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Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes Hardcover – Mar 12 2013

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press; 1 edition (March 12 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607741911
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607741916
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3.6 x 26.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #46,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“I have always marveled at Deborah Madison’s deep knowledge of vegetables and her original creations, which taste just as delicious as they sound. Vegetable Literacy is her latest tour de force, a massive well of knowledge that makes you want to read and learn as well as cook. A fine achievement and a real inspiration for me.”
—Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Plenty and Jerusalem
“I have long been a fan of both Deborah’s vibrant food and her many thorough, thoughtful cookbooks. In Vegetable Literacy she offers, with abundant warmth and generosity, observations from years of garden-to-table cooking. Filled with fascinating botanical notes and inspired recipes that really explore vegetables from the ground up—it is a pleasure to read. The writing is beautiful and the lessons are astutely down to earth.”
—David Tanis, author of Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys
“Deborah Madison has taken vegetables to a whole new level. You’ll want to know what she knows—about botany, family pairings, and companion flavors on the plate. In cooking, Madison excels, but she’s also a natural with observation in the garden. Her passion is palpable, her scholarship tops, and her prose exquisite.”
—Amy P. Goldman, PhD, author of The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table
“The are few people equipped with the curiosity, skill, and eye for observation required to construct a volume of this size and scope—and Deborah does it masterfully. Vegetable Literacy will shift the way both home and professional cooks think about the relationship between ingredients, and vegetables in particular. Using this book has felt like a missing puzzle piece snapping into place—inspiring, intimate, informative, and beautifully illustrated.”
—Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Every Day
“For those of us who love vegetables, Deborah Madison gives not only practical tips for buying them, but also a bounty of diverse recipes. This is a monumental cookbook from a gifted writer and one of the best cooks of our time.”
—David Lebovitz, author of Ready for Dessert and The Sweet Life in Paris
“In Vegetable Literacy, Deborah Madison elegantly folds together a joy of gardening, a fascination for botanical kinship, and an expansive knowledge of fine and simple cooking. This book is a nutrient-dense treasure.”
—Wendy Johnson, author of Gardening at Dragon’s Gate: a Work in the Wild and Cultivated World
“In her most exciting and innovative book to date, Deborah Madison shows us how the botany in our gardens can inform and guide our preparation and cooking of meals that will both delight and nourish us all. Come directly from the garden to the kitchen with Deborah, and you will never observe or use vegetables in an uninspired way again. This book feeds our imaginations and souls with more insights per page than any cookbook I know.”
—Gary Paul Nabhan, ethnobotanist and author of Coming Home to Eat and Desert Terroir

About the Author

DEBORAH MADISON is the author of eleven cookbooks and is well known for her simple, seasonal, vegetable-based cooking. She got her start in the San Francisco Bay Area at Chez Panisse before opening Greens, and has lived in New Mexico for the last twenty years. In addition to writing and teaching, she has served on the boards of Slow Food International Biodiversiy Committee, the Seed Savers Exchange, and the Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance, among others. She is actively involved in issues of biodiversity, gardening, and sustainable agriculture.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book to keep in your kitchen, especially throughout the vegetable and herb growing season. I find myself referring to it whenever I plan to serve vegetables. I have learned a lot about vegetable families and how various vegetables and herbs relate to one another. I am also using the herbs in my garden in many new and delicious ways. It's an interesting read, even if you are not cooking!
Every recipe that I've tried has been delicious. Among our favourites so far are Griddled Asparagus with Tarragon Butter; Steamed Broccoli with Mustard Vinaigrette; Nutty-Seedy Whole Wheat Toast with Ricotta and Tomatoes; Chervil-Chive Butter and variations; Cauliflower Soup with Coconut, Turmeric and Lime; Egg Salad with Tarragon, Parsley and Chives; Kale Pesto with Dried Mushrooms and Rosemary; Potato and Parsley Soup; Peas with Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs; Rhubarb, Apple and Berry Pandowdy; and Dukkah (toasted nuts and seeds with cumin).
All of the recipes were easy to prepare. You won't regret buying this book. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first read about this book in a NYT review and they had also printed one of the recipes - the onion tart. I ordered it right away and find that it is a great reference book. I highly recommend it, even if you do not grow your own vegetables!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With a book and author like this, you can't lose. The book is beautiful, and the recipes are practical and easy to follow. An superb intro to quinoa! Excellent experience all around.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book! Purchased it as gift for my wife. Only issue is we received it the paper cover was slightly damaged (torn) and stained:(
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9d4c1f90) out of 5 stars 191 reviews
146 of 151 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d51a270) out of 5 stars A Love Letter to Vegetables March 12 2013
By Laura - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Some of my favorite cookbooks are not those that the newest or most interesting recipes, but those that make me think differently about a whole class or category of food (think James Peterson's Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making or Diane Morgan's Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes). Vegetable Literacy does just that. Deborah Madison translates her years of experience with vegetarian cooking into a beautiful homage to vegetables.

One of the key premises of this book is that understanding the relationships between vegetables may influence the way you think about and use them. For example, the Knotweed family includes buckwheat, sorrel, and rhubarb. Knowing the relationship between these ingredients may inform your use of them. Thus, you may choose to add rhubarb to buckwheat muffins, knowing that the two share a phylogenetic family and thus have a natural affinity.

Vegetable Literacy is organized by vegetable family. Each member of the family is described in detail, with great information about appearance, history, and nutrients. The entry also includes excellent varieties to look for, information about using other portions of the plant, "kitchen wisdom," and other foods with which the vegetable pairs well.

In addition to all of this fantastic information about vegetables (both common and uncommon -- how much did I know about salsify before this book? Absolutely nothing), Vegetable Literacy contains some fantastic recipes. Armed with new knowledge about the relationships between vegetable families, I loved exploring some new flavor combinations. Thus far, I've tried several recipes from this book with excellent success. The Braised Endive with Gorgonzola is is amazing (I had it over polenta, as the author recommends). And I also love the Thick Marjoram Sauce with Capers and Green Olives (it's fantastic on bruschetta).

One thing to be aware of is that these recipes are (duh) very vegetable-centric. There are many salads, soups, sauces, appetizers, and vinaigrettes, but fewer recipes for hearty main dishes. Each of the recipes is designed to let the flavors of its vegetable ingredients truly shine. Personally, I love this approach, but readers looking for hearty vegetarian main courses might want to look elsewhere. Of course, the information in this book is easily applied to other recipes so you can branch out on your own.

Overall, Vegetable Literacy is an essential addition to any cook's bookshelf. Its recipes are only the beginning of what makes this such a valuable resource. After understanding the relationships between plant families and learning which vegetables naturally pair well with others, you will be well-suited to adapt your favorite recipes accordingly. Vegetable Literacy is not just a cookbook; it's a guide to understanding plant life and employing that knowledge in your kitchen. Enjoy!
98 of 103 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d51b144) out of 5 stars Oh yes, you will love this book! It is fabulous! March 13 2013
By Naomi Manygoats - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long been a fan of Deborah Madison. I once had the opportunity to learn from her before the publication of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, my favorite cookbook until today. Her recipes are nothing short of brilliant, and she is a genuinely nice person to boot. Her recipes turn the humble vegetable into sparkling masterpieces. Her ingredients are well thought out, and each one serves to add an important flavor component to the dish. I have been making some of her recipes for 12 or so years, from Greens, etc. and they do not seem dated, they still stun with their uniqueness and freshness. Therefore I could not wait to get my hands on this book, and I am totally thrilled with it. It is, in my opinion, a master work, and is her most gorgeous book to date. The Broccoli Bites with Curried Mayonnaise for example are quick to make, taste wonderful, and left me wondering why I had not thought of doing that before! Ditto the tomato and cilantro soup with black quinoa.

Besides being an absolutely fabulous cookbook, this is a great reference book. Instead of going from A-Z (A is for Asparagus, etc.) as so many authors have done with vegetables, Madison does something pretty astounding, and classifies vegetables by family. Deborah, through years of cooking and gardening experience, has observed that vegetables in the same family can be used interchangeably in cooking, due to shared botanical characteristics. So it greatly helps with the mystery of why some substitutions work beautifully and why some leave your family saying eeeek! She consulted with Botanist to bring us a book that is fun to read and learn from. The book has beautiful photography as well as formatting, and as usual Madison has some truly inventive and delicious recipes. The scientist and cook in me wants to stop everything and just read this book cover to cover, then cook everything! Madison even has a beautiful green ribbon bookmark in the book! How cool is that?

I own a lot of cookbooks, and Deborah Madison's are my very favorite ones. They make everyone a better cook! Please do NOT assume that this is a book of interest only to vegetarians, since Madison is known for her vegetarian books, because every cook, from home chef to restaurant chef should treasure this book. We all need to eat a more diversified plant based diet, and how wonderful it is to have vegetables that are so amazing in taste that they put a good steak or roasted chicken sitting beside them to shame!

Here are the Families:
* The Carrot Family
* The Mint Family
* The Sunflower Family
* The Knotweed Family
* The Cabbage Family
* The Nightshade Family
* The Goosefoot and Amaranth Families
* The (former) Lily Family
* The Cucurbit Family
* The Grass Family
* The Legume Family
* The Morning Glory Family

And a few of the over 400 pages of recipes and information include:

* Salsify, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Burdock soup with Truffle Salt
* Cauliflower Soup with Coconut, Turmeric, and Lime
* Caraway Seed Cake
* Carrot Almond Cake with Ricotta Cream
* Orange and Rosemary Compote
* Rhubarb, Apple, and Berry Pandowdy
* Braised Cabbage with Chewy Fried Potatoes, Feta, and Dill
* Slivered Brussels Sprouts roasted with Shallots
* Smoky Kale and Potato Cakes
* Winter Stew of Braised Rutabagas with Carrots, Potatoes, and Parsley Sauce
* Kohlrabi Salad with Green Onions, Parsley, and Frizzy Mustard Greens
* A Fragrant Onion Tart
* Quick Bread of Rye, Emmer, and Corn
* Winter Squash Wedges or Rounds with Gorgonzola Butter and Crushed Walnuts.
* Blue Lake Beans with Shallots, Pistachios, and Marjoram
* Asian Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Butter
* Green Pea Fritters with Herb-Laced Crème Fraiche

Honestly, if I had the money, I would buy this for all my friends who like to cook!
77 of 80 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d51b528) out of 5 stars A siren song for vegetable gardeners, would-be gardeners and lovers of vegetables March 15 2013
By I Do The Speed Limit - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have created a vegetable garden, and worked it even just one year or worked it more years than you care to count, you will be hooked on this book by the second page of the introduction. It contains a wealth of information; so much information, that you should not wait for your local library to get a copy: You need it NOW, and you will refer to it way too often to have to rely on the library's copy. If you are considering putting in your first vegetable garden, or if you often buy from a farmers' market or a local produce stand, you need to order this book, too. You will love it and, not only will you cook its recipes; you will be able to create your own favorites from all the tips included.

If you buy your produce from the grocery store, you will find a lot of great recipes and a lot of information on unfamiliar edible plants, grains, grasses, herbs, beans and vegetables. But (I'd roughly estimate that) a fifth of the information provided will not be of value to the grocery-store-buyer, since the book provides information on varieties available and how to make use of all parts of the plant: From seedlings that you weed out, to leaf tops of edible roots, to roots of edible tops, to bolted stems and flowers, etc. In other words, parts of the plant that grocery-store-buyers don't often see. But, I'd bet good money that anyone who reads this book and doesn't have a garden, will be hurriedly searching for a sunny piece of earth in which to pitch a shovel!

I won't go into the great information that you can find by reading this product page on Amazon. Definitely take advantage of the "Look Inside" feature. And definitely take a look at Deborah Madison's other published books. I find it a waste of space to list chapters and covered topics and ingredients in a review when it's all there in the "Look Inside".

Deborah Madison has been writing quality cook books for ages. It was her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that helped me convince the men in my family that they were not going to die if there wasn't meat on the dinner plate (that was back in the 1990s). But the point I'm trying to make is this: Madison has vast experience with veggies, grains, grasses, herbs, and beans. She has the necessary expertise, writing style and refined taste buds to put together a valuable and worthwhile cook book.

What may not be obvious by browsing through the Contents and Index pages:

--Besides the main star ingredient, other ingredients that flavor the recipes are not hard to locate. They are not necessarily limited to everyday ingredients with which we are all familiar: For instance, if you don't already know ghee and miso paste, you will be introduced to it in some of these recipes.

--For most of the plants, you will find what I call a "food thesaurus" listing or section; "good companions" is what Madison calls them. You will have to remember those "companions" yourself, because they are not listed in the index.

--You won't find recipes where the featured vegetable is NOT the primary flavor. In other words, you won't find chicken, salmon, sausage recipes with accompanying veggies and herbs or sauces made of the highlighted veggie or herb. You might find fish and meats mentioned in the "Good Companions" listed, but, again, you won't find them listed in the index.

--This is not a vegan book: There are eggs, butter, cream and such. Actually, there are some very nice egg recipes. We've tried the egg salad with tarragon (I used Mexican tarragon, because that's what grows in my Southern garden and eggs from our own hens.)

--This is NOT a how-to-garden book. Although it does list some seed recommendations.

--This is NOT a book that is slanted towards where Madison lives and gardens in New Mexico. Meaning, you will not find information that is inappropriate for your area. (I think that is a great accomplishment on Madison's part: That she was able to make the book very personable, but still refrain from giving us information--stated as fact--that is unsuitable or different for the various parts of the U.S. (For instance, I must plant my summer squash and tomatoes in early March. My zukes are finished in June and my tomatoes are over in July. Your tomatoes may last until the first frost.) It is a pet peeve of mine that so many vegetable gardening cookbooks assume I have tomatoes in August...

--Cooking techniques are explained. And many, many techniques are employed: Steaming, sauteing, roasting, baking, grilling, braising and pressure cooking. If there are recipes for breaded and fried veggies, I don't remember seeing them. (Thank you for that!!!)

--There are so many fantastic and helpful tips: How about this one? The extra-long stem on an artichoke is meant to be used: Peel, slice, drop in acidulated water, then braise, saute, or toss them into a soup.

-- The simplicity of the recipes that forces the focus onto a specific vegetable, sort of reminds me of Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater. But I like this book a whole lot better because it is definitely slanted towards American ways, names, places, available ingredients, available seeds and measurements***. (Slater's book, while it is filled with wonderful recipes and ideas, is slanted towards a British audience.)

--***There is an adequate conversion chart of measurements at the very end of the book. Being on the last page, it is very easy to flip to. (It's a bit hard to read: Green ink and not a large type point size.)

--Unlike the two books by Lawson, this book does NOT have many photographs, as it is meant to be a wealth of information, not just pretty pictures to look at. (I think it could have used some more pictures, though. But then the book would have weighed a ton.) It is definitely not a coffee table book.

--There are many soup recipes--and that is important in our family. There are all kinds of salads, side dishes, and main dishes. Best of all: I'm very happy to see there are hardly any pasta recipes. They seem to be a dime a dozen these days...

--We've become fans of quite a lot of Asian greens lately--they do so well in our gardens; and of course some are mentioned in this book--bok choy and Chinese broccoli and perilla (shiso) to mention a few, but I will still be referring to my favorite Asian cook books (and the Kitazawa Seed catalog) for most of them.

I've only had this book a short few days, but we've already sampled several recipes. We cook from our garden, so I was kind of limited in the recipes I could choose from--it being mid-March in the Coastal Plains of Texas. But follows is a list of what I created so far, and the recipes have worked and so have the flavor combinations: Grilled Onions with Cinnamon Butter (using the first of the 1015 Texas Onions from down in the Valley); Braised Parsley Root (with the last from the garden--had to get them out to make room for two very special cherry tomatoes, both originating from further down south); Chard Soup with Cumin, Cilantro and Lime; and to use up two lonely rutabagas, I combined ideas from the Winter Stew of Braised Rutabagas Carrots, Potatoes and Parsley, and Rutabaga Soup with Gorgonzola Toasts.

I'm really looking forward to trying almost all the recipes in this book. And, much to my delight, we've got quite a few of those mentioned in this book already planted in our garden.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d51b420) out of 5 stars Yes, you should buy another Deborah Madison cookbook Oct. 23 2013
By jgintx - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My jam-packed cookbook shelves already held four Deborah Madison cookbooks, and I figured that was enough. But the lure of the vegetable info hooked the gardener in me. I started reading Vegetable Literacy as a book, but quickly took it from coffee table to kitchen, and have been cooking from it all summer and into the fall. We tend to eat vegetarian with fish, seafood, or meat a few times per week, and the recipes complement that style of eating very well.

The recipes are relatively simple, clearly written, and very tasty. I've tried new ingredients--tempeh, coconut butter, and black quinoa come to mind. I've learned new techniques--for example, presoaking lentils and adding salt to beans at the start of cooking, which has done wonders for my black beans.

Some of my new go-to recipes from this book are the basic lentil recipe, Rio Zape Beans with salt-roasted tomatoes (can sub black beans), pan-fried tempeh with trimmings, which I serve with salsa and lettuce leaf wrappers, roasted asparagus with chopped egg, griddled eggplant rounds, and heirloom tomato quinoa soup. I've tried many others and enjoyed all.

I noticed another review that complained about lack of depth in the information on vegetables. I'd say this is a cookbook that gives extra insight into ingredients and a few tips on vegetable gardening. For a book that focusses on in-depth nutritional information on vegetables, I like "Eating on the Wild Side".
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d51b60c) out of 5 stars Madison knows vegetables Sept. 23 2013
By Revalani - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got this from the library initially, since -- though I'm a fan of Deborah Madison's previous cookbooks -- I'm trying not to buy as many books as I used to. After browsing through it, I knew I had to buy a copy. I'm impressed not only with the recipes in Vegetable Literacy, but with the copious information on specific vegetables and vegetable families.