Vegetarian and vegan cooking has come an awfully long way over the past 20+ years. Thanks to the internet, we've been able to integrate the best vegetarian dishes from the whole wide world into our everyday lives, opening up a vast menu beyond vegetable mush. We have noodles, curries, grain burgers, kale, QUINOA! It's a breeze being a vegetarian in 2012, let me tell you.
Even our cook books are getting better. I have a lot of respect and admiration for the classics. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and The New Moosewood Cookbook are standards, and any cook can benefit from their wisdom, but modern vegetarians are itching to keep up with the rest of today's food culture. We want dishes that excite the palate, and peak our curiosity. That's where writers like Michael Natkin come in. Michael is what I'd describe as an avid vegetarian. He doesn't just cook veggies to sustain his existence, he's an eater. He likes to explore new flavors and experiment. His book, Herbivoracious, and his blog of the same name, are a great example of modern vegetarian cooking. Within its pages you can find re-invented versions of both comfort food, and cultural dishes. Dishes like Triple Smokey Mac n' Cheese, Risotto Balls, and Indian Fry Bread Tacos offer up rich, hearty meals for stick-to-your-ribs, good eatin'. You'll also find dishes inspired by ethnic cuisines. Chana Chaat with Pappadams, Red Pozole, and Iraqi-Jewish Eggplant Sandwiches are a few examples of the diverse cultural dishes you'll find inside Herbivoracious. Then there are the totally unique recipes which come straight from Michael's imagination. I'm incredibly curious to try Shitake Tacos with Asian Pear Slaw, for example, or Caramelized Apple and Bleu Cheese Crostinis. There is even a dessert section, for you sweet toothed cooks, which includes tempting recipes like Stout Chocolate Malts, Mango Puffs, and Sephardic Doughnuts.
The challenge of modern vegetarian cooking is to create meals that are so good you forget about meat all together. You want to make something that people will want to eat more than a burger, that they'll talk about, dream about, and come back for. Here in Austin, vegetarian dishes aren't just a footnote on the menu. In most places, you can find several vegetarian or vegan dishes that compete for attention with their meaty neighbors. When you focus on whole foods, bold flavors, and pleasant textures, you can make vegetables sing as loudly as meats. Michael Natkin's recipes in Herbivoracious do just that. The book is a great example of how far vegetarian cooking has come.
Michael made a great point in his talk about flavor profiles. Creating a strong, and complete palette of flavors in a dish is the key to making it satisfying. This is true for any style of cooking, but in vegetarian cooking it is especially important, as you have less "cheats" to rely on. Meat eaters can always add bacon when in doubt, but vegetarians must be a little more creative. Vegan cooking leaves almost nothing to cheat with, eliminating cheese, cream, and butter. Creating great plant based recipes relies heavily on knowing which ingredients will provide the flavors of fat, acid, sweetness, salt, astringency, and umami. If you can fit all six flavors into one dish, it is very likely to leave you full and happy.
We'll talk more about which ingredients do all this in my next post. For now, I'd like to congratulate, Madna, the winner of my Herbivoracious giveaway! Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter, and to leave a comment! This has been a great discussion so far. (Note: This giveaway has ended)
Disclaimer: This post contains a sponsored Amazon link to Herbivoracious that helps support Mary Makes Dinner. Purchases resulting in clicks result in my earning a teeny tiny comission. This isn't a plug, just a necessary clarification via the latest FCC blogging guidelines.