"Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," Deborah Madison

Pros: Extremely simple directions; anyone could cook these things; quick recipes
Cons: Needs tweaking if you like high flavor
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

First posted 9/1/2000

Deborah Madison gives us “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” containing a stunning 1,400 recipes. It’s huge. It’s really huge. By all rights there should be gazillions of great recipes in here. After all, I have lots of cookbooks with easy, yummy vegetarian recipes in them.

Somehow, this doesn’t really deliver.

We thought this cookbook would be perfect. At the time we didn’t have a lot of spare time, and so the idea of a fairly basic cookbook appealed. We wanted to start eating healthier, and vegetarian cooking is often good for that. We also loved one of Ms. Madison’s earlier cookbooks, “The Greens Cookbook,” so we knew we enjoyed her work.

These dishes are very simple (the directions are quite easy to follow) and short. To fit 1400 recipes in a book – even one this big – they’d have to be! You’ll often find two or three recipes per page. This is great for the busy cook, or the cook who doesn’t feel all that comfortable in a kitchen.

Uninteresting Flavors

I don’t know what it is. Maybe we’re jaded. Maybe we’ve gotten spoiled with lots of spices and great flavors, but we found that most of these dishes didn’t have much flavor to them. They don’t make much use of herbs, and even less of spices. Occasionally they’ll call for a little cheese, some lemon juice, a tiny bit of garlic, or a vinegar or wine to liven things up, but not all that often.

I think I can understand Ms. Madison’s desire to keep things simple, to keep the ingredient lists short, to leave out exotic spices that might be hard to find, and so on. Obviously she means this book for the vegetarians who would normally find cooking inaccessible for one or more reasons. But I believe she went too far. If nothing else, perhaps she could have put a couple of “optional” ingredients in each dish for those people who have the means and desire and like the flavor. That might have nicely balanced the desire for simplicity with the wish for flavor.

The Recipes

I admit it, the recipes sound great. Mushrooms with Tarragon and Cream. Roasted Mushrooms with Pine Nuts. Candied Sweet Potatoes. Cannelloni with Greens and Sauteed Artichokes. Quinoa Timbales with Currants and Pine Nuts. You’ll find a few gorgeous pictures, although obviously there’s no way to fit 1400 of them. There are so many recipes in this book, and some of them are pretty good. I just feel disappointed that so many of them take a pretty decent amount of mucking with. Certainly if you’re a fan of “The Greens Cookbook,” you won’t find that sort of food (somewhat more complex, very flavorful) here.

If you aren’t such a fan of spicy flavor as we are then you may well enjoy this book. Certainly if you feel nervous every time you step into a kitchen and would like a good source of vegetarian food, then by all means start here. Ms. Madison’s simple directions could turn anyone into a cook, even a few hopelessly kitchen-inept people I know.

Here are some of the particularly delicious (or delicious-sounding) recipes in this book: Warm Crostini with Blue Cheese and Walnuts. Macadamia Nut and Mixed Rice Salad. Cream of Mushroom Soup. Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Polenta Croutons. Smoky-Hot Anasazi or Pinto Beans with Broth. Saffron Noodle Cake. Cracked Wheat Pilaf with Tomato and Cinnamon. Savory Cheese Custards.

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