This is the book I needed when I opened my first CSA (community supported agriculture) box a few years ago, looked at the then strange vegetables nestled inside of it and thought, whatever do I do with this green chunk of chard? Deborah Madison’s latest book Vegetable Literacy (Ten Speed Press, March 2013) is not merely a cookbook. In this beautifully illustrated, 400 page cookbook, Madison weaves in her knowledge about vegetables, including their history and how to prepare and store different varieties, along with her amazing recipes.
Organized as a botanist classifies plants, each chapter in the book covers vegetables within one of twelve different plant families. Set up in this manner, Madison allows us to see the similarities between vegetables, and to see how substitutions between related vegetables can be done when cooking. When I read that dill and parsley, along with other herbs, all come from the same family, the umbellifer family, it made sense why I have always enjoyed pairing them with carrots and parsnips, also part of the same family.
The recipes, although not strictly vegan, can easily be adapted. For example, Madison’s "Cauliflower with Saffron, Pepper Flakes, Plenty of Parsley, and Pasta" (p. 144) calls for optional grated aged cheese to be added to the otherwise vegan dish. Madison is well known for her vegetarian cookbooks, and in a short period of time this has become one of my favorites.
Now, it is time for me to stop reading and writing about "The Sensual Squashes, Melons, and Gourds" (chapter nine, the cucurbit family) and it is time to bike to my local, natural foods market, select some chard, zucchini, and red onions, and return home to prepare one of her colorful recipes.