Friday, December 20, 2013

The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen

The Heart of the Plate Houghton Mifflin Harcourt deserves much credit for making this book as beautiful as it is. They have really made it the standard to reach. Katzen has done her cool line drawings--now in color!--on the endpages so with her tasty, (can I say thoughtful?), modern recipes her unique talents are again on display.

Now that I have had a chance to work with it a bit, I decided Katzen has chosen some real winners here. Her soups and salads are lovely to look at and probably worth the price of the book alone. She guides the beginner through the steps so that success can be yours right from the start.

I will say that she picked already favorites of mine, e.g., I cook greens almost every night and I often use the onion, garlic, red pepper combination that she recommends. I don't know if it is really appropriate to complain that some of the dishes are so simple as to make the cookbook shortly irrelevant. Most people are actively looking for simple and memorable and so great we can eat it again and again without dragging the cookbook out each time. She gets that and delivers.

But Mashed Parsnips? She has a whole section about mashing things up...cauliflower, broccoli, peas. At first I thought: if it is fresh, it seems a sin to mash it up. It was such a mystery, I tried it...three vegetables: carrots, parnips and peas. Let me tell you something: it was terrific! I especially liked it left over, room temperature, as a dip for crackers. It is infinitely more interesting, pretty, and exciting than any of the usual dips featuring cheese or (god forbid!) sour cream. And for lunch or as a snack as you are preparing a real dinner, this may just the thing to make you a happy person.

She has an interesting sauces and dressings section which is useful for folks on the go. You can dip crudités or drizzle over roasted veggies...(what is better tasting and easier to cook than roasted veggies?) I like her use of pomegranate molasses. What else I like: sometimes folks have difficulty figuring out what vegans eat. She very naturally makes meals of vegetables and grains that do not include cheese or dairy and reminds us that, by the way, this is vegan. It is a very unobtrusive way to introduce vegan entrees to the mainstream and show everyone how really very simple it can be to cook for vegans.

I also like the "light" quality of the recipes. There were one or two recipes that gave me pause: Bulgur with Spaghetti, and Banana Cheese Empanadas. I think she is just daring us to try them. She also has one that sounds kind of intriguing: Toasted Barley Dumplings. As a side, it can take care of the carb portion of a vegetable meal.

Truth is, The Moosewood Cookbook: Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, Ithaca, New York was something like the second cookbook I ever owned. Katzen therefore had an outsized influence on my eating habits. I still admire what she can do. What she has produced here is exciting because it gives new clues to intriguing combinations of things I like already.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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