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Vegetables - Cookbook Review

A-Z of Green

By James Peterson

(Ten Speed Press, Revised Edition 2012)


Vegetables by James Peterson

First published in 1998, James Peterson's award-winning ode to veggies is back in an updated package to once again enlighten carnivorous-leaning cooks to the pleasures of parsnips, peas, plantains and over 90 other entries. Part cookbook, part instructional manual and part field guide to the exotic booths of farmers markets, Vegetables, in essence, presents a "master class" on identifying, selecting and preparing plant matter of all shapes and sizes.

Beginning with a crash course of sorts through the various preparation techniques needed to master the 300-odd recipes found peppered throughout the book, Vegetables opens the readers' eyes to a new way of viewing even the most mundane of foods. From basics like boiling, chopping and pan-frying, Peterson quickly moves into less familiar territory, explaining the differences between "sweating" and sautéing, gratins and casseroles.

However, the real "meat" of the book is the vegetables themselves — how to pick them, where to find them and, most importantly, how to turn them into delicious dishes. Peterson's deep appreciation — and extensive knowledge — of veggies shines through as he waxes philosophical on the French distaste for rutabaga and his own love of toasted nori seaweed. From common crisper sights like carrots and broccoli to true oddities like fiddlehead ferns and lamb's quarters (vegetarians need not worry — it's actually a leafy green), Peterson leaves no turnip leaf unturned as he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of the vegetable world. While a good deal of the entries will be unfamiliar to the reader (fuzzy melon, anyone?), the author also does a good job presenting easy-to-find foods in an interesting light. Recognizing the limited means and time constraints of many home cooks, Peterson includes advice on common kitchen problems, such as how to flavor frozen peas and how to save energy when baking potatoes.

As for the recipes themselves, Peterson does a good job of showcasing homestyle favorites alongside more adventurous forays into foreign flavors utilizing lesser-known vegetables. At the core of each dish, though, is an emphasis on fresh ingredients and preparation methods that allow the featured food item to take center stage. Although the majority of recipes are vegetarian, meat-lovers will be happy to know that they have not been forgotten, with decadent dishes like Baked Morels Stuffed with Foie Gras and Kale with Garlic and Sausages finding a home amongst the healthier fare. However, whether you're a diehard vegan or hate the sight of anything green on your plate, we're sure you'll find more than a few happy surprises within the pages of Vegetables.

Reviewed by Nick Winfrey

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