Last year, when I decided to give up meat for good, there was one thing I felt it absolutely necessary to do. No, I wasn’t going on a weird pre-veg cleanse or ridding my house of all animal products; this was something far simpler. I just needed to buy a cookbook.
For some reason, I felt that owning a copy of Deborah Madison‘s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was a prerequisite for being a “real” vegetarian. As if not owning this book were somehow an admittance of amateurism, or an open invitation for mocking by more “serious” vegetarians.
My parents (despite not being vegetarian themselves) have been cooking from this comprehensive book for years, but living across the ocean from them as I do, it was imperative to buy my own copy. Luckily, there was a 10 year anniversary edition out, so it was with a firm heart and aching back and that I lugged a copy home from a trip to New York City last May. (It was cheaper in North America, and luckily my lifestyle change coincided with a planned holiday.)
Like most encyclopedia-style cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone starts off with several introductory chapters, covering things like shopping in season, menu planning, kitchen tools and cooking techniques. The recipes themselves are organized into an impressive fifteen chapters, covering the to-be-expected Vegetables, Grains, Eggs and Cheese and Desserts, as well as the less common Sandwiches, The Soy Pantry and Breads by Hand. Within these chapters ingredients are given due respect; you can find out which potatoes are best for which recipes (pg. 408), brush up on types of cheeses (pg. 584-587), or learn about how different varieties of rice are processed (pg. 536).
Most everything I’ve made from this book has turned out well. Penne with Tomatoes, Olives, Lemon and Basil (pg. 454) is a favourite, as is Curried Quinoa with Peas and Cashews (pg. 534). The Polenta Gratin with Tomato, Fontina and Rosemary (pg. 526) was even good enough to impress my Mum when she was visiting. Deborah’s breads and baked goods are similarly dependable; her recipe for Naan (pg. 674) is my go-to one for serving with curries, and her Ginger Cream Scones (pg. 651) go down a treat. Add to these successes the fact that the ingredient lists here tend toward short and the instructions toward clear, and you’ve got a winner.
Why then, don’t I reach for this book more often? As much as I love Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, more often than not it stays on the shelf while I reach for my trusty copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian instead. Deborah and Mark’s books are similarly structured, and though Deborah came along a decade earlier, I can’t help feeling that Mark does the whole vegetarian-encyclopedia thing a bit better.
A quick internet search reveals that I’m not alone in feeling this way; for some reason, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone doesn’t feel as relevant today as it perhaps used to. Whether it’s the style of the food, the style of the writing or both, I can’t be sure. It could be simply down to the look of the book, which though clean and attractive, is hardly all that modern or exciting.
I don’t think we should be too hard on this book, though, as there are things it does very well. While Mark’s recipes have an “everyday” feel to them, Deborah’s food comes off as a bit more special. While I prefer How to Cook Everything Vegetarian on a stressful mid-week evening, I’m more likely to reach for Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or when I really want to pull out all the stops and impress someone. I definitely think there’s room for both books in a vegetarian kitchen.
Having considered it, I think Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone deserves a solid four stars. The quality of the information and recipes is top-notch, and you’ll find both classic dishes and new ideas in here. The only drawback is a slight lack of that elusive “pull” factor, and even that’s probably just personal preference. In any case, I can’t imagine anyone would be disappointed after buying this book. (But maybe just order it online: trust me, it’s a bit heavy for a trans-Atlantic flight.)