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Deborah Madison's "Vegetable Literacy"

Anyone have this new book? My copy just arrived, and OMG, I want to dive right in and start cooking! A Parsnip-Cardamom Custard sweetened with maple syrup caught my eye to begin with.

The vegetables are grouped by their botanical families -- quite an interesting approach.

Lots of buying and storing info, suggestions for use, which parts of the plant are edible, in addition to the obvious.

Pricey, but destined to become a classic.

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  1. I'm waiting for it to arrive today. I'm hoping for a vegetable epiphany.

    1. That and the forthcoming book from Barbara Damrosch & Eliot Coleman are very high on my can't-wait-to-see-in-person list.

      Having just reacquired The Victory Garden Cookbook last year, and used it almost more than any other book, I'm bound to measure anything of the kind against it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ellabee

        I couldn't wait, as it turns out, and ordered it a couple of weeks ago. But, strangely, I can't quite get interested. Part of the problem is the physical size of the book, bigger than is handy to use in the kitchen (along with pointlessly difficult-to-spot page numbers in center of the page), beautiful photos of some plants but not others, and the time of year -- I'm outside planting vegetables and herbs, not doing as much curling up with a book.

        Maybe when the planting window closes, and it's too hot to be outdoors all day...

      2. I got this Saturday for my birthday. Gorgeous book and as much a reading book as a cookbook. There are lots of recipe ideas in the text ("this vegetable is great roasted with this other vegetable and this herb in that oil" kind of thing) -- I almost feel I should have a notebook to write these down while I read as they suit my cooking style more than formal recipes.

        She calls for coconut butter a lot -- does anyone know if that is the same as coconut oil (which seems to solidify into a butter-like solid at room temperature)?

        4 Replies
        1. re: GretchenS

          Ooh, lucky you. I looked through it at a bookstore and I'm first in line for a library copy. AFAIK, coconut butter is indeed the cooler version of coconut oil.

          1. re: GretchenS

            Coconut oil and coconut butter are different products, I'm not really sure what the difference is though. I just made a recipe with coconut butter in the title (it said coconut oil in the instructions, though) and I used coconut oil as that's what I had on hand. In that case, I don't think the substitution made a difference as AFIK both products taste and smell like coconut and are liquid when warm.

            1. re: Westminstress

              I've never had coconut butter, but google tells me it contains coconut flesh, not just coconut oil.

              1. re: emily

                Correct, coconut butter is a puree of the actual flesh.
                Coconut oil does not contain any of the flesh.
                The two behave very differently in recipes and are not interchangable

          2. Wow, this is a timely thread for me! I am really lusting after this book after taking a look at it in the bookstore the other day. Given that I've had mixed results with Deborah Madison recipes in the past, though, I want to preview some recipes before buying the book. Unfortunately I am number 45 on the library's waiting list!

            Last night I made Carrots with Coconut Butter and Lime. Not online, but this recipe called to me in the store and was so short that I was able to reproduce it at home. A very simple recipe. Carrots are cut into half inch coins and boiled in salted water until barely tender. Drain, return to the hot pot to dry a bit, then toss with 2 tbsp coconut oil and the juice of half a lime.

            Verdict: Mixed. I loved the coconut and lime flavor combination with carrots. However, in the end they were still boiled carrots, not my fave. I think these seasonings would be fantastic with roasted carrots and I will do it that way next time.

            Next up (I think) is the onion tart recipe featured in the NYT, and I might do the asparagus as well. Also saw a marjoram sauce with capers and olives on 101 cookbooks that sounds appealing, if I ever run into any good-looking marjoram.

            I would like to hear more about others' experiences with this book!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Westminstress

              Westminstress, thanks so much for the review of the carrot recipe, I had marked it but share your reservations about boiled carrots. I think I will do as you say and do it with roasted carrots.

              1. re: GretchenS

                Please report back and let us know how you like it!

                1. re: GretchenS

                  I am always surprised to see boiled carrots and other common vegetables on cooking shows and in recipes. Steaming is faster, uses less energy, tastes better, and nutrients aren't going down the drain with the boiled water.
                  Steaming wasn't a typical technique (in American cookery) 50 and more years ago, but now that its benefits are well-known, boiling seems on a par with using a rotary egg-beater to make meringue, instead of the Kitchen Aid that's sitting on your counter.

              2. Bitter Greens with Walnut Oil and Mustard Viniagrette

                I came home from the farmer's market with a HUGE bunch of young dandelion greens and an EYB search led me to this recipe. The recipe calls for 8 cups of mixed bitter greens but I used only dandelion. The greens are cut into bite sized pieces, then tossed with toasted walnuts and a dressing consisting of: garlic, mustard, red wine vinegar, walnut oil, olive oil, and a tbsp of creme fraiche. DM states in the headnotes that the dressing is fairly pungent, and it is. I liked it though. My husband thought it was a bit TOO pungent (or perhaps I overdressed the salad). I thought the dressing did an excellent job of offsetting the bitterness in the greens. I love these wild, bitter salads - they taste like spring to me. This was my first time using walnut oil. I liked it, but with all the strong flavors in the dressing, the flavor wasn't all that discernible. I think the dressing would be just as good using only olive oil and creme fraiche.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Westminstress

                  Good to know Westminstress as I cannot stand walnut oil and tend to just skip recipes featuring it.

                  1. re: GretchenS

                    Up until now, I've always just subbed olive oil and never once have I regretted it!

                2. I am in love with this book. I have read through it numerous times. To date I have only made:

                  braised jerusalem artichokes with mushrooms and tarragon

                  Lovely side dish to chicken or fish. suggested to serve with a pasta or grain, but I just served along side the protein. I wish I would have either diced the artichoke smaller or had more time in the pan. It was very good cold/leftover, too. It had a big umami flavor (I guess from the mushrooms), almost like it was bathed in soy sauce.

                  braised fennel wedges with saffron and tomato

                  This was the first dish I prepared from this cookbook and the reason I fell in love with it. I prepared the dish with the fennel stock (recipe included) as suggested. The fennel stock was so delicious I actually drank a warm mug of it the next day. There are many recipes through out the book to use up veg pieces that could normally find themselves in the garbage.
                  This dish was so good I'm making it again tonight with my CSA fennel. The family can't wait for dinner!

                  I look forward to this book being COTM someday.

                  1. Just jumping in with a belated report for the onion tart. I made it a couple of weeks ago. I did the crust over the weekend, using half white and half whole wheat flour, then ended up popping it into the freezer because I couldn't get to the tart filling for a while. For the filling, I used a mix of small yellow onions and a huge bunch of spring onions with greens. These are sauteed until golden brown and combined with crumbled bacon, creme fraiche, eggs, milk, salt and pepper and cheese (I used gruyere). It worked perfectly and was delicious, my family loved it. I served it with a green salad. I don't make dishes like this very often because of the calorie splurge, but I felt this was fairly healthful for a savory pie/quiche type of thing, and as I said, it was good.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Westminstress

                      Thanks for the recommendation. I have a ton of spring onions and yellow onions right now. I'll make this next weekend!

                      I'm still loving this book, Chowhounders!

                      1. re: Westminstress

                        The onion tart is great. I had the non-bacon version. Very rich custard and the sweetness of the caramelized spring onions is unbelievable.

                      2. I checked it out from the library and am finding it a very good read. Not sure if I will buy it though. My rule of thumb is how many times I renew it from library.

                        I made the pickled turnips & carrots last night, and they were a lovely side dish with my vegetarian BLT for lunch today. I found the way the recipe was phrased slightly confusing. I assume, like all the other (2) pickle recipes I've tried, the cooking liquid should be added to the jar. This is not clear in her recipe.

                        Also, and I'm being a brat, but a brat with a botanist mother, eggplants cannot be male or female. This frustrated me with Vegetarian cooking for Everyone, too.

                        1. Last weekend I attended a dinner party hosted by friends who featured recipes from Vegetable Literacy. I posted about the Golden Turnip Soup with Gorgonzola toasts on the Cheese Board.

                          1. I got Vegetable Literacy last night and this morning made a shredded kale salad with mint and tomatoes which was absolutely delicious for lunch. Eager to try more!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: tcamp

                              I just made this salad last night -- for whatever reason I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. This was a nice twist on the usual kale salad, we all liked it a lot.

                            2. Two more recipes to report:

                              Cucumber and Melon Salad with Black Pepper and Mint, p. 297: A very simple, refreshing salad that straddles the line between sweet and savory. Melon (I used watermelon) and cucumber are chopped and dressed with a viniagrette consisting of: olive oil, chopped fresh mint, lemon juice and zest, a bit of salt and a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper. Combine and chill for at least an hour before serving.

                              Lemon Basil-Mint Lemonade, p. 55: Basil and mint leaves are muddled with sugar, then combined with lemon juice (and zest, but I omitted this step) and water. When the basil and mint are combined like this, you can really taste how very similar they are. A very refreshing beverage, especially if you allow it to steep for an hour or two before serving. There is a sparkling water variation which I think would be even better.

                              1. Tuscan Kale with Anchovy-Garlic Dressing, p. 137

                                This salad is nothing earth shattering, but I loved it. It is your basic raw kale salad with an anchovy-garlic viniagrette. The salad also contains croutons but I subbed toasted, herbed bread crumbs because I had some on hand to use up. I'd previously used a similar recipe by Melissa Clark, and I liked this one better. I thought the proportions of the dressing were perfect. It was pungent, but not overly so.

                                1. Three more recipes to report:

                                  Supper Spinach, p. 220: Barely a recipe. Spinach is sauteed with a thinly sliced garlic clove in a mix of olive oil and butter, then seasoned with s&p. I bring it up only because this method of cooking spinach is absolute perfection. I made this dish twice, and my kids inhaled it both times (and they are not what you would call enthusiastic vegetable eaters).

                                  Roasted Winter Squash with Parsley, Sage and Rosemary, p. 285: Roast winter squash with olive oil, s&p. When it's done, you heat some olive oil in a skillet and briefly saute a chopped garlic clove and minced sage and rosemary. Stir this into the roasted squash along with the parsley. I thought the sage was overly dominant but my husband liked it. I preferred it as a leftover when the flavors weren't as strong. There wasn't anything wrong with it really, but I won't be likely to repeat it either.

                                  Winter Squash Soup with Red Chile and Mint, p. 283. This is just a wonderful soup. Winter squash is chopped and cooked with onion, fresh basil (I omitted this), dried or fresh mint (I used dried), a cinnamon stick, salt, ground red chile, and a sachet comprised of whole cloves, coriander and peppercorns. When it's done, you remove the whole spices and puree (so easy with immersion blender!). For the liquid you can use stock or water, and I used some leftover veggie stock I had in the freezer. For the chile you also have options, I used about a teaspoon of aleppo pepper, which provided a pleasing heat but was not overly spicy. This soup is sweet from the squash and spices, just a bit spicy, and the mint is lovely. There is a local restaurant that makes a soup just like this that I absolutely love, and they garnish it with feta cheese, which is wonderful, but I didn't have any. I used full fat greek yogurt (and DM suggests cream). Next time I will definitely garnish with feta -- the salty contrast is very good with the sweet and spicy squash. I am so thrilled to be able to recreate this soup at home whenever I want! Great dish.