Despite my best intentions, I am perpetually late. I am, after all, my father’s daughter. What more can I say? To those of you who know me, it may come as no surprise then that I am late to bring you this review of Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. The book came out close a year ago, and I have been coveting it ever since. I took it out of the library on numerous occasions, even incurring late fees because I didn’t want to return it. But it wasn’t until recently that I received my very own copy. (Thanks again, Random House Canada! You make me very happy.) I’ve had the book just a few weeks now, and it’s already dog-eared, stained, and a little beat up. Yes, I love it.
Any book that brings focus onto vegetables and inspires us to get a little more of the rainbow into our diet receives accolades from me. We could all eat more vegetables. That point is virtually inarguable. But, for many people, vegetables are still the boring food that we have to or should eat. Vegetable Literacy‘s approach and creativity to the V-word makes you want to eat your vegetables.
The book’s shape and heft give it encyclopedia-like presence, and almost like an encyclopedia, it serves as a resource for learning about and cooking plants. The book breaks vegetables down by their families, and through a quick synopsis of each vegetable family, it highlights a little of the following: what makes each one so great (e.g., Brussels sprouts, also known as little cabbages, grow on stalks), a little kitchen wisdom (e.g., the infamous Brussels sprouts odour comes about with long cooking times), and good culinary companions for them (e.g., Brussels pair well with mustard, smoked paprika, walnuts, bacon, olive oil, and ghee, amongst other things). By far my favourite part is what follows next: a list of recipes for each specific vegetable, grain, and bean that is covered in the book. And that’s truly why I love it! When you’re sick of steaming your broccoli, or dipping raw florets into hummus, open up to the broccoli section and see what ideas Deborah has in store for you. There is a great deal of inspiration in these pages. In fact, next on my list are the grilled eggplant with tahini-yogurt sauce and pomegranate molasses, the wilted red cabbage with mint and goat feta, and the smoky kale and potato cakes.
You could buy it now and get some new ideas to carry you into the holiday season, but if the idea of taking on something new really feels overwhelming right now, then think about this book as a new year’s gift to yourself. Come January 1st, I know we’ll all be trying to eat a little healthier! In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a simple, and delicious Brussels sprouts dish. Once your sprouts are cleaned, this dish is quick to prepare and requires very few ingredients. If you’re feeling like you want to add a little oomph to your veggies, toss in some prosciutto or toasted walnuts, or finish them off with some sharp cheddar. On it’s own, this dish makes a simple addition to any weeknight meal. And for my American friends, a lovely side to your upcoming Thanksgiving feast. Enjoy!
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts
- 4 tablespoons olive oil (*I used ghee because of it's higher smoke point. If you are vegan, you could also use grape seed oil for the same reason.)
- Sea salt
- 2 large shallots, slivered
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice or few drops of vinegar, any variety
- Freshly ground pepper or few pinches of red pepper flakes
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Cut off the base of each sprout, remove any damaged or discoloured leaves, and then thinly slice the sprouts crosswise on a mandoline (Be careful and use the guard!), with a knife, or using the slicing blade of a food processor. Toss the slices with 3 tablespoons of the oil, a scant teaspoon salt, and the shallots and then put them in an earthenware gratin dish or baking dish. They do not need to be spread out in a single layer. In fact, it’s better if they are piled up so that they don’t dry out.
- Roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, toss, and return to the oven for 10 minutes more. Repeat until they are tender and browned in places, another 10 or 15 minutes.
- When the sprouts are done, toss them with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the lemon juice, season with pepper (and more salt, if desired), and serve.