Stephan Pyles's Southwestern cooking, featured most famously at his Star Canyon restaurants in Dallas and Las Vegas, is widely applauded for its flavor-intensive appeal. Southwestern Vegetarian, a follow-up to his cookbook New Tastes from Texas, ingeniously explores the nonmeat possibilities of this Texan chef's colorful cuisine. Finding a truly satisfying way to meld Southwestern, Mexican, and European culinary approaches, Pyles (an omnivore) has produced vegetarian fare that leaves traditional Western kinds in the dust. Dishes like Tortilla and Three Onion Casserole with Tomato Ginger Jam and Black Bean and Queso Fresco Quesadillas, among others, should appeal to eaters of all stripes while filling various menu and meal slots, from breakfast to dinner, as entrees, sides, or starters. This flexibility is mirrored by the book's organization. Eschewing the usual recipe categories, Pyles divides his cookbook into chapters by gratins, casseroles, stuffed vegetables, tortas, sandwiches, and pizzas. Winners from these categories include the Polenta Gratin with Wild Mushrooms and Three Cheeses and the Tortilla Vegetable Napoleon. Readers should be aware that while most of the recipes are easy enough to execute, many of them require multiple ingredients and subpreparations. Pickled Vegetable and Deviled Egg Salad Torta, for example, requires cooks to pickle vegetables (17 ingredients needed) before merging them with a salad spread on homemade brioche (13 more ingredients, not counting those in the brioche, which, presumably, could be store-bought). Despite the added preparation time many of its dishes require, Southwestern Vegetarian is a truly innovative take on meatless cooking, one all food lovers will enjoy. --Arthur Boehm
Right up front, in the first paragraph of his introduction, Pyles (New Tastes from Texas and host of a PBS series) points out that he's a fifth-generation Texan. It could be that the James Beard Award winner is a little nervous, presenting a Texas-inspired cookbook that leaves out the meat. But times and tastes are changing, even in the Lone Star state. This collection offers a variety of dishes that use traditional Southwestern ingredients in newfangledAand occasionally eyebrow-raisingAways. Dishes feature chiles and nopales (the pads of the prickly pear cactus), tortillas and beans, and there are slaws and fritters, refried beans and empanadas. All demonstrate Pyles's comfort with a range of cuisines. The chapter on preserves, for example, is eclectic enough to include the old favorite Bread and Butter Pickles as well as Chipotle Aioli, a Southwestern take on the traditional French dipping sauce. And so it goes throughout the book, from soups and salads to main course casseroles, brunch ideas and desserts. There is Jicama-Mango Tortilla Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette and Roasted Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder with Fried Scallions, plus a variety of mashed potato dishes. There are times, though, when Pyles ought to leave well enough alone. Green Chile-Pineapple Risotto? Cilantro Ravioli? This book isn't for those who prefer quick-and-easy cooking, but the recipes will surely grab the cook's attention, bringing vegetarian cooking to a whole new level. (Aug.)
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