Monday, December 28, 2015

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Gardening is one way to get to know your vegetables. But, you don't have to get your hands dirty to find out what characteristics the vegetables you eat have in common. Check out Deborah Madison's book Vegetable Literacy, which contains a combination of simple recipes and garden wisdom. The author shares her knowledge and observation of plant morphologies and how vegetables fit into plant families. Carrots, for instance, along with dill, parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace, have flowering seed heads, an umbel, which is much like an umbrella with stems growing outward from a central point. Cumin and coriander, both umbeliferae, are also in the carrot family.
The book is divided into twelve chapters, one for each of the plant families and includes some botanical family photos as well as individual close-ups of selected vegetables. Chapters are subdivided into sections on varieties of each vegetable, how to use the whole plant, cooking tips and companion plants.
Vegetable Literacy inspired me to pull up a bunch of carrots from a friend’s garden this weekend. I'm just going to cut them up, so it doesn't matter that they are not all the same size and shape—I can use them along with related plants to make Madison's "Winter Carrots with Caraway Seeds, Garlic and Parsley." 

You only need vegetables and some basic ingredients for making her edible flowering plant recipes. Herbs are a must; lemons and limes, salt and pepper, and onions and tomatoes. For dairy, have on hand eggs and yogurt.  Madison uses olive oil, sesame safflower and sunflower or grapeseed oil, as well as ghee, which is clarified butter.
For step by step directions to make your own ghee, check out My New Roots, Inspired Plant-based Recipes for Every Season by Sarah Britton. Britton's blog, also called My New Roots, began when she tasted an organically grown tomato. Before that she had eaten only processed foods. She uses the flow of the seasons to format her book.

If you like Vegetable Literacy, but want more how-to directions, try Chef Michael Anthony’s book V is for Vegetables. His clear cooking techniques, shown in colored photos throughout the book, make you feel like you are right in the kitchen with him. The layout of the book is dramatic. Botanical plates (colorful reproductions of 19th century lithographs, not dinner plates!) at the beginning of each chapter, illustrate vegetables, artichoke to zucchini. 
According to Anthony, “When you look at a basket of just-picked garden-fresh vegetables, it’s sometimes hard to imagine dinner.”
Check out any of these titles, available at the Virginia Beach Public Library, for knowledge, technique and inspiration.

Review by Sandi H.
 My fresh-picked carrots, umbeliferae

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