Today, living a vegetarian lifestyle is not so unusual or difficult to do. There are resources aplenty – websites, cookbooks, magazines, and blogs – focused solely on vegetarian and/or vegan cooking . However, 30 or 40 years ago, you might’ve been hard-pressed to find anything more appetizing than a baked potato or steamed broccoli for vegetarian options in most restaurants. Thankfully, even back then, a collection of chefs, home cooks, and cookbook authors were blazing the trail for vegetarians to come. Joe Yonan is a Splendid Table contributor and food editor for The Washington Post. He recently spoke with managing producer Sally Swift about three classic vegetarian cookbooks that he considers essential for modern cooks. You can also try Joe’s recipe for Peasant’s Bowl, a satisfying dish of cheese beans and rice.
Sally Swift: You are a recent vegetarian, and you’re in this unusual situation in that you see probably every book published in your job at The Washington Post. What are the vegetarian books that you use at home?
JY: I've been a vegetarian for -- it'll be five years soon.
SS: That happened fast!
JY: Five years go by fast. It’s true there are great vegetarian books coming out all the time, but a lot of the ones I turn to time and time again are much older. They are fascinating books that feel modern, but they are decades old. I'm thinking particularly about one called Ten Talents.
SS: I have never heard of Ten Talents.
JY: It’s a book written by Rosalie Hurd and her husband [Frank]. They’re Seventh-day Adventist and named the book after a quote from the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist church, which is wonderful; I have to read it to you. Ellen White wrote, "The one who understands the art of properly preparing food, and who uses this knowledge, is worthy of higher commendation than those engaged in any other line of work. This talent should be regarded as equal in value to ten talents." Isn't that wonderful?
SS: That is wonderful.
JY: I learned about the book from my sister; she lives in Maine and is a vegetarian going way back. I had seen the book on her bookshelf, and I looked at it. It’s a relatively recent adaptation, an updated edition of the book that has photos. I have to warn people, if they buy the latest edition of the book, the photos are regrettable. I was making fun of the book, as I do with some of the things from my sister's old hippie lifestyle, and then she made me some things that I thought were wonderful. I asked her, "Where did this come from? Where did you get this recipe?" There was this beautiful walnut oat burger she made that was fantastic. She said it was from Ten Talents. After that happened three or four times, I thought that I should look a little more closely at this book. It’s a very interesting book.
SS: The book is spiral-bound and looks almost like a community church book; it is hefty.
JY: Yes, it's very thick once they added all those regrettable photos. [laughs]
SS: What else is on your list that you go back to?
JY: The next important one was the Moosewood Cookbook from Mollie Katzen. She wrote this in the 1970s as a spiral-bound book. It was basically her hand-lettered recipes and drawings when she was one of the cooks at the Moosewood Collective restaurant in Ithaca, New York. She got so many requests for them – and she was mailing them all around – that Ten Speed Press finally approached her about publishing it. It became one of the best-selling cooking books of all time.
SS: And it's still in print?
JY: There are millions of copies still in print. In 2014, she updated it with the 40th Anniversary Edition. She went through and lightened some of the recipes. She cleaned up the hand lettering, which I think is very funny. But it's not printed in typography; it's still hand-lettered. These are the dishes that they served in the restaurant when she was there. I still make some things out of it. She was doing pizza with a zucchini crust decades before you heard of these cauliflower crust pizzas that people are doing today. She's got lots of great info in there. I still think about one thing she says about salads: "The benefactor with the oil, a miser with the vinegar, a poet with the salt and a demon with the pepper."
SS: Oh, the 1970's. It’s great advice!
JY: I just love that.
SS: Is there a vegetarian book that you think of as your Joy of Cooking or your large companion?
JY: Absolutely. That is Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is an incredible book. The original edition had 1,200 recipes. She added a couple hundred recipes when she updated it in 2014. There's not one photo in the book, which I don't mind with a book like this because it is a companion. This is one of those books that if you are vegetarian – or you want to eat more vegetarian meals – and you were to get only one book, this is the book that you should get. It's absolutely brilliant.
SS: It's my resource. You need to look up rice? You can look up rice, and you get wild rice, black rice, white rice. It is an amazing book.
It's interesting because two of the people that you talked about are not vegetarians. Mollie Katzen is not a vegetarian, nor is Deborah Madison.
JY: That's right. Isn't that interesting? They eat mostly vegetarian, but they're not purists about it. This will probably get me in trouble, but I think that the fact that they aren't vegetarian might possibly be one of the reasons why they create food that's appealing for everybody.
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