We have recently had two not completely satisfactory weeks at Cookbook Cornucopia. Wee Wee Food just wasn’t that good, and for Louisville: Then and Now we ended up with good food, but it required some effort to dig out acceptable vegetarian recipes from two very meaty cookbooks. Thus, when thinking of what to cook this week, I wanted reliably good vegetarian recipes. And so I ended up grabbing three of Deborah Madison’s cookbooks. Although I have found Deborah’s recipes rarely to be stunning, they are always good, usually not too complicated, and indubitably healthy.
Deborah’s tofu book, This Can’t Be Tofu!: 75 Recipes to Cook Something You Never Thought You Would–and Love Every Bite is a thin paperback. It is not a strictly vegetarian cookbook, there being some fish recipes, but no true meat recipes. It seems that Deborah expands her definition of tofu to include soy milk, for she has several recipes for smoothies using only soy milk. I ended up picking only salad recipes from this book. Some of the hot dishes looked tempting, but neither of the other two books from which I was cooking had much in the way of salads.
Using crumbled tofu instead of chopped hard boiled eggs to make a fake egg salad is not a new idea. If you are truly avoiding eggs, you also have to use a fake mayonnaise. Deborah is not avoiding eggs, so she combines eggs and tofu and uses real mayonnaise in her “Tofu Salad Sandwich Filling” (page 42). This was a tasty little salad with a nice texture, but I could not keep from wondering what the purpose of the tofu was. More eggs instead of tofu would have definitely been tastier, and maybe even healthier and cheaper.
“Spinach and Sesame Tofu Salad with Pickled Ginger” (page 34) is made up of cooked spinach in a powerful dressing topped with silken tofu and sesame seeds. Deborah uses mustard in her dressing, but I had some powdered wasabi and so I used that instead. I forgot to top with pickled ginger, which would have been a nice touch. But even without the pickled ginger, this was a very good salad, with excellent slippery textures from both the tofu and spinach. [Go to the recipe.]
I have not always been satisfied with soba noodles, although I do not know if it is the type I get or the way I cook them. They usually end up too gummy, and I am not sure that I like their taste. But this did not deter me from trying “Chilled Soba with Soft Tofu and Soy-Sesame Sauce” (page 99). Happily, this dish turned out fine, and none of my soba problems materialized. I tried to avoid gumminess by rinsing the cooked noodles well, and the liquidy oily dressing probably helped matters also. As for the taste, I tried a different brand that I think was just better than the Eden soba noodles that I usually get. This dish consists of soba noodles, tofu, and scallions, in a dressing of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and ginger.
Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen is an easy book to like, full of relatively easy and tasty, always nutritious, yet still substantial, vegetarian dishes. Deborah often gives options for the vegan, and includes wine suggestions. Here I must observe that Deborah’s wine cellar is infinitely more well-stocked than our laundry room shelf of bottles from Costco and Plum Market. Deborah’s suppers appear to be one-dish meals, with at most a simple side. There are essentially no recipes in this book for salads, soups, or desserts. Every now and then Deborah sounds a little preachy about healthy eating, but mostly she keeps this tendency under control. Deborah thankfully lacks the smarminess of certain other vegetarian cookbook authors who I will not name here. This book is a nice size, and is sensibly subdivided. My biggest complaint (a very small complaint, though) is that I wish the publishers had made more of as effort to keep each recipe to one page.
It is supposed to be good to eat lots of colored food, and looking at my selections from these cookbooks, I certainly have color. For a nice purple-red color, we have “Star Anise-Glazed Tempeh with Stir-Fried Peppers” (page 111). For this dish, we marinate tempeh in a soy sauce-mirin-maple syrup marinade with cinnamon and star anise. This is added to a stir-fry of red cabbage and peppers, flavored with garlic, ginger, and cilantro. With recipes like this, I find that I am actually starting to like tempeh. [Go to the recipe.]
Bell peppers are just made to be stuffed, and “Yellow Peppers Stuffed with Quinoa, Corn, and Feta Cheese” (page 177) is an excellent recipe for stuffed peppers. The title of the recipe does not mention the spinach in the stuffing, nor does it mention the bed of wine-braised red onions on which the peppers rest. Instead of mixing the feta cheese into the stuffing, I topped half of my peppers with feta in case any dairy-avoiders would be joining us for lunch. As it was, everyone at our table ate dairy, and the feta topped peppers disappeared first. The amount of stuffing in this recipe is too generous; there was enough left over for a nice little quinoa dish for two.
“Brown Rice-Mushroom ‘Burgers'” are a burger version of the cheese and nut loaf from The Greens Cookbook. Deborah claims that this burger recipe is “vastly improved over the original,” but I am not quite sure what she means by this. The new version has less in the way of nuts, cheese, and eggs, and some bread crumb filler which the original lacks. I think the original recipe tasted better; maybe it was more caloric, but then one should just eat less of it. But these burgers were still very good, about as good as a vegetarian burger can get. I served these with sriracha mayonnaise.
I am becoming quite fond of green rice made with poblano chiles, so I thought that I would try Deborah’s version, “Green Rice with Roasted Green Chiles and Leeks” (page 152). Although not the absolutely best green rice ever, this was still quite tasty. The green comes from the roasted poblanos, leeks, parsley, and cilantro. It’s enriched with cheese (I used feta) and sour cream, both a little unnecessary, but delicious nevertheless.
To do justice to the book Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen I should have stretched my recipe testing over several weeks; there is, after all, the limit to the amount of soup that two people can eat over one weekend. Thus I only tried three soups; one, a bean and tomato soup; one, a cold soup; and one, not really a soup at all. There are still a lot of soups in this book calling me to make them. The book is divided into chapters devoted to specific types of soups, and seasonal chapters. Many of the soup come with a color photograph, but there are also a number of useless pictures, such as those of kitchenware or of cute girls holding soup mugs. Still, like all of Deborah’s books, this is a reliable collection of vegetarian recipes.
Sitting in my cupboard was a can of ful medames with a good hechsher. I was not sure that I was ever going to open this can until I came across Deborah’s “Spicy Chickpea and Tomato Soup” (page 66) that called for a can of chickpeas and a can of ful medames. Deborah’s recipe is for a sort of Middle Eastern type chili, with beans and tomatoes flavored with cumin, ginger, and tumeric. There are a few other vegetables: carrots, celery, and winter squash. I think that this soup would have been better with the winter squash omitted. It was still quite good though, but spicy enough that in the end I could not tell the difference between the two types of beans.
Avocados are so good, and I try to use them in different ways, but so far nothing beats plain avocados. Deborah’s cold “Avocado Soup with Herbs, Slivered Radishes, and Pistachios” (page 138) was a very good soup, but I think it would have been better topped with more avocados instead of radishes. This soup is a blend of avocado, cucumber, herbs, buttermilk, and yogurt. It is thick and rich and green. Deborah says her recipe serves four or more people; I served eight with soup left over. Everyone just had a small custard cup of soup, for I myself dislike having a huge bowl of cold soup set down in front of me. [Go to the recipe.]
“Wild Rice Chowder” (page 115) ended up being so thick that I served it as a vegetable casserole, not a soup. This dish consists of a lot of fairly bland vegetables and wild rice in a cream sauce. It would make a better winter than summer dish: hot, starchy, creamy, and bland is what one craves on a snowy day, not a muggy summer day. This was still good food, although I kept trying to think of ways to pep it up while still staying true to its essential nature.
Spinach and Tofu Salad
Adapted from Deborah Madison, This Can’t Be Tofu!
1 pound spinach, cleaned if necessary, thick stems removed
1 box firm silken tofu, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
4 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ inch piece of ginger, minced
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spinach and cook just until the spinach is wilted. Drain the spinach, pouring some of the spinach water over the cubed tofu. Drain the tofu after a few minutes. Squeeze as much water as possible out of the spinach, then chop up the spinach.
Toast the sesame seeds, either in a skillet on a burner or in the oven.
Combine the dressing ingredients. Mix with the spinach. Top with the tofu and sesame seeds and gently combine.
Tempeh and Red Cabbage
Adapted from Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 package tempeh, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, minced
1 bunch scallions, sliced
4 cups shredded red cabbage
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
½ cup toasted cashews
Bring the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, and star anise to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the tempeh. Let the tempeh marinate for five minutes, then remove from the marinade, but reserve the marinade.
Heat some oil in a large skillet. Cook the tempeh on both sides, then remove and wipe out the skillet. Heat some more oil in the skillet. Add the garlic, ginger, and scallions, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the cabbage and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are limp. Add the marinade, the cilantro, and the tempeh. Make sure everything is hot, then serve, topped with the cashews. I served these with black rice ramen noodles.
Cold Avocado Soup
Adapted from Deborah Madison, Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup yogurt
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
¾ large seedless cucumber, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
½ jalapeño pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon agave syrup
Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth. You may have to do this in several batches. Use your own judgment on how much of the herbs to use; Deborah specifies one tablespoon each, but I used more, at least of the dill and chives. Top the soup servings with chopped radish, more avocado, chopped pistachios, or more herbs.