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Jan 7, 2005 04:28 PM

can you recommend a cookbook?

  • b

I have a cupboard full of cookbooks that I never use, and I spent some time today analyzing the problem. What I need, I decided, is a cookbook that has the following three properties:

(1) it explains how to make excellent food,

(2) the recipes are healthy, and

(3) they can be made with ingredients that are readily available in an American supermarket such as Whole Foods.

Can anyone recommend cookbooks that have these three properties? They don't sound all that stringent, do they? Number (1) is easy enough, since countless cookbooks exist for authentic cuisines of various sorts. But numbers (2) and (3) are harder. I have a bunch of cookbooks that routinely call for large quantities of butter or oil or cream or cheese or carbs, or for roasting meats (i.e., causing them to be packed with animal fat). And then I have a bunch of cookbooks that require me to keep numerous ingredients that are difficult to obtain and only useful for cooking the cuisine of one particular culture. Yes, of course there are occasions when I want to cook with duck fat or galangal, but for everyday cooking I need something healthier and more practical.

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  1. f

    I got Jack Bishop's "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends" a few weeks ago. I think it meets all of your requirements. While you didn't specify vegetarian, I would say that the majority of the recipes in this book meet your "healthy" request, the quality of the recipes is excellent and few hard-to-find or exotic ingredients are called for. See link below.


    1. How about the wonderful Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash? A generation old, but very much ahead of its time. Not strictly vegetarian at all, but vegetables from the garden (and market, of course) are the loving focus of detailed attention. Morash was for years the executive chef of the well-regarded Straight Wharf Restaurant on Nantucket Island. A trusty reliable cookbook, should be on every cook's shelf.

      1. Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" is an encyclopedic tome (1400 recipes) that covers everything from the vegetables themselves to essential topics like omelettes, soups, grains, and legumes. She also has a good section on breads (and pizza!) and, as you might expect, an amazing selection of salads and salad dressings.

        We are _not_ vegetarian, but my partner and I turn to this cookbook several times a month.

        Madison has a great way of explaining the processes for something. For instance, her section on soups begins with a very general method for making any kind of vegetable soup. Her legume section begins with several pages describing the various types of beans you might encounter. Her methods for cooking beans and lentils have vastly improved my ability to cook (and cook with) dried legumes.
        That said, her book is so far-reaching and ambitious that sometimes the techniques in a given recipe are more complex than she makes it sound, such that it helps to have some basic cooking experience under your belt.

        Another recommendation is Jack Bishop's "Vegetables Every Day." This is a straightforward book. The vegetables are arranged alphabetically, with recipes for each vegetable, as well as buying and storage tips. Bishop has a deft hand and really knows how to make these dishes succulent and delicious. I make his Pasta with Broccoli Rabe cooked in garlic, olive oil and red pepper as often as I can stand it. He's got an interest in simple recipes that let the flavor of the vegetables come through...roasted mushrooms, for instance, or a really good corn chowder. He seems to have a particular skill for working with vegetables and noodles/pasta. Note that this book is not strictly vegetarian.

        I have a lot of cookbooks that I love, but these ones really get used. They do include some recipes that call for odd ingredients, but for the most part, i mean almost entirely, they use ingredients that are readily available at a place like Whole Foods.

        1 Reply
        1. re: patrick

          I second Deborah Madison. Her baked ricotta recipe is worth the price of the book alone.

          I am also a Jack Bishop fan, but find that the cookbook I turn to the most is his Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. The pizza recipes are especially tasty, but so are many of his bean and soup recipes. And his zucchini salad recipe is great.

          I do like Martha Rose Shulman's cookbooks, especially Provencal Lite and Vegetarian Cooking Lite. She has a whole wheat/olive oil pizza crust that's unusually crackery and layer-y, but it's tasty and goes well with earthy combos, especially a potato-arugula-fontina topping cribbed from the aforementioned Jack Bishop cookbook. I stopped cooking from them so much because of overlap with other cookbooks I own, among other reasons.

          Finally, Claudia Roden's New Middle Eastern Cookbook has lots of lovely vegetable recipes and fish recipes that are (for me) unusual and different. And the ingredients can all be found at a well stocked whole foods.

        2. I really have been happy with just about every recipe I've made from "Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen: 200 Easy Recipes for Healthy Weight Loss". What I like is this isn't a diet cookbook. It's smart, interesting, flavorful recipes that have been made healthy, but the flavor remains.


          1. Thanks to everyone for the suggestions.

            If there are any cookbook authors out there reading this, there's a gigantic opportunity here for you. The vast majority of cookbooks out there are too boring, too unhealthy, or too exotic for the large and increasing numbers of Americans who know what good food is. There must be a market for a cookbook whose recipes are interesting, healthy, and practical. This is hard, of course, because you can't write such a cookbook by just warming over an existing cooking tradition. You basically have to invent whole new kinds of cooking, which means hard work both in the kitchen and in the culture. But it would be a good deed. In particular, it's necessary to get away from narrow cultural ideas of what "healthy" cooking means. It's not just about vegetarianism, for example. There are lots of really bad and unhealthy vegetarian cookbooks out there, and lots of perfectly healthy ways of preparing almost any kind of meat. Too many people think that it's healthy to eat cottage cheese and drink fruit juice, and hardly anyone can identify a single method of degreasing. Then there's the whole nightmare of "diets", such as the weird conflict between low-carb and low-fat (duh, healthy means both low-carb and low-fat!). Again, pure refined opportunity for a serious cookbook author.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Buford

              May I PS your rant, if you please?

              It is not rocket science to include nutritional information for most recipes with the recipe. Whenever I cook a new recipe without such information, I enter the ingredients line by line in a spreadsheet I have to create nutritional data to enter into my food diary database; while with practice this becomes second nature, I imagine it would be far more difficult for many. (This also helps me to decide on substitutions when reviewing the recipe before making it -- a great way to think through a recipe critically.) There is a small minority of non-dietetic cookbooks that include nutritional info; it is pitiful.

              1. re: Buford

                For what it's worth, when I'm cooking "healthy," I usually start with a solid recipe from somebody like Marcella Hazan, which calls for simple, fresh and flavorful ingredients, and adapt from there. You can make a great tomato sauce using 1 T of oil. Her books are lovely, with great instructions and easy to adapt. Accompany with a nice salad, lightly dressed and you've got a great meal that tastes good without being too heavy.

                For "health conscious" books, I'd suggest you check out Weight Watchers cookbooks, or get a subscription to Cooking Light, which has some decent recipe ideas too.

                1. re: DanaB

                  Amazon only lists one book from Marcella Hazan, Marcella's Kitchen. Are there others? Which do you recommend?

                  1. re: Buford

                    Marcella Hazan has written several cookbooks. I just check and Amazon seems to have all of them. Her newest book came out late last year, called "Marcella Says . . " But if you don't own any of her books you should start with "Essentials of Clasic Italian Cooking."

                    Her books are wonderfully written collections of authentic Italian cuisine. My general opinion of Italian cuisine is that it is incredibly healthy, focusing on freshness, use of local ingredients, less focus on meat as the main portion of the meal, and healthy fat from olive oil (although there is a fair amount of butter used in Italian cooking in the north).

                    It's a good place to start if you want to eat a "Mediterranean" diet, which is what we do at our house and I highly recommend her cookbooks.


                2. re: Buford

                  You may also want to check out the magazine "Eating Well." IMO, it's a higher-quality publication than "Cooking Light." The health and diet articles are excellent and well written. Most of the recipes I have made have been good enough to repeat, although a few miss the mark. Ethnic cuisines are also covered in the magazine. Check out their website and get a copy of the magazine. I think you will be pleased.