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on March 12, 2013
Some of my favorite cookbooks are not those that the newest or most interesting recipes, but those that make me think differently about a whole class or category of food (think James Peterson's Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making or Diane Morgan's Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes). Vegetable Literacy does just that. Deborah Madison translates her years of experience with vegetarian cooking into a beautiful homage to vegetables.

One of the key premises of this book is that understanding the relationships between vegetables may influence the way you think about and use them. For example, the Knotweed family includes buckwheat, sorrel, and rhubarb. Knowing the relationship between these ingredients may inform your use of them. Thus, you may choose to add rhubarb to buckwheat muffins, knowing that the two share a phylogenetic family and thus have a natural affinity.

Vegetable Literacy is organized by vegetable family. Each member of the family is described in detail, with great information about appearance, history, and nutrients. The entry also includes excellent varieties to look for, information about using other portions of the plant, "kitchen wisdom," and other foods with which the vegetable pairs well.

In addition to all of this fantastic information about vegetables (both common and uncommon -- how much did I know about salsify before this book? Absolutely nothing), Vegetable Literacy contains some fantastic recipes. Armed with new knowledge about the relationships between vegetable families, I loved exploring some new flavor combinations. Thus far, I've tried several recipes from this book with excellent success. The Braised Endive with Gorgonzola is is amazing (I had it over polenta, as the author recommends). And I also love the Thick Marjoram Sauce with Capers and Green Olives (it's fantastic on bruschetta).

One thing to be aware of is that these recipes are (duh) very vegetable-centric. There are many salads, soups, sauces, appetizers, and vinaigrettes, but fewer recipes for hearty main dishes. Each of the recipes is designed to let the flavors of its vegetable ingredients truly shine. Personally, I love this approach, but readers looking for hearty vegetarian main courses might want to look elsewhere. Of course, the information in this book is easily applied to other recipes so you can branch out on your own.

Overall, Vegetable Literacy is an essential addition to any cook's bookshelf. Its recipes are only the beginning of what makes this such a valuable resource. After understanding the relationships between plant families and learning which vegetables naturally pair well with others, you will be well-suited to adapt your favorite recipes accordingly. Vegetable Literacy is not just a cookbook; it's a guide to understanding plant life and employing that knowledge in your kitchen. Enjoy!
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on March 13, 2013
I have long been a fan of Deborah Madison. I once had the opportunity to learn from her before the publication of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, my favorite cookbook until today. Her recipes are nothing short of brilliant, and she is a genuinely nice person to boot. Her recipes turn the humble vegetable into sparkling masterpieces. Her ingredients are well thought out, and each one serves to add an important flavor component to the dish. I have been making some of her recipes for 12 or so years, from Greens, etc. and they do not seem dated, they still stun with their uniqueness and freshness. Therefore I could not wait to get my hands on this book, and I am totally thrilled with it. It is, in my opinion, a master work, and is her most gorgeous book to date. The Broccoli Bites with Curried Mayonnaise for example are quick to make, taste wonderful, and left me wondering why I had not thought of doing that before! Ditto the tomato and cilantro soup with black quinoa.

Besides being an absolutely fabulous cookbook, this is a great reference book. Instead of going from A-Z (A is for Asparagus, etc.) as so many authors have done with vegetables, Madison does something pretty astounding, and classifies vegetables by family. Deborah, through years of cooking and gardening experience, has observed that vegetables in the same family can be used interchangeably in cooking, due to shared botanical characteristics. So it greatly helps with the mystery of why some substitutions work beautifully and why some leave your family saying eeeek! She consulted with Botanist to bring us a book that is fun to read and learn from. The book has beautiful photography as well as formatting, and as usual Madison has some truly inventive and delicious recipes. The scientist and cook in me wants to stop everything and just read this book cover to cover, then cook everything! Madison even has a beautiful green ribbon bookmark in the book! How cool is that?

I own a lot of cookbooks, and Deborah Madison's are my very favorite ones. They make everyone a better cook! Please do NOT assume that this is a book of interest only to vegetarians, since Madison is known for her vegetarian books, because every cook, from home chef to restaurant chef should treasure this book. We all need to eat a more diversified plant based diet, and how wonderful it is to have vegetables that are so amazing in taste that they put a good steak or roasted chicken sitting beside them to shame!

Here are the Families:
* The Carrot Family
* The Mint Family
* The Sunflower Family
* The Knotweed Family
* The Cabbage Family
* The Nightshade Family
* The Goosefoot and Amaranth Families
* The (former) Lily Family
* The Cucurbit Family
* The Grass Family
* The Legume Family
* The Morning Glory Family

And a few of the over 400 pages of recipes and information include:

* Salsify, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Burdock soup with Truffle Salt
* Cauliflower Soup with Coconut, Turmeric, and Lime
* Caraway Seed Cake
* Carrot Almond Cake with Ricotta Cream
* Orange and Rosemary Compote
* Rhubarb, Apple, and Berry Pandowdy
* Braised Cabbage with Chewy Fried Potatoes, Feta, and Dill
* Slivered Brussels Sprouts roasted with Shallots
* Smoky Kale and Potato Cakes
* Winter Stew of Braised Rutabagas with Carrots, Potatoes, and Parsley Sauce
* Kohlrabi Salad with Green Onions, Parsley, and Frizzy Mustard Greens
* A Fragrant Onion Tart
* Quick Bread of Rye, Emmer, and Corn
* Winter Squash Wedges or Rounds with Gorgonzola Butter and Crushed Walnuts.
* Blue Lake Beans with Shallots, Pistachios, and Marjoram
* Asian Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Butter
* Green Pea Fritters with Herb-Laced Crème Fraiche

Honestly, if I had the money, I would buy this for all my friends who like to cook!
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If you have created a vegetable garden, and worked it even just one year or worked it more years than you care to count, you will be hooked on this book by the second page of the introduction. It contains a wealth of information; so much information, that you should not wait for your local library to get a copy: You need it NOW, and you will refer to it way too often to have to rely on the library's copy. If you are considering putting in your first vegetable garden, or if you often buy from a farmers' market or a local produce stand, you need to order this book, too. You will love it and, not only will you cook its recipes; you will be able to create your own favorites from all the tips included.

If you buy your produce from the grocery store, you will find a lot of great recipes and a lot of information on unfamiliar edible plants, grains, grasses, herbs, beans and vegetables. But (I'd roughly estimate that) a fifth of the information provided will not be of value to the grocery-store-buyer, since the book provides information on varieties available and how to make use of all parts of the plant: From seedlings that you weed out, to leaf tops of edible roots, to roots of edible tops, to bolted stems and flowers, etc. In other words, parts of the plant that grocery-store-buyers don't often see. But, I'd bet good money that anyone who reads this book and doesn't have a garden, will be hurriedly searching for a sunny piece of earth in which to pitch a shovel!

I won't go into the great information that you can find by reading this product page on Amazon. Definitely take advantage of the "Look Inside" feature. And definitely take a look at Deborah Madison's other published books. I find it a waste of space to list chapters and covered topics and ingredients in a review when it's all there in the "Look Inside".

Deborah Madison has been writing quality cook books for ages. It was her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that helped me convince the men in my family that they were not going to die if there wasn't meat on the dinner plate (that was back in the 1990s). But the point I'm trying to make is this: Madison has vast experience with veggies, grains, grasses, herbs, and beans. She has the necessary expertise, writing style and refined taste buds to put together a valuable and worthwhile cook book.

What may not be obvious by browsing through the Contents and Index pages:

--Besides the main star ingredient, other ingredients that flavor the recipes are not hard to locate. They are not necessarily limited to everyday ingredients with which we are all familiar: For instance, if you don't already know ghee and miso paste, you will be introduced to it in some of these recipes.

--For most of the plants, you will find what I call a "food thesaurus" listing or section; "good companions" is what Madison calls them. You will have to remember those "companions" yourself, because they are not listed in the index.

--You won't find recipes where the featured vegetable is NOT the primary flavor. In other words, you won't find chicken, salmon, sausage recipes with accompanying veggies and herbs or sauces made of the highlighted veggie or herb. You might find fish and meats mentioned in the "Good Companions" listed, but, again, you won't find them listed in the index.

--This is not a vegan book: There are eggs, butter, cream and such. Actually, there are some very nice egg recipes. We've tried the egg salad with tarragon (I used Mexican tarragon, because that's what grows in my Southern garden and eggs from our own hens.)

--This is NOT a how-to-garden book. Although it does list some seed recommendations.

--This is NOT a book that is slanted towards where Madison lives and gardens in New Mexico. Meaning, you will not find information that is inappropriate for your area. (I think that is a great accomplishment on Madison's part: That she was able to make the book very personable, but still refrain from giving us information--stated as fact--that is unsuitable or different for the various parts of the U.S. (For instance, I must plant my summer squash and tomatoes in early March. My zukes are finished in June and my tomatoes are over in July. Your tomatoes may last until the first frost.) It is a pet peeve of mine that so many vegetable gardening cookbooks assume I have tomatoes in August...

--Cooking techniques are explained. And many, many techniques are employed: Steaming, sauteing, roasting, baking, grilling, braising and pressure cooking. If there are recipes for breaded and fried veggies, I don't remember seeing them. (Thank you for that!!!)

--There are so many fantastic and helpful tips: How about this one? The extra-long stem on an artichoke is meant to be used: Peel, slice, drop in acidulated water, then braise, saute, or toss them into a soup.

-- The simplicity of the recipes that forces the focus onto a specific vegetable, sort of reminds me of Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater. But I like this book a whole lot better because it is definitely slanted towards American ways, names, places, available ingredients, available seeds and measurements***. (Slater's book, while it is filled with wonderful recipes and ideas, is slanted towards a British audience.)

--***There is an adequate conversion chart of measurements at the very end of the book. Being on the last page, it is very easy to flip to. (It's a bit hard to read: Green ink and not a large type point size.)

--Unlike the two books by Lawson, this book does NOT have many photographs, as it is meant to be a wealth of information, not just pretty pictures to look at. (I think it could have used some more pictures, though. But then the book would have weighed a ton.) It is definitely not a coffee table book.

--There are many soup recipes--and that is important in our family. There are all kinds of salads, side dishes, and main dishes. Best of all: I'm very happy to see there are hardly any pasta recipes. They seem to be a dime a dozen these days...

--We've become fans of quite a lot of Asian greens lately--they do so well in our gardens; and of course some are mentioned in this book--bok choy and Chinese broccoli and perilla (shiso) to mention a few, but I will still be referring to my favorite Asian cook books (and the Kitazawa Seed catalog) for most of them.

I've only had this book a short few days, but we've already sampled several recipes. We cook from our garden, so I was kind of limited in the recipes I could choose from--it being mid-March in the Coastal Plains of Texas. But follows is a list of what I created so far, and the recipes have worked and so have the flavor combinations: Grilled Onions with Cinnamon Butter (using the first of the 1015 Texas Onions from down in the Valley); Braised Parsley Root (with the last from the garden--had to get them out to make room for two very special cherry tomatoes, both originating from further down south); Chard Soup with Cumin, Cilantro and Lime; and to use up two lonely rutabagas, I combined ideas from the Winter Stew of Braised Rutabagas Carrots, Potatoes and Parsley, and Rutabaga Soup with Gorgonzola Toasts.

I'm really looking forward to trying almost all the recipes in this book. And, much to my delight, we've got quite a few of those mentioned in this book already planted in our garden.
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on October 23, 2013
My jam-packed cookbook shelves already held four Deborah Madison cookbooks, and I figured that was enough. But the lure of the vegetable info hooked the gardener in me. I started reading Vegetable Literacy as a book, but quickly took it from coffee table to kitchen, and have been cooking from it all summer and into the fall. We tend to eat vegetarian with fish, seafood, or meat a few times per week, and the recipes complement that style of eating very well.

The recipes are relatively simple, clearly written, and very tasty. I've tried new ingredients--tempeh, coconut butter, and black quinoa come to mind. I've learned new techniques--for example, presoaking lentils and adding salt to beans at the start of cooking, which has done wonders for my black beans.

Some of my new go-to recipes from this book are the basic lentil recipe, Rio Zape Beans with salt-roasted tomatoes (can sub black beans), pan-fried tempeh with trimmings, which I serve with salsa and lettuce leaf wrappers, roasted asparagus with chopped egg, griddled eggplant rounds, and heirloom tomato quinoa soup. I've tried many others and enjoyed all.

I noticed another review that complained about lack of depth in the information on vegetables. I'd say this is a cookbook that gives extra insight into ingredients and a few tips on vegetable gardening. For a book that focusses on in-depth nutritional information on vegetables, I like "Eating on the Wild Side".
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on September 23, 2013
I got this from the library initially, since -- though I'm a fan of Deborah Madison's previous cookbooks -- I'm trying not to buy as many books as I used to. After browsing through it, I knew I had to buy a copy. I'm impressed not only with the recipes in Vegetable Literacy, but with the copious information on specific vegetables and vegetable families.
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on May 23, 2013
This is my first Deborah Madison cookbook, but it won't be my last. It's beautifully photographed and the recipes I've tried so far have been simple to prepare and very good. The Red Lentil and Coconut Soup is a standout; it is textbook comfort food, but it feels nourishing instead of overindulgent. I also really liked the Peanut and Sweet Potato Soup, and the Roasted Asparagus with Chopped Egg, Torn Bread, and Red Wine Vinegar. I'd especially recommend Vegetable Literacy to anyone who receives CSA shares or shops at the farmers' market - it's an inspiring resource for figuring out how to use all kinds of produce.
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on March 12, 2014
This cookbook is perfect for anyone looking to make more vegetable-centric meals, or meals where the vegetables are really the impressive focus and the meat secondary. The recipes are not exclusively vegetarian, but most are. I am not a vegetarian, but have been looking for ways to enhance vegetable-centered meals and this cookbook has been perfect. Covers an impressive array of veggies and preparations. This is a unique cookbook that would enhance anyone's cookbook library, I completely recommend!
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on April 14, 2013
My first exposure to this book was a review in the Washington Post Food section. The recipe for the carrot almond cake with ricotta cream was included in the article. I baked it (easy to follow instructions) and the cake was outstanding. Bought the book based on this cake. Each chapter discusses a "family" of veggies and then also lists other veggies/condiments/foods that will compliment. I used the suggestion of adding mustard to brussel sprouts (1 teaspoon mustard to a pound of shredded sprouts). Sounds disgusting, right? No, the mustard actually brightened the taste of the sprouts and was not overpowered by my miniscule mustard addition.

There are some greens/veggies included I am not familiar with, however, the descriptions and recipes of familiar veggies far outweigh the unknowns.

I am planning my future menus to incorporate and explore these recipes. I never thought I would be excited about vegetables.

My only complaint is her use of "coconut butter". Maybe I haven't found the explanation/description yet (she does list her standard cooking ingredients at the beginning of the book). Perhaps, I will find it as I get deeper into the book. I do use coconut oil and coconut cream concentrate so I will experiment until I find the description.
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on September 22, 2014
I'm not as excited about this book as I was Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I expected more recipes. However, I should have read the reviews of Vegetable Literacy more carefully. It's more about vegetables than cooking.
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on December 22, 2014
The recipes are nice, relatively tasty and pretty straightforward. The information on the difference families and vegetables is also interesting. However, few of the recipes would really make a meal on their own and there are a preponderance of salad recipes. Makes the whole book not nearly as interesting as I was hoping when I first bought it.
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