- By Wendell Brock For the AJC
Forget charcuterie. The snout-to-tail trend is over. We have entered the Golden Age of Vegetables.
I know this from the literature.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s cookbook reviewer, I’ve flipped through hundreds of pages of stories, recipes, drawings and food porn in recent weeks, looking for the best of the spring and summer cookbook crop.
As a Southern boy who grew up in a meat-and-potato culture and loves how America of late has come to appreciate our barbecue, fried chicken and pimento cheese, I’ve been slow to change.
But this new wave of vegetable-hugging, fruit-fondling, salad-spinning, flower-nibbling, farm-worshipping authors makes a case so strong, and food so beautiful, that it’s impossible not to give in to the power of veggies.
On this list, you will find cookbooks about exotic Burmese, eccentric British, game-changing family dinners, even eggs, but mostly, this is a paean to vegetables and the chefs who celebrate them.
Salad days are here again
Visual artist Julia Sherman sprouted her “Salad for President” blog in 2012 to chronicle her culinary experiments: She cooked with, and wrote about, painters, musicians and designers she admired. Before long, a couple of prestigious museums — MoMA PS1 in New York and the Getty in Los Angeles — asked her to create on-site salad gardens, and the project just blossomed. Now, “Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists” (Abrams, $35) documents her edible adventures from New York to Tokyo to Mexico City with the likes of William Wegman, Laurie Anderson, Alice Waters and Japanese ceramicist Yui Tsujimura. Let me just say that the image of the Weimaraner with the crown of red-leaf lettuce on his head — classic Wegman — stole my heart. By far the year’s artsiest cookbook, “Salad for President” gets my vote. Look for Anderson’s Roasted Eggplant Dip and Pile of Herbs and Waters’ Baked Goat Cheese with Garden Lettuces. (Shockingly, the culinary goddess makes breakfast tacos from the leftovers!) Sherman herself contributes minimalist masterpieces (Watermelon Wedges with Bronze Fennel, Olive Oil, and Flaky Sea Salt) alongside more ambitious bites (Grilled Peach Panzanella with Almond Essence and Purple Basil).
Two other cookbooks focused on greens are Food52’s “Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner” (Ten Speed Press, $22.99) and Jenn Louis’ “The Book of Greens: A Cook’s Compendium” (Ten Speed Press, $35), both excellent. The former cleverly tosses off chapters on Leafy Salads, Less-Leafy Salads, Grain & Bean Salads, Pasta & Bread Salads, Fish & Seafood Salads and Meat Salads. The latter, from the chef-owner of the Israeli-inspired Ray in Portland, Ore., takes us on an alphabetical tour of the garden from agretti to water spinach.
If you make only one dish this summer, let it be Joshua McFadden’s “Herbed” Butter with Warm Bread, from his glorious “Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables” (Artisan, $35). So simple it’s not even a recipe, the party-starter is nothing but a cutting board slathered with butter, sprinkled with salt, pepper and chile flakes and layered with herbs, greens and edible flowers. Put a warm country loaf on the side and you’re done. (6-8 p.m. June 27. McFadden will sign copies at Cover Books at Paris on Ponce, 716 Ponce de Leon Place NE, Atlanta. cover-books.com.)
A few years ago, California chef Jeremy Fox, who grew up in Atlanta, achieved astonishing praise for his vegetable cookery at Ubuntu in Napa Valley. Then came an addiction to prescription drugs and a painful plunge, which he eloquently chronicles in his book “On Vegetables” (Phaidon, $49.95). The good news is, he’s regained his mettle. This book is a testament to his genius at plant-based cookery. (For the record, Fox is not a vegetarian.) I’m crazy about this book, as much for Fox’s powerful tale of recovery as for his signature Peas, White Chocolate & Macadamia.
Deborah Madison is one of America’s pioneer vegetarian chefs. She cooked at Chez Panisse, opened San Francisco’s Greens Restaurant in 1979 and has won four James Beard Awards for her books. “In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes” (Ten Speed Press, $32.50) is her latest. Madison writes in a lovely, poetic style, and her recipes range from simple Berries Scented with Rose Geranium Leaves and Flowers to hearty Potato and Chickpea Stew with Sauteed Spinach.
There’ll always be an England
I may not be able to swing my much-dreamed-about tour of the British countryside this summer, but I can do a little armchair travel with Aaron Bertelsen’s “The Great Dixter Cookbook: Recipes From an English Garden” (Phaidon, $39.95). Bertelsen is the chef who oversees the historic home of the late English garden writer Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006). This captivating volume is a pictorial account of Great Dixter through the seasons, but the recipes — from a Kale Smoothie to Beet Top and Feta Tart — are hardly antiquated. … “The Great Dixter Cookbook” is quaint by comparison to the 708-page “River Cottage A to Z: Our Favourite Ingredients & How to Cook Them” (Bloomsbury, $65). The encyclopedic effort from the British brandis a wonderful, wonderful compendium of ingredient essays and recipes, for whimsical dishes like Hempy Hummus and Squirrel and Beans on Toast. (I kid you not.)
The best of the rest
Nick Korbee’s “Egg Shop: The Cookbook” (William Morrow, $35) celebrates everything yolky and white: sandwiches, scrambles, salads — all the dishes that have made his New York restaurant a breakfast-all-day hot spot.
Ever feel lost without a recipe? Samin Nosrat, author of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” (Simon & Schuster, $35), believes that if you honor her four basic principles, you will become a stellar and intuitive home cook.
New York Times columnist Melissa Clark thinks America’s love of “meats-and-twos” has been subsumed by a fast-paced global culture that is distracting and time-gobbling. Still, there’s hope. Her dazzling book, “Dinner: Changing the Game” (Clarkson Potter, $35), is a fabulous road map for making satisfying, one-dish family suppers without losing your balance.
Since 1992, San Francisco’s Burma Superstar has been ground zero for the curries, noodle dishes and famous fermented tea-leaf salad (laphet thoke) that make up the repertoire of the nation now known as Myanmar. In “Burma Superstar: Addictive Recipes From the Crossroads of Southeast Asia” (Ten Speed Press, $29.99), restaurant owner Desmond Tan compiles recipes for the “savory, occasionally salty, sometimes sour, and often unapologetically funky” food of his homeland. The photographs are stunning and will make you want to book a trip.