Review and Recipe Selections by JENNIFER GAGEL
In 1996, James Peterson set out to write a cookbook that would honour the simple flavours of vegetables. He did this so well that his original offering, Vegetables, won a James Beard award and is frequently referred to as the definitive work on the subject.
Sixteen years later, Peterson saw that even a perfect cookbook might benefit from an update. He has given us Vegetables: Revised (James Peterson, Ten Speed Press 2012, $40 CDN).
This is not just an old book with a new introduction. Vegetables: Revised presents the reader thirty new vegetables, beans, lentils, gourds, legumes and rhizomes, and fifty new recipes. The first section of the book is a guide to buying, choosing and preparing vegetables. The second half, which shows us how to cook the vegetables, sometimes reads like an exotic catalogue. What to do with zucchini blossoms? What to do with drought-tolerant amaranth? Recipes include refreshing salads, soups, stews, casseroles and pastas. Not all of the recipes are strictly vegetarian, but the vegetables are definitely the centrepiece of each dish.
Peterson understands that good ingredients are only a beginning. Technique and respect for the food are vital for the success of any good recipe. He takes the readers by the hand and leads them carefully through the entire process. He takes us to the local farmers’ market and shows us how to choose a basket of the best produce the season has to offer. We stop on the way home at the kitchen supply store to learn how to find the best kitchen tools, and then he shows us exactly how to use them to their best advantage. Once we’ve gained some confidence in our skills, he helps us store and preserve our vegetables to maximize their fresh, nutritious goodness.
As always, Peterson combines his love of excellent food and doing things right with clear instructions to give us this new version of an old favourite cookbook. His artistry shines through in the 300 beautiful recipes as well as in the nearly 500 stunning full-colour photographs. An accomplished photographer in his own right, he shoots the best farmers’ market selections, following the seasons from May to October.
He also knows that the North American palate has changed in the last few decades. Rich European flavours still have their place in our hearts and on our tables, but an increasing number of cooks are looking for the bold tastes of Asia. In response, Peterson spent mornings combing through Asian markets looking to increase his understanding of vegetables that many of us may have only looked at perplexedly. He brings these into our kitchens with the same passion that led him to share the recipe for the perfect corn on the cob.
Peterson explains in his introduction that he wanted to create recipes for tried and true dishes, as well as new and exotic items. A trip to the local market is great, but who hasn’t been stuck for a dinner idea and had to make do with what’s in the fridge? His recipes are accessible because he knows we aspire to be great cooks but sometimes we just need to get food on the table in a hurry. This no-nonsense approach can be seen in his versatile recipe for Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms, Curry, Coconut Milk, and Shrimp, which comes together in a flash. But the approach doesn’t stop him from including such decadent and unique items as Candied Lotus Root à la Grace Young. Veggies for dessert must be guilt-free, right?
He takes some of the mystery out of timing with the simple but often overlooked instruction to taste the vegetable and see if you like the texture. I’m sure many of us wish our mothers had heard this advice back in the good old days of soggy boiled carrots and mushy Brussels sprouts.
More than a collection of recipes, Vegetables: Revised, illustrates concepts and teaches the reader to understand how to combine flavours. Peterson encourages us to improvise and try new recipes, even those not found in the book. If going to France to study with a Master Chef isn’t in the travel budget this year, Vegetables: Revised is a wonderful and deliciously entertaining alternative.
JENNIFER GAGEL is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com.
All rights reserved. Recipes courtesy of James Peterson, from Vegetables: Revised
Pan-Fried Sage-Scented Zucchini Pancakes
Makes 4 side-dish servings (4 pancakes)
4 medium zucchini
1½ tablespoons (40 mL) coarse salt
3 cloves garlic, minced and crushed to a paste
9 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
¾ cup (175 mL) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (75 mL) water
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons (40 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
Cut off the ends of the zucchini and cut the zucchini crosswise in half so you end up with 2 pieces about 4 inches long. Using a vegetable slicer or by hand, slice each of the zucchini pieces lengthwise into ⅛-inch-thick slices. With a chef’s knife, slice each of these into ⅛-inch-wide julienne strips. (If you have a French mandoline, you can use the julienne blades to julienne the zucchini in one step.) Rub the salt into the zucchini strips until the salt dissolves and you can’t feel the grains. Drain the zucchini in a colander for about 30 minutes.
Combine the garlic, sage, and 6 tablespoons of the flour in a small mixing bowl. Stir the water into the flour mixture and work to a smooth paste with a small whisk.
Spread the remaining 6 tablespoons flour on a work surface.
Squeeze the zucchini in small batches in a tight fist to extract as much water as you can. Gently stir the zucchini into the flour-water mixture and season with pepper. Form the mixture into hamburger-shaped pancakes about ½ inch thick and about 4 inches across and gently flour them on both sides.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large nonstick frying pan or cast-iron skillet. (If you don’t have a large enough pan, you’ll have to make the pancakes in two batches.) Gently slide the pancakes into the hot oil. Cook for about 7 minutes on the first side until golden brown. Gently turn the patties over with a spatula and cook for about 5 minutes on the other side—flatten them from time to time with the back of a spatula to compress them. Serve immediately or reserve in a 200ºF oven for up to 30 min.
Replace the flour in the sage and garlic mixture and the flour for coating with the same amount of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Don’t add any water to the sage-garlic-cheese mixture.
ED note: If you have a mandoline (a wise investment), then the julienned strips are easier. Otherwise I’d try grating the zucchini. You can substitute any herbs for the sage.
Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms, Curry, Coconut Milk, and Shrimp
Makes 4 main-course servings
2 tablespoons (25–30 mL) peanut oil
2 teaspoons (10 mL) garam masala or bottled curry powder
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons (10 mL) grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried red pepper flakes
8 ounces (225–250 g) shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, or white cultivated mushrooms, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
8 ounces (225–250 g) sugar snap peas or snow peas, trimmed
1 pound (450 g) large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup (250 mL) unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon (15 mL) Japanese dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons (25–30 mL) chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Stir in the garam masala, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. As soon as the ingredients start to froth, after about 15 seconds, add the mushrooms and peas. Stir or toss the mixture over high heat for 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and stir or toss for 2 minutes more. Pour in the coconut milk, soy sauce, and chopped fresh cilantro. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 minutes. Serve immediately in hot bowls.
Candied Lotus Root à la Grace Young
Makes 4 dessert servings
2 pieces of orange zest, about 3 inches long and ½ inch wide
2 medium lotus roots, peeled and sliced about ¼ inch thick
2½ cups (625 mL) sugar
2 cups (500 mL) fresh orange juice, strained
1 star anise
2 slices fresh ginger
2 tablespoons (25–30 mL) lime juice, or to taste
Blanch the orange zest in boiling water for 30 seconds to eliminate bitterness. Drain in a strainer and set aside.
Bring about 8 cups (2 L) water to a boil, add the lotus root slices, and cook for about 1 minute. Drain and repeat twice more.
Combine the orange zest, lotus root, sugar, orange juice, star anise, ginger, and lime juice in a saucepan and simmer gently until the lotus root slices turn translucent, about 90 minutes. Serve cool in its syrup.