Pros: Comprehensive and practical approach to making flavorful food that happens to be vegetable-based
Cons: Not a quick read; a reference tool versus a coffee table book
You most assuredly know the writing team of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. The couple is responsible for the iconic kitchen classics like Dining Out, The New American Chef, and Chef’s Night Out, among others.
So why go vegetarian with the duo’s latest, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible? “While I started eating veg in May 2012 for my well-being, I’ve since discovered countless reasons to continue eating this way – which include the well-being of the planet as well as the well-being of animals,” Page tells me. And the book brings to light a very compelling argument.
This compendium is exhaustively researched. “I began the research that led to The Vegetarian Flavor Bible at the beginning of 2010, after having lost my father, my stepmother, and both of Andrew’s parents between 2000 and 2009 – all to cancer,” says Page. “It was appalling to learn that nutritionally-controllable diseases (e.g., cancer, heart disease, diabetes) are the #1 cause of death in the U.S., and I wanted to educate myself in nutrition to enable us – and anyone else who wishes – to eat a more healthful whole-foods, plant-based diet without ever sacrificing flavor.” The implication with calling anything a bible is that it seldom delivers. Rather, to be all-encompassing and all-knowing, the volume must be an expanse on whatever topic is being explored. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible truly is a bible. The approach is easily navigable; concisely laid out dictionary style with techniques to preparing the vegetable-based ingredients as well as nutritional guidance.
The section of notable events in vegetarian history, for example, is encyclopedic in thoroughness. Plato, the American Psychological Society, Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Edison, among many others, all get a nod for their roles along the vegetarian path. Including the biography of vegetarianism helps lure the reticent and non-believers.
But the nerve-center of the book really is a collection of ingredients laden with practical details to capitalize on flavor and appeal. They just happen to be meatless. Craftily conceived, Page dispenses with a brilliant flood of information, as you would expect from a bible. Dictionary-style organization with an alphabetic reference, indexing hundreds of ingredients, each listing includes the seasonality of the component, flavor, technique substitutes and flavor affinities, among others. The index is all-encompassing; there are quotes to draw attention to some ingredients, photographs of others and references to restaurant dishes containing the respective ingredients. Whew!
The other half of the creative machine that has bellowed out Culinary Artistry, Becoming a Chef and The Flavor Bible, Andrew Dornenburg adds to the 554-page tome with artful and genuinely relevant photos. Capturing the colors of the vibrant diet that Page so eloquently espouses, Dornenburg premiers his photography for Vegetarian.
I asked Page about hurdles to tackling such a hot-button topic. “Some omnivore readers are of an all-or-nothing variety, believing-wrongly-that if they can’t go 100% vegan or vegetarian, they shouldn’t bother. But even reducing meat from your diet can help. For example, the American Heart Association just released a study that switching to a semi-vegetarian diet could cut your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke by as much as 20 percent. Also, it takes 660 gallons of water to make one hamburger.” If you aren’t so quick to buy-in to the vegetarian mindset, you learn to explore compelling topics like chemesthesis, cheese addiction and the Broccoli Dog. Now that’s cool!