on May 2, 2012
I'll be honest - even though I've been vegetarian for many years, I almost never buy or read vegetarian cookbooks. Too many of them are earthy-crunchy, stuck in the '70's, and bland. They assume that if you're vegetarian, you're also a dour, self-denying, fat-free health nut who could never truly enjoy food.
Enter Michael Natkin and his Herbivoracious blog, and now this cookbook. He LOVES good food, and it shows! The photos are gorgeous, the recipes are just packed with interesting flavors from around the world, and there's not a lentil loaf or gloppy casserole to be found. This is the perfect book for any adventurous eater or cook, vegetarian or not. In fact, it would be a great gift for the foodie friend who's never quite sure what to make for the vegetarians in his/her life.
Some of my favorites so far are the Thai Tofu Salad, Iraqi-Jewish Eggplant Sandwich, Chermoula-Stuffed Eggplant, and my two all-time favorites, Sicilian Spaghetti with Pan-Roasted Cauliflower and Rice Vermicelli with Ginger-Grapefruit Sauce. I used to dislike both grapefruit and cauliflower, and these recipes actually converted me to loving them. I am seriously thinking of cooking my way straight through the book, "Julie & Julia"-style.
If I had to register a criticism, it would be that many of the recipes call for unusual ingredients that require a trip to various ethnic markets. But that's just part of the adventure, and if you're not willing to try a crazy new flavor or two, then you might as well stick with your beige '70's recipes. Also, substitutions are often noted if you truly can't find an ingredient.
My favorite quote from the book: "I like to think that being mindful of the implications of what one cooks and eats is not an _ascetic_ practice but an _aesthetic_ pleasure." Bravo, Michael, and bon appetit!
on May 2, 2012
Michael Natkin has had his blog since 2007. I stumbled across it sometime in November or December 2007. The photography needed some help and the writing could be a little clunky (then), but here was a blog where I could learn about dragonfruit, umami, and gremolata from someone who knew a lot about food but wasn't a snob. There was something, some passion for ingredients and the joy and craft of food, that kept me coming back to his blog. Over the past few years, Natkin has tweaked his recipes, experimented with new ingredients, tasted his way through Israel, staged at several restaurants, and polished his presentation. This book, Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes - so much more than a cook book - is but one product of many labors of the heart, and it's a fine, fine first formal product.
There are recipes, to be sure, and they are colorful and flavorful, bright and comforting, exotic and familiar. His photography is beautiful, his writing careful but easygoing and creative. In the cutthroat world of "want it now," easily-accessible recipe websites, a cable channel with millions in marketing and bright fresh cooking wall-to-wall 24/7, there has to be more than flash and color. This collection has it all going on. This collection has two things that flashy web sites and thousands of other cook books do not. First, Natkin's recipes have essential appeal that is neither about cramming too much action into them (olive oil! butter! pancetta! All at once!) nor about removing an ingredient (meat) and building around the hole. Natkin's recipes are simple and elegant, even when they are humble. One of the best features of his blog has been how the five elements of taste complement one another, and which foods give those tastes. The recipes here use just those pieces. In the Corn and Tomato Confit Risotto, for example (someone else mentioned this recipe), textures and tastes add up to a synergystic whole: the snap of the corn and creaminess of the risotto, the sweetness of the confit balanced with the saltiness of risotto. Second, the recipes are accessible. Many of the recipes have prep times less than an hour, and many of those less than half an hour. The directions are clear and make no assumptions about what you can do. Sprinkled throughout the book are snippets of knowledgeable but relaxed commentary - one of the best elements of his blog, too - on where to find ingredients, the history of a dish, how to select fruits or veggies. The result is a collection of recipes that leave you learning about the food you're preparing and eating. His passion for the food is infectious.
In the same way that my Moosewood cookbooks became my go-to cookbooks in the 1990s, as I was just learning to really cook (not just assemble food), this book is destined for a reserved place on my shelf and a frequent place on my countertops as I happily try new recipes. It's such hit-and-miss with cookbooks out there. This one is all hits.
As a "flexitarian", I've found that many vegetarian recipes I've tried are a bit dull and not all that appetizing. The kind of entrees that I eat not because I really enjoy them but rather because I know intellectually it's better for the environment, my budget, and my health to limit my consumption of meat/poultry/fish. I was therefore very pleased to find that "Herbivoracious" is chock-full of truly scrumptious recipes. It truly lives up to its subtitle of being "vibrant" and "original".
The reasons why I've decided to give it 4 rather than 5 stars are:
(1) many of the ingredients are relatively obscure and can be hard to find. I love to cook and while I wouldn't call myself exactly a "foodie", I was surprised to see how many things in "Herbivoracious" that I had never before heard of. Pomegranate molasses? Genmaicha tea? Scamorza cheese? Fregola sarda pasta? Ras el banout spice mixture? Amba (pickled mango)? Achiote paste? Umeboshi plum paste? Berbere spice mix? Sumac powder? Dried pasilla? Kochujang paste? Purple cauliflower? There were a number of interesting-sounding recipes that I simply could not try because I wasn't about to spend a bunch of time and money trying to track down these oddball ingredients.
(2) NO NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION!!!!! This is probably the biggest problem I had with "Herbivoracious". I'm not making vegetarian cuisine because I have some ethical problem with meat consumption. No, a major reason I'm eating tofu instead of steak is because 4 oz. of tofu has only 94 kcal and 5 grams fat vs. 230 kcal and 11 g fat for 4 oz. of porterhouse. I lost 20% of my bodyweight a decade ago and I'm trying to keep that off. With a few exceptions (nuts, olive oil, avocados, etc.) plant foods tend to have a much more favorable nutrient density, packing a lot of nutrition without a lot of calories & fat. But I still want to know how many calories I'm consuming so that I don't accidentally overdo it.
-Tomato Chickpea Soup (pg. 72) The recipe was simple, but the results were surprisingly rich.
-Shiitake Tacos with Asian Pear Slaw (pg. 114) I was a bit skeptical because it seemed rather oddball fusion but it was super-tasty. Definitely not your same old veggie stir fry!
-Chiang Mai Curry Noodles (pg. 139) Spicy but delicious. I am not a huge tofu fan but I loved this.
-Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans and Tofu (pg. 149) Another recipe that actually made tofu taste really good.
-Grilled Tofu & Pepper Tacos (pg. 169) Yet another surprisingly good tofu recipe.
-Buckwheat Buttermilk Pancakes (pg. 244) Very fluffy and good. My 9 y.o. thought they were a little dry but I didn't think so.
-Black Bean Soup with Orange-Jalapeno Salsa (pg. 76) The soup was a bit bland. It tasted much better when I added some chicken broth (I didn't have any veggie bouillon on hand but I would imagine that would perk it up as well).
-Spicy Corn and Potato Stew (pg. 79) Way too spicy for my tastes. I added some extra lime and also some brown sugar to cut the heat, and then it was really good.
-Bocoles with Spicy Sweet Potatoes (pg. 156) The bocoles were super-tasty but heavy (presumably from being fried in oil) and the sweet potato filling was too spicy for my tastes. I added brown sugar to cut the heat and then it was very tasty.
-Chana Masala with Mushrooms (pg. 166) Again too spicy and better when I added more tomatoes and a bit of sugar to cut the heat.
-Crispy Polenta Cakes with White Beans and Morels (pg. 154) Too bland.
-Chili Borracho (pg. 170) This retained too much beer flavor even after I cooked it for an hour longer than the recipe called for.
One thing I really liked about "Herbivoracious" was the clear labeling of recipes that are vegan, gluten-free, or that have a GF and/or vegan option. My youngest child is on a gluten- and dairy-free diet so I appreciated being able to easily tell which recipes would work for her dietary needs.
on May 2, 2012
As a devout meat-eater-recently-turned-vegetarian, I was skeptical about a world without meat. Most cooks feel that vegetables can play only a supporting role for a meat-based dish and few chefs (professional or otherwise) treat them with the respect they deserve.
I stand corrected.
This is an absolutely brilliant collection, inspiring in its diversity and pursuit of maximum flavor. In some recipes, a main ingredient is allowed to be itself and shine, in other cases, it's a single voice in a larger chorus of flavors. There's a sampling from just about any type of cuisine I can think of and that there are even "meatless" versions of traditional dishes.
It's clear the design of the book is for people who actually cook and written by someone who genuinely enjoys cooking. Legible in presentation and practical in procedure and commentary.
on April 13, 2012
After following the Herbivoracious blog for some time now, I am thrilled to have this gorgeous cookbook in my hands! This book is beautifully presented, with great photos, wonderful recipes, and is sure to become one of my favorite cookbooks.
So far, I haven't made a recipe that I didn't like. A few of my favorite recipes include Shitake tacos with Asian Pear Slaw, Corn and Tomato Confit Risotto (especially delicious), and the Chickpea and Green Olive Tagine.
on May 2, 2012
When Herbivoracious arrived, I was overwhelmed with just how big, beautiful, colorful, and packed with variety it is. It is huge!
Descriptions of the recipes, and snippets of cooking philosophy are written in a smart, casual, personal, and inviting way.
The recipes themselves vary from quick and simple, to as complicated as you like, with many steps and some unusual ingredients.
Eight dinner guests were wowed by, and unanimously demanded the recipe for, Chana Masala with Mushrooms, which is full of vibrant flavors from whole spice seeds. Each bite is full of surprises. I told them all to buy the book!
I've tried several other recipes in the two weeks I've had the book and what all the recipes have in common is intensity of flavor, and focus on umami. As a non-vegetarian, I always think I'm going to need chicken broth or sausage or something to get that richness, but this cookbook showed me that's completely unnecessary. Nori infused butter, which Michael may have invented, is a revelation when brushed on asparagus. In fact, I plan to brush it on absolutely everything from now on.
on May 3, 2012
I am so thrilled that I bought this cookbook! I am not a vegetarian, but that didn't stop me from wanting this book. The recipes are fabulous and we have already made many meals from it. So far an all time favorite is the potato and green bean salad with arugula pesto. We made it for a dinner party and everyone was raving! Another aspect I really love about this cookbook is the photos. Michael also has many notes within the book that make it even better. If you are looking for a cookbook, this is the one for you, the food is delicious, pictures are amazing and recipes are easy to follow.
on May 2, 2012
I am unrepentantly NOT a vegetarian, but I've followed Michael's blog, Herbivoracious, for at least a couple of years now. When he announced he was producing a cookbook, I confess I squeed like a little girl, and pre-ordered it as soon as I was able. It recently arrived, and I couldn't be more pleased with it.
This book is LAVISH. It has everything you could want. Gorgeous pictures (taken by Michael himself), tips and tricks about ingredients, tools and techniques, and did I mention the food?
Every recipe in this book is honed to perfection by Michael's talent for combining flavors, colors and textures. The Sicilian spaghetti with pan roasted cauliflower (page 175), is the first thing I made out of the book (though by far not the first, or even dozenth, of his recipes I have tried), and it is one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. I'll be making this for dinner parties!
The layout of the book is very user-friendly, being broken down into sections like "breakfast," "side dishes" and "main courses from the oven," making it easy to find what you want or need. There's even a section for sauces, condiments and basic recipes such as pie crust. Basically, there's a recipe for any occasion, and many of them are even vegan.
Whether you're a vegetarian or a "carnivore who also happens to love veggies" (which would be me), if you like to cook, you want this book in your kitchen. Seriously, go buy it now. :)
on May 4, 2012
Yay! I've been reading and cooking from Michael Natkin's blog, Herbivoracious, for a couple of years now. His recipes are delicious, fresh, and never too complicated. Some are downright easy. The 5-minute Indian-style cabbage is a weekly favorite! His new book, by the same name, is fabulous. Not only is it filled with more tasty recipes, but his photos (yes he did the photography also) are amazingly bright and colorful. As a longtime vegetarian with a bit of a cookbook addiction, this book satisfies all around. It has great recipes, beautiful photos, and interesting/informative reading. I just love it and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to cook!
on May 30, 2012
As a cookbook author and as someone who teaches culinary writing, I see a lot of cookbooks. This one gently and persuasively raises the bar --- on cookbooks in general and vegetarian cookbooks in particular.
Few cookbooks have true originality on all fronts. This one does. It offers not only recipes, each with some new twist, sometimes many(I especially like his Asian-influenced dishes) but techniques (like how to do in-kitchen smoking of various ingredients). There's info on unusual ingredients (sumac, glucose powder, xanthan gum) and, throughout, big bold sparkling fearless flavors, in dish after dish.
This is so not the same-old same-old --- I've been looking for a vegetarian banh xeo recipe (crisp rice flour crepes) for awhile --- had been kind of making it as I went along. Well, there's one here I can't WAIT to try. Michael Natkin gets the small points (how using fresh, rather than fried, tofu will alter a dish) , as well as the large (to plan a meal, start with the culture --- or a base ingredient, or what's fresh). There are lots of good talkative sidebars, and plenty of attitude. He also empowers readers; not only through clear explication of the variables, but by letting them know the obvious, missed by so many: that taste is taste, and you should follow yours.
Natkin has a definite voice: clear, identifiable, interesting, informed, personable. This is the first cookbook in some time that doesn't just give me vaguely good ideas, but makes me want to get into the kitchen and start cooking, following recipes, step by step and ingredient by ingredient. For those who love or need visuals, there are also plenty of excellent photographs, taken by the author. And, each recipe is clearly identified as to whether it's gluten-free, vegan, vegan variation-able; lacto-ovo is the default.