If I ever find myself in San Francisco, I will have to make a pilgrimage to Greens Restaurant. The first Greens Cookbook has long been one of my very favorite cookbooks, and I eagerly awaited its two sequels. The publication dates of the three cookbooks are 1987, 1993, and 2003, so it would seem that a fourth cookbook might be appearing soon, but I can find no evidence that that is the case. I can wait, for I still have lots to mine from the three cookbooks that do exist.
As I imply above, I think The Greens Cookbook, by Deborah Madison with Edward Espe Brown, is one of the best of all possible cookbooks. Before even getting to the recipes themselves, I think the recipe layout in this book is beautiful: nothing gimmicky, just sleek and professional. (There are no pictures of the food, about which some Amazon reviewers complained, but which I do not find a problem.) I like the format so much that I have attempted to copy it (using Latex) for my own two very privately produced cookbooks. As for the contents of the recipes: not only can I cook anything from this book (as is true of any vegetarian cookbook), I want to cook almost everything herein! Over the years, I have tried recipe after recipe, and almost everything has been exceptionally good. This cookbook has two possible flaws: it is, after all, a restaurant cookbook, so many recipes are complicated, and the desserts are not that amazing. But then the recipes I tried might not have been as fabulous had the authors tried too much to simplify them for the home cook, and I have plenty of dessert cookbooks.
“Black Bean Chili” (page 109) seems to be everyone’s favorite Greens recipe; I have seen this recipe elsewhere on more than one occasion, although I must confess that it is not my favorite. I like to add a green pepper to the rather plain Greens combination of black beans, chiles, onions, tomatoes, and spices. A pinch of sugar also helps. However, this recipe really comes into its own as an ingredient. When I used to make this recipe, it would initiate the start of the black bean chili cycle: black bean chili one night, “Black Bean Enchiladas” (page 219) another night, “Black Bean Chilaquiles” (page 220) a third night, and if there was still some black bean chili left over, there was always the possibility of black bean chili macaroni and cheese. The chili freezes quite well, so the black bean chili cycle can be stretched over a month or more.
I have been trying recipes for chilaquiles lately, and have been dissatisfied with them, mainly because they all turned out too dry. Also, none could compare with my memory of the “Black Bean Chilaquiles” (page 220) from The Greens Cookbook. This recipe uses no short-cut bottled salsa and bags of tortilla chips; instead, the recipe has us make our own red sauce and fry our own corn tortillas for chips (although I did buy, not make, the corn tortillas that I fried). The sauce and chips are then layered with black bean chile and a not unreasonable amount of cheese. I do not know how the resulting dish compares to real Mexican chilaquiles, but I found the taste and texture close to perfect.
“Black Bean Enchiladas” (page 219) are the third element of the black bean chili cycle, and my favorite. I had not made these in a while and had forgotten how very good they are. I think we may start going through the black bean chili more frequently. To make these enchiladas, tortillas are lightly fried, then dipped into a tomatillo sauce, filled with black bean chili, and rolled up. They are covered with more tomatillo sauce, cheese, and then baked just until thoroughly hot, with the cheese melted.
“Many-Layered Crepe Cake” (page 272) is about as good as food gets. This dish consists of nine crepes, with layers in between of zucchini, of olives, and of cheese, each layer with a little bit of tomato sauce. Yes, this is time-consuming, but no one step is particularly complicated, and with the great taste, the taste to trouble ratio is still very high. Deborah gives us a tip for assembling the crepe cake: be sure to spread the filling all the way to the edge, or by the final layers the cake will droop all along the sides, and the final fillings must all be piled in the middle or fall off. This is easier said than done, and I found it helped to start by building up the fillings along the circumference.
“Baked Polenta Layered with Tomato, Fontina, and Gorgonzola” (page 197) has been a favorite in our house for many years. This is a very simple dish: put together a layer of cooked polenta, some white melting cheese, another layer of polenta, then top with tomato sauce and crumble blue cheese on top. These days I use tubes of ready-made polenta, although I have not yet stooped to using ready-made tomato sauce, it being easy enough to cook some onion and garlic in olive oil and add a can of tomatoes. Instead of Gorgonzola, I use Point Reyes blue cheese which even comes with a hechsher. I usually purée the tomato sauce, as the recipe directs, but when Alan served us an excellent version of this polenta, he did not purée the sauce, which I think was even better. [Go to the recipe.]
These are just a few of the many dishes that I have made, over the years, from The Greens Cookbook. The first truly successful pizzas I made came from following the Greens pizza recipes (pages 136-148). Although I no longer use the Greens crust, I am still inspired by their topping combinations, especially the goat cheese, olive, and sun-dried tomato topping. Deborah has recipes for a wonderful sorrel soup (page 73) and a sorrel tart (page 244); fortunately, Hiller’s sometimes has sorrel; unfortunately, they only have it for a few weeks in the late spring. “Cheese and Nut Loaf” (page 227) is a great choice for a vegetarian Thanksgiving, as I learned one year when Margie M served it for Thanksgiving. A sampling of some of the other recipes that I have made from this cookbook would have to include “Spinach, Cheese, and Tomato Lasagne” (page 168; too good!), “Mushroom Lasagne” (page 186), “Wide Green Noodles, Cauliflower, and Broccoli with Mustard Butter” (page 173), “Eggplant and Zucchini Timbale with Sweet Pepper Relish” (page 254), I”Potato Gordas” (page 288)… . I could continue listing great recipe after great recipe from this cookbook, but will now turn to its sequels.
Five years after The Greens Cookbook, the second cookbook from the restaurant, Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From The Celebrated Greens Restaurant appeared. The most notable difference between the two books is the new author: Annie Somerville, who replaced Deborah Madison at the restaurant, and who is still executive chef there (something of a record in restaurant chef longevity). The two cookbooks have the same publisher, the same type of green cover, the same size, and almost the same classic recipe layout. The type of recipes are also essentially the same in the two cookbooks. Somehow, though, this second volume is much less magical for me. The recipes are still very good, but I am not seized by the desire to keep cooking and cooking until I have tried everything.
There are several very similar lentil salads that I make. “Lentil salad with Curry Spices and Yogurt” (page 32) was interesting because it was actually different, the difference being the yogurt dressing, and to a lesser extent, the Indian spices: cumin, coriander, and tumeric. Otherwise, this salad was standard issue lentil salad: lentils, onion, carrot, and red bell pepper.
“Chick-Pea and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad” (page 30) proved popular at a neighborhood New Year’s party hosted by our wonderful neighbors Barb and Bernie B. I think that it is safe to assume that anything made with sun-dried tomatoes will be almost universally enjoyed. There was not much else in this salad besides the chickpeas and tomatoes; just a little bit of onion, garlic, and parsley, dressed with oil and vinegar. I erred in adding the parsley while the chickpeas were still hot; the parsley lost some color and crispness, but the salad was still good.
“Couscous Salad with Apricots, Pine Nuts, and Ginger” (page 36) was a nice combination of sweet and savory. For the sweet we have orange juice and dried fruit: apricots, currants, and raisins, and for the savory, onion. The other major ingredients, couscous, pine nuts, and ginger, can go either way, and so bring the sweet and savory together. This dish was not as popular as the chickpea salad, although there were a few people who preferred it.
I found “Mexican Lentil Soup with Roasted Garlic and Chilies” (page 101) good enough, but not really up to what I expect from these cookbooks. I used red lentils for this soup, which was what I happened to have in my cupboard. Red lentils are not the tastiest lentil variety, so perhaps another lentil would have improved this soup. The non-lentil ingredients are predictable: onion, the roasted garlic, tomatoes, a carrot, a bell pepper, and various herbs and spices, including both chipotle and ancho chilies. This reminded me of one of the lesser chilies offered at our local vegetarian restaurant, Seva.
All the listed ingredients in the title “Spinach Fettucine with Shiitake Mushrooms, Spinach, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes” (page 136) are ingredients that I like, so it was foreordained that I would like this pasta dish. Not listed in the title are garlic, white wine, and pine nuts, also ingredients of which I am quite fond. This is not even to mention the grated Parmesan cheese on top to finish. I suppose that I could try to put down this dish by saying that it was no more than the sum of its parts, but it is not easy for anything to be more than the sum of these particular parts.
My favorite non-chocolate scones and Danny’s favorite scones (period) are the “Orange-Pecan Scones” (page 350) from this cookbook. These scones use the juice and zest of one orange, currants, and pecans. I use white whole wheat flour instead of all white flour and quadruple the amount of pecans. I use the food processor, and process the pecans thoroughly with the flour to begin with, so that there are no big chunks of nuts. Like almost all scones, these freeze quite well, and are best warm. These scones have enough butter in them and enough taste that any additional spreads are completely unnecessary. [Go to the recipe.]
After another ten years pass, the third Greens cookbook, Everyday Greens comes out. (There seems to be a geometric progression here; according to my calculations, we should see the next Greens cookbook twenty years after the third, which will be in 2023). This is an expensive cookbook ($40 in 2003), and it is hard to see what the justification for this price is. The pages are a little thicker and slicker, and artist Mayumi Oda has provided illustrations (possibly watercolors, but not knowing about this sort of thing, I might be wrong), which have nothing to do with the recipes but are attractive enough. There is an obvious attempt to go from restaurant style cooking to home cooking in this book, but I did not find that there was that much of a difference in the fussiness or detail of the recipes. The recipes I tried were all very good, but not, I fear, very great.
One of the nice things about “Tomato Jam” (page 24) is that is uses cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are available in regular grocery stores year long, and and actually have some taste, as opposed to larger grocery store tomatoes (especially in winter). All you do is cook down the cherry tomatoes with some sugar, spices, lemon, and vinegar. I was afraid that the tomato skins would add an annoying texture, but they were not a problem. This condiment is supposed to be sweet; very ketchup-like. I would, however, have preferred less sugar. Annie’s suggestion to taste and add more vinegar if the jam is too sweet is less preferable to using less sugar to begin with, then adding more if you want more sweetness.
“Fennel and Parsley Salad with Meyer Lemons” (page 55) could not really be simpler. Thinly sliced fennel (for which I used my cheap fake mandoline) is combined with chopped parsley, Meyer lemon zest and juice, and a little bit of olive oil, with salt and pepper. I should have halved this recipe and used only one fennel bulb; my family ate it when they thought the fennel was cucumber, but when I told them it was fennel, they became distinctly less interested.
Everyone (except, of course, Henry) liked “Moroccan Chick-Pea Soup” (page 101), even though I used about twice the amount of chickpeas that I should have used, so my version was more chickpea and less soup. This is a fairly ordinary soup, with the chickpeas, onions, celery, tomatoes, and carrot, but there is a lot of ginger and what are supposed to be Moroccan spices: cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, and cinnamon. I will probably try this one again with fewer chickpeas (assuming that chickpeas are discrete enough to qualify for the use of “fewer” rather than “less”).
“Artichoke and Portobello Mushroom Lasagne” (page 227) made a large and heavy pan of lasagne (which I normally spell differently) that was strangely tasteless, or so I thought on first trying it. I think I was expecting taste fireworks, because when I ate this on subsequent occasions, without expecting much, I was quite satisfied (and even more satisfied when I topped the lasagne with some blue cheese before waving it). The recipe calls for fresh pasta sheets, which no doubt would have resulted in a better dish than the no-boil noodles that I used. The recipe also uses fresh artichokes. I dislike dealing with artichokes and so used Trader Joe’s frozen artichokes (the only frozen artichokes sold in Ann Arbor as far as I know), which I think are a reasonably good substitute for fresh artichokes, better than canned or jarred. This lasagne was good, but not good enough to make it onto my rotating lasagna (my spelling) line-up.
“Gingered Yams” (page 259) is a good sweet potato dish for those who think that they should eat sweet potatoes but do not like them that much (a category that includes me). (And here I will refrain from rambling on about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.) This is not your traditional Thanksgiving candied “yam” dish with marshmallows on top, and yet the sweet sweet potatoes do have a small amount of additional sweetener added. The fresh ginger serves both to complement and tame the cloying sweetness. At least one of my children ate these, enjoyed them, and then was surprised to learn that they had just eaten sweet potatoes (a sweet potato non-fan, like me). [Go to the recipe.]
Polenta with Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Deborah Madison, The Greens Cookbook
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
1⁄2 teaspoon dried basil
1 bay leaf
2 18-ounce tubes prepared polenta
8 ounces white melting cheese, grated
6 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
If you are planning to assemble and cook this dish in one fell swoop, preheat the oven to 400º. Obviously, if you are planning to assemble this dish, then cook it later, as I usually do, you do not preheat the oven at this point.
To make the tomato sauce, heat a little bit of oil in a pan, then add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion starts to brown. Add the garlic and cook a little longer. Then add the tomatoes, basil, bay leaf, salt to taste (start with ½ teaspoon), and pepper, also to taste. Simmer for about 30 minutes. You may then remove the bay leaf and blend in a blender, or leave the sauce chunky, as you choose.
To assemble the dish, slice the polenta into thick slices. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a little of the tomato sauce. Add half the polenta slices. Top with all the white cheese (and what kind of white cheese, you may ask: mozzarella, fontina, or whatever you like). Cover with a little more sauce, then the remaining slices of polenta. Cover with the rest of the sauce, and put the crumbled blue cheese on top. Bake for about 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.
Orange Currant Scones
Adapted from Annie Somerville, Fields of Greens
1 organic orange
1⁄2 cup currants
31⁄4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1⁄3 cup sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
11⁄4 cups pecans
1⁄2 cup butter
1 cup cream
1⁄2 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Grate the orange zest (or just peel it off, as you will be processing it). Squeeze the orange and soak the currants in the orange juice.
Put the orange zest, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and pecans in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the pecans are finally chopped. Cut the butter into chunks and add it to the flour mixture. Process until you have coarse crumbs. Transfer these processed ingredients to a large bowl.
Add the orange juice with currants, cream, and buttermilk to the flour mixture. Mix together until everything is combined; it might be useful to use your hands. Try not to overwork the dough. Form the dough into a circle and cut into 10 wedges. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Gingered Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Annie Somerville, Everyday Greens
2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
Cut a gash in the sweet potatoes with a knife (so that they do not explode) and bake in the oven until soft. The oven temperature doesn’t matter that much (any temperature between 350º and 450º should work), so if you are cooking something else just throw in the sweet potatoes. The time depends on how hot the oven is and how big the sweet potatoes are; the time will probably be at least 30 minutes but less than one hour. Test for doneness by squeezing the sweet potatoes.
Once the sweet potatoes are soft, scrape them out of their skins and mash with the rest of the ingredients.