Holiday Cookbook Roundup
How To Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Foodby Mark Bittman
John Wiley and Sons, 907 pp., $35
Bittman, author of the award-winning bestseller How to Cook Everything, is quite possibly the most influential home cook currently published. He has a slew of authoritative cookbooks in print, and many consider his weekly cooking column in The New York Times a must-read. This newest effort was inspired by Bittman's growing concern for the planet: He writes, "The world is changing in a way that is going to push all of us, reluctantly or not, toward being at least semi-vegetarian; our current rate of meat and fish consumption really cannot be justified."
Like his previous works, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is a massive tome. Bittman sets out to be comprehensive, beginning with kitchen equipment, ingredients, and detailed descriptions of cooking techniques and advancing through salads and soups to vegetables, main dishes, and desserts. There are 250 how-to illustrations, as well as numerous charts, sidebars, and lists, all designed to clarify the entire cooking process.
The recipes are written very simply, with variations and substitutions provided. Part of what makes Bittman so appealing is his relaxed approach; as an experienced cook, he knows that if you don't have vinegar (or if you just don't like it), you can use lemon juice instead and that green peas can be substituted for fava beans if you don't have time to run to the store. The recipes can occasionally read like mere guidelines, which might be a little intimidating to beginners; on the other hand, learning that you can be flexible with recipes most of the time is a good lesson in itself.
Bittman chooses recipes from all over the world for this compendium and refreshingly includes a great deal of Asian techniques and cuisine. It's a great gift for any vegetarian on your list.