New Good Food, rev: Essential Ingredients for Cooking and Eating Well Paperback – Nov 1 2007
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About the Author
MARGARET M. WITTENBERG is global vice president of Whole Foods Market, where she has served since 1981. She is a former member of the USDA National Organic Standards Board and currently serves on the Marine Stewardship Council's Board of Trustees and the Animal Compassion Foundation. She lives in Fredericksburg, Texas.
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It's strong points: the section on beans, peas, and lentils provide specific instructions for a wide variety of beans etc. Rather than guessing what class of beans I have, I more often can find the actual bean variety. It doesn't always help ... I still had to struggle with my mideastern "ful" beans that weren't foul beans (North African flat type) that were foul beans (North Indian brown beans). However, if I restrict my shopping to Whole Foods (where the author works.
There is also a wonderful segment on pasta - Jerusalem artichoke pasta, quinoa pasta, sprouted grain pasta, kuzukiri (Japanese kudzu based).
Like most similar books, one needs to take nutritional information with a dose of skepticism - its a matter of which study producing incompatible results fit the bent of the author. On the whole, however, the author appears to try to be even-handed with regards to most of the locavore / slow foods / organic eating contraversies.
As background, I have a good sized bookshelf filled with cookbooks and tend to prefer those that discuss authentic ingredients and techniques over the "quick and easy" type. If I'm looking for information on ethnic ingredients, the source should stand up to content in texts like "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" (Tsuji), "The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking" (Tropp), or "Classic Indian Cooking" (Sahni).
"New Good Food" often has little more than a paragraph of general information on each ingredient, with the focus seeming to be on why a food store like Whole Foods would select it for its claimed health benefits, rather than providing significant culinary or cultural depth.
There is some substitution information (e.g., sweeteners) and cooking information (e.g., grains and legumes), but its accessibility and depth ("Cut in half or in wedges and steam, or bake with a splash of oil, a favorite seasoning, and salt or tamari.") is not enough to make this book a "go to" for me.
Some of the discussions about what the food terms, such as "organic" and "free range" mean, might be of value to some, but that information is widely available elsewhere.
In some cases, the information is questionable. For example, the section on cooking by color identifies potatoes in the "yellow or orange" group or the "red" group according to their skin color, though the skin is generally not eaten and does not contain the carotenoids at the levels associated with eating "orange" vegetables. It further lists eggplant as a valuable "blue or purple" vegetable, though eggplant has very little value other than a little dietary starch.
"New Good Food" also falls into the trap of "natural is good" on occasion as well. After dismissing all "artificial, nonnutritive sweeteners" (which I generally would agree with), the virtues of Stevia are extolled, because it is a "natural, plant-based substance," even though the "human body can't completely metabolize [Stevia-based sweeteners]." Conium maculatum is a common herb, which produces a "natural, plant-based substance" known as "deadly hemlock." I'm not suggesting that Stevia is poisonous. However, I am aware that it is recommended against for people with liver conditions, probably because of the load its non-nutritive, non-metabolizable chemicals, naturally occurring or not, put on that organ.
With two vegetarians in our family, along with allergy to soy and soy products, I was hoping for a reference on some of the less common ingredients available at market today to complement my current "go to" general reference cookbooks. "New Good Food" isn't about to find a place next to, for example, Cooks Illustrated "The [New] Best Recipe" or many of the excellent CIA series, such as "Techniques of Healthy Cooking, Professional Edition"
Or maybe you'd like to delve into the wide variety of sea vegetables available in the whole foods market, but you don't know how to even begin using them. Ms. Wittenberg's book identifies each one and provides detailed instructions for using them in various types of cooking.
New Good Food includes plenty of information on various sweeteners---not just how they're made, but what sorts of sugars they're comprised of and how quickly those sugars break down in the body (essential information for diabetics). The section on produce includes information on the peak seasons for a very wide variety of items so you'll know when to go looking for them at their best. Information on whole grains from around the world includes not just historical and nutritional information, but of course basic cooking methods as well.
New Good Food is an utterly fantastic reference volume to keep on your shelves as you experiment with more whole foods.