WITH MONTHS OF GARDEN HARVESTS and farm markets ahead and “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” recently out, I rang up Deborah Madison from her New Mexico garden to talk fresh food ideas. Share in her wisdom about the goal of mastering just a few dishes; about learning to cook in a nonlinear fashion; or on making quick stocks—including from your bean-cooking water.
Last time we spoke, Deborah’s high-desert garden had been suffering without rain. “It’s the same this year, sadly: severe drought,” she said. “I do have some things up, though. My sorrel plant is up, and lovage, tarragon, salad burnet and chives—the little green things that you’re so grateful for.”
The latest edition, updating 1997’s bestselling, award-winning “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” has more than 150 new recipes, among an impressive 1,600 in a massive volume. Expect to take many delicious detours—even when the subject is something as seemingly simple as barley (five variations are offered) or mashed potatoes. Whip them up plain (Deborah includes a pinch of nutmeg with the more-expected ingredients), or with saffron, with basil puree, with roasted garlic, with herbs and olive oil, or with root vegetables.
In our conversation on my latest radio show and podcast, we discussed how vegetarian cooking has evolved, her signature dishes, and more. Be sure not to miss the question and answer about the other meaning of “food with a face” below:
the q&a with deborah madison
It was a long time ago—maybe 1988—and it was a weeklong class, teaching people everything about cooking. We made vinaigrettes, we made bread, we made salads, we made soup, pasta. When I got done, I thought, “I wish there was a vegetarian ‘Joy of Cooking.’” So I had to write it, and it took a long time.
Q. When I spoke to Mollie Katzen not long ago, we were discussing what had changed in the years since her first book, and she said: “Two words: Olive oil.” [Laughter.]
What words would you choose to describe what has changed since your original “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.”
A. I think a lot of things have changed, and olive oil is one—and that’s a whole topic in itself. But we also have coconut oil, which we didn’t used to use. We have all these wonderful condiments: smoked paprika, truffle salt, smoked salt—these are things that can totally turn a dish around, especially in the winter, when you need a little boost.
We have ancient grains, like faro, or einkorn—maybe they’ve been around since the dawn of agriculture, but we haven’t been using them.
We make no-knead bread, we make kale into salads—those are both new things.
Q. Did you take out ingredients from the original edition, for the new one?
Yes, I took out ingredients–like canola oil, corn oil and soy oil. I’ve never thought they were very high-quality oils, but I was always tempted if you were making a coffee cake, for instance, and it has cornmeal in it, to go to the corn oil. But actually I don’t think it’s that delicious an oil, and it’s probably GMO.
Canola, even when it’s organic and not GMO, always seemed rancid to me. And soy oil is very unstable. Why even talk about these things now, I thought—so I just took them out.
Q. Has your kitchen changed, too? Devices and such?
I’ve never been a big heavy-equipment user. I didn’t even have a food processor—it broke and I never replaced it. I use a little 4-cup one occasionally, and a blender—and my KitchenAid. My kitchen is small, and I have no idea what’s current in equipment. Where would I put it? I keep it simple.
Q. You have an anecdote in the book intro about how some vegetarians say, “I don’t eat anything with a face…” and then the Japanese twist on that. I loved that–can you tell us?
The Japanese do want to eat food with a face—but by which is meant provenance, as in: “What is the story of this food?” For instance, if I’m looking at a lovage plant in the garden, so if I put that in a salad—what is lovage? Oh, it’s related to osha [Ligusticum poteri], which is this real curative herb, and it looks like parsley, and it was grown in English gardens, and there’s this whole story around the one plant—and it’s the story of the plant or food, that gives food a “face” in this other sense. To me that’s the most exciting thing.
You don’t want “general foods.”
Q. Upper-case G and F or lower case, right? [Laughter.]
A. One example of this comes in the summer when we sit down to a meal and it comes from the farmer’s market, and we know who grew it. We might even know where exactly it was grown—or you go to your garden and that’s even more intense. Those kind of experiences make food more than just food.
Q. I so loved the page up front in the book, the section called “Making it Possible.” One of the tips in the list was to “learn to work in a nonlinear fashion,” which really made me laugh. That’s, of course, what cooking is all about.
A. And it’s so not that way when you watch it on TV. Everything is prepped, and it’s in little containers, because it’s not done in the real time that you and I cook dinner. Cooking doesn’t go in a straight line; it meanders. If you know it’s going to take 15 minutes for your onions to soften and get a little color, start with those and use that time to prep the other ingredients for that dish, or make another dish altogether.
Q. Another of the tips you share: “Learn to make a few things well.” What are the ones that are truly yours, Deborah?
This will sound outrageous, but: a soufflé. Souffles are easy to make, and are so dramatic, and delicious, and so light. Sometimes I put spinach form the garden or chard in it.
I’m a good salad person—I love turning vegetables into salads.
Vegetable ragouts, sort of sautéed with a little reduction so you get a broth—that’s something I tend toward very naturally.
There are some things I don’t have a feel for—like I am not very good at making stir-fries; it’s just not something I particularly like to make. That’s something that’s weak for me, and it always will be—and that’s OK.
I seldom make an elaborate stock any more. I will with mushrooms—because you can make such a formidable mushroom stock (and you can even buy a pretty good one now, which wasn’t true when the original book came out).
But the quick stock to me is not a stock in the sense that it’s a broth that you would sit down and drink with a little pasta in it, for instance. It’s more of a deepening of the elements that are already there, so for example:
If you’re making a celery-root soup with leeks and potatoes, I’d definitely use the celery-root skins, the leek trimmings, the potato peels if I were peeling them—and simmer them for about 25 minutes, by which time you’re usually ready to add your liquid to the soup.
It’s just drawing more flavor out of the ingredients you’re already using, and underscoring it. And if I’m doing this dish with parsley—the parsley stems might well go in that stock, too.
It’s not just flavor—you’re pulling nutrients, too; you’re using all of the vegetables that way.
This is very expedient, and I like the satisfaction of using everything—and I do think it adds a layer of flavor.
A. Potato water is great for making breads, too. And one of the recipes I did add to the new edition is for a bean broth. If you’ve cooked your beans yourself, you have this lovely liquid, and especially if you’ve cooked them with some sage and garlic and a little olive oil and a bay leaf, it’s going to have some flavor.
I figure one of the great advantages of cooking your own beans is that you have this to work with—you can use it as the basis of a soup, and the new book even includes a recipe for Rice Cooked in Black Bean Broth.
how to win the cookbook
I’VE BOUGHT TWO EXTRA COPIES of Deborah Madison’s “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” to share with you. [UPDATE: The giveaway ended on May 11, 2014, though your comments are still welcome] All you have to do to enter is answer this question in the comments box at the very bottom of the page–under all the other comments.
Do you make stock, or otherwise use your trimmings, bean water, potato water and such?
You can just say, “Count me in,” or something like that, but an answer is better. I’ll pick the winners after entries close at midnight Sunday, May 11th. Good luck to all. United States and Canada only.
Or: order the book now, from Amazon.
(Author photo by Aya Brackett; cover from 10 Speed Press. Other photos from A Way to Garden.)
prefer the podcast?
DEBORAH MADISON and I talked cooking on the latest radio podcast. You can listen anywhere, anytime: Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio on Monday at 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. It is available free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The May 5, 2014 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show marks the start of its fifth year in March, and is syndicated via PRX.
(Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links that yield a small commission used to purchase books for future giveaways.)