I started checking out vegetarian cookbooks out of the local library about two years ago, on the principle that if anyone could make vegetables taste good, it had to be the people who’d decided to eat them all the time. I went to the straight vegetarian cookbooks (and, by extension, the library) because I feel that your average cookbook tends to neglect vegetables as a group. Even The Joy of Cooking, considered to be the cookbook to end all cookbooks in my house, spends more time talking about the vegetables themselves rather than giving recipes. Not that this isn’t helpful, but just cooking a squash isn’t going to make it taste good.
Actually, with the exception of pumpkin pie, I haven’t found a way to make squash taste good.
*ahem* Anyway, yes, vegetarian cookbooks. This was new territory for me, as vegetables were not the focus of any meal during my childhood. They came with every meal, usually either steamed, stir-fried or raw. None of them really tasted bad. I actually rather liked vegetables as kid. But they were never an entree. At best, they were part of an entree – the substantial part of a chicken salad, the rest of a kebab, the better part of a stir-fry and the like.
Then again, my grandfather raised beef cattle and would regularly send us a large box of frozen, high-quality beef, so I was pretty much raised on red meat – quality red meat, at that. Though he sold the farm and moved to Arkansas when I was 10 or so, my family has since leaned more toward carnivorous eating habits. When I started bringing home vegetarian cookbooks, it was met with good-natured disdain. “Turing into a vegetarian on us?” my dad would ask – a sentence oh-so-clearly loaded and primed for teasing. It took all the wind out of him when I told him that, no, I just wanted to make vegetables taste better.
And I have. I’ve got two great potato soup recipes now; can make Gobi cauliflower that’s amazing; learned the value of high quality olives; discovered that raw cucumber is really good with oil, vinegar, sea salt and red pepper; and that roasted green beans are a thousand times better than french fries. I know now that making your own salad dressing is totally worth it, broccoli is better roasted and being picky regarding lettuce is better than just resigning yourself to it. I liked one of the cookbooks so much I bought it – The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen – and it is now spattered, thumbed and covered with little notes about the importance of using red potatoes, changes to the amount of salt or the type of nuts and just little asides about the recipes in general.
Oh, there have been failures. The spicy pumpkin soup flopped, as did the squash sauce. Rutabagas proved to be immensely hard to cut. The marinated cauliflower salad looked great, but nobody really likes biting into a pepper ball. Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin doesn’t really taste any different than canned and is about 4 times as much work. Cooked asparagus doesn’t refrigerate well. (Oh so very slimy.) And, no matter how tasty the split pea soup actually is, the brown-green color causes it to stay in the fridge for a while. Like, until it goes moldy.
I’m still a heavy meat-eater, but my horizons continue to broaden. I have a list of vegetables that I’d like to try, if I can only figure out how to prepare them, and another list of those I’ve just about given up on. Just the other day I was in the library, thinking it was time to branch out again. I doubt I’ll ever be vegetarian, but I will certainly eat vegetables with them.
The Daily Prompt: Vegetal