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The New Vegetarian
The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star
-- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
The olive tree is surely the richest tree of heaven.
-- Thomas Jefferson
Vegetarian cookery is for everyone. It's what makes even everyday meals joyful and memorable. Color, texture, flavor, and infinite adaptability are just some of the extra benefits of non-meat edibles, rendering their healthful, low-calorie aspects almost a bonus. The recipes in this book will delight and nourish you, be they the substance of a vegetarian meal, or the supporting players of a meat-based spread.
Strict vegetarianism -- and, by association, vegetable cookery --has been so politicized that it sometimes appears to have nothing to do with the kitchen and the dining table. For some people, vegetarianism is revered as a global panacea -- the solution to every imaginable health problem, environmental concern, or political injustice. For others, it is anathema, the very word "vegetarian" an affront to their perceived First-World birthright to three "square" (read "meat") meals a day.
This controversy is hardly surprising when we consider the spotty history of vegetarianism in North America. In the 1950s, meat abstainers were viewed if not with outright suspicion, then at least with condescension. The alternate lifestylers of the 1960s changed all that, but at a price. As with all the other "inventions" of that most unusual decade, vegetarianism turned militant, intolerant, and holier-than-thou. And just to prove the point, sixties-typevegetarians developed intentionally dour recipes, based on misapplied, Japanese, macrobiotic philosophy -- which is great for meditating on a serene mountain; not so great for surviving polluted, stressful urban environments.
And so this ludicrous polarity of vegetarians and their opponents -- a situation of epic culinary fanaticism that confoundedly excludes both sides from the treasures and the unmitigated pleasures of lovingly prepared vegetables.
For Mediterranean types like me -- indeed, for anyone who was raised in the world's sunnier (if poorer) climes -- vegetables, legumes and grains have no ideological connotations. They are simply the essence of everyday eating. During my formative years as a lower-middle class Greek in Istanbul, meat was a luxury, something reserved for Sundays and other holidays. Otherwise, we ate an extensive and highly inventive vegetarian diet, though we didn't know it as such. And even when small potions of meat did make their rare appearances, they were always accompanied by a slew of vegetable dishes. The North American standard of a 20-ounce steak, accompanied by a lonely potato and a watery salad, was something I encountered only when I first came to these shores.
Still, old habits are hard to kick. I've certainly eaten a lot of meat, poultry and fish over my last 38 years in the New World, but I've never lost my love for vegetables. I still cherish those that I ate from my mother's kitchen. In addition, my celebratory feasts now include the multitude of vegetable dishes I've tasted, recreated and adapted during three decades of travelling-to-eat, writing about food, and feeding thousands of happy customers in my various catering and restaurant businesses. Sample them for yourself. They just might change your ideas about vegetarian cooking forever.