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I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was not exactly a hotbed of haute cuisine. Everyone ate fast-food hamburgers, and vegetables were boiled until they begged for mercy. I remember the house of one friend in particular, whose mother would invariably be chain smoking and cooking a giant skillet of canned ham.
I visited this same friend a few years ago. His mom, quite old now, had just returned from Whole Foods with several bags full of fresh produce. This moment crystallized for me just how radically our food habits have changed. Vegetarian food and cooking have played a big part in these changes. The confluence of our interests in personal health, the environment, and animal welfare has caused even diehard carnivores, like my friend in their diets.
Vegetarian cooking has come a long way. If you are old enough to remember the 1970s, you might recall the horror of mushy loaves of lentils and wheat berries or meals so loaded with carbs that you needed a long nap afterwards. The 1980s and 1990s brought an increased awareness and availability of global ingredients and recipes, although a lack of context, and of in-depth knowledge of the cuisines from which they came, led to frightening fusion. Care for a curried endive pizza with Thai-spiced hummus, Oaxacan pesto, and a drizzle of Moroccan olive tapenade?
Over the past few years, as weLocally made tofu, preserved lemons, and whole black cardamom seeds are available in most cities online. Farmers markets offer us tomatoes worth eating, a dozen varieties of radishes, and strawberries still warm from the field. Most communities are much more diverse, too, giving many of us the opportunity to experience authentic Singapore noodles or Ethiopian injera without a transcontinental flight. We learn cutting-edge methods from world-class chefs, whether they are vegetarian or not. We; we can (and should) always experiment, but they provide a foundation of reliable inspiration to which we can always return.
The upshot of all of these changes is that good vegetarian food is now just good food, period. This is a golden age for creative, intelligent vegetarian cuisine. Never again need anyone say, "That wasn't bad, for a vegetarian meal."
My own obsession with cooking is inextricably linked with vegetarian food. When I was 18, my mom was dying after a decade-long battle with breast cancer. She had decided to try a macrobiotic diet, but she was too weak to do much cooking. My girlfriend at the time (and still great friend), Nicole, was a vegetarian and a good cook. She taught me how to make flavorful, homey meals. I took over our kitchen and started to do all the cooking for my family. I continued to do so after my mom passed, until I took off for college, and thereafter during vacations. In those early years, I subjected my dad and brother to some ghastly combinations. I, and plums (!) that was so bad we all took one bite, laughed, and dumped it in the garbage.
In spite of that rocky beginning, I persevered and became a good cook. I read hundreds of cookbooks and books about food. At college in Providence, I had the opportunity to eat a range of foods, including Italian, Indian, Thai, Armenian, and Portuguese, that I never could have found in Louisville. One year I lived in a co-op house with 13 other students and we rotated cooking, which taught me how to feed a crowd and produced lots of instant feedback. These days, I get even more feedback from the readers of my blog, Herbivoracious.
Inspired by Ed BrownThe Tassajara Bread Book and Tassajara Cooking, I took a break from college and ended up at Green Gulch Farm, which, like Tassajara, is part of the San Francisco Zen Center. I spent several months working the fields of the stunning farm, which is nestled into a valley on the Marin County coast. I planted and later plucked potatoes, greens, and vegetables, which we would often eat that same day. Then I transferred to the kitchen, which was my first professional experience as a cook. Istill-warm vegetables with dirt clinging to their roots. I was hooked and transformed.
Life has its twists and turns, and I was drawn back into the world of software that I had been profoundly engaged with since the age of 14. I helped make dinosaurs and Terminators come to life at George Lucass Industrial Light & Magic and worked on an early interactive television system at Silicon Graphics; for the past 12 years, I've been at Adobe Systems.
Through all of that, the food bug never left. On vacations I ate my way through Japan, India, Italy, France, Holland, Mexico, and 48 of the United States as well. I dreamed of opening a restaurant. I continued to intern at restaurants, including Caf in Seattle and Dirt Candy in New York City. I started my blog, Herbivoracious, as an outlet for all of this passion, never imagining that it would be the beginning of a community of tens of thousands of readers who use and comment on the recipes and share their own ideas. The blog has become an incredible catalyst for me to refine and improve my cooking; I never want to post a dish that doesn't taste terrific and look beautiful on the plate.
Some Notes about Ingredients
Some Notes about Equipment
Appetizers and Small Dishes
Main Course Sandwiches and Tacos
Main Course Pasta and Noodle Dishes
Main Courses: From the Stovetop
Main Courses: From the Oven
Sauces, Condiments, and Basic Recipes
Posted August 5, 2012
Michael Natkin starts the book by recounting some of his memories about growing up in Kentucky when vegetarianism was nearly unheard of. The times surely have changed now and he mentions that “good vegetarian food is just good food, period.” I certainly remember when almost everyone I knew thought if there wasn’t meat in the meal, it wasn’t a “real” meal. I’m very glad that has changed! There’s nothing bland or boring about anything in Herbivoracious, all of the recipes are vibrantly colored and beautiful, using natural ingredients and fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. There are also many vegan and gluten free recipes for anyone who is in need of those. The dishes have gorgeous photos accompanying them, taken by the author, who has gained a lot of experience taking photos for his popular blog with the same title as his book. I loved the global influences, that’s really how my family likes to eat, so I was thrilled to find some new specialties. The two dishes I have tried so far are the Chana Masala (spiced chickpeas) with Mushrooms and the Chirashi (scattered) Sushi, which is served in a bowl. They are both based on favorite flavors of mine, and these dishes did not disappoint and were an exciting way for me to use these familiar ingredients in a new way. There is a wonderful variety of recipes in the book, giving it a very broad and interesting range and it is amazing to see how the author takes common ingredients and transforms them into culinary masterpices. I really enjoyed Herbivoracious; it is an inspiring way for me to look at food and see it’s potential in a whole new light.
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