The Vegetable, Recipes that Celebrate Nature by Caroline Griffiths and Vicki Valsamis, Smith Street Books 2017, hardcover $40.00, 304 pages
The near end of the street was rather dark and had mostly vegetable shops…piles of white and green fennel…and great sheaves of young, purplish, sea-dust colored artichokes, nodding in their buds, piles of great radishes, scarlet and bluey purple, carrots, long strips of dried figs, mountains of big oranges, scarlet large peppers, a large slice of pumpkin, a great mass of colors and vegetable freshnesses…
When we rank foods somehow meat always come out above vegetables. Yes, meat is the source of protein that made (some of) our brains as powerful as they are, but it’s a pretty one note meal. A steak, is a steak, is a steak, but an eggplant offers possibilities.
In this elegant book, Griffiths and Valsamis elevate the vegetable and explore those possibilities. From the chiaroscuro cover photo of a cabbage to the gilded page edges, this book sends the message: vegetables are sincere, complex, and worth your attention.
The recipes are sophisticated, challenging, and surprising. You’ve likely roasted carrots, but how about serving them with a kaffir lime and coconut dressing? They offer world flavors because why wouldn’t you–Sichuan, curry, gazpacho, dhal, dip, chutney and fritters extend vegetables’ versatility.
These are recipes that bring out complex flavors–sweet and earthy, tangy or sour–in one bite. You can build a dinner party around them–Fennel Soup with Creme Fraiche & Truffle Oil, Butter-poached Asparagus with Salt-Cured Egg Yolks (which I’ve been meaning to make–set aside four days for Griffiths’ version).
The book will encourage you to try new vegetables and new combinations. Some are as simple as brilliantly bright Sweet & Sour Cucumber made with four ingredients–slice, blend, marinate, eat. Others are slightly more labor intensive, like Phyllo Cigars with Nettles & Hommus, though rolling the phyllo may be simple compared with finding nettles (Griffiths reassures her cooks that chard is a reasonable substitute).
The recipes are sorted into sections–the chapter titled Flowers, Shoots and Stems includes rhubarb, zucchini flowers, and celery. Griffiths goes through the garden, gathering seeds, pods, squashes, leaves, brassicas, roots, bulbs, and fungi. The recipes for onions, mushrooms, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, kale and more are not exhaustive, but this is not meant to be an encyclopedic bucket; it is a well-crafted platter full of flavors.