pretty interesting. But in the book I added more with tempeh and miso sauces and toppings.

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