revealed how plant-based dishes can be sophisticated and even glamorous. Today’s latest cookbook evolution speaks to the newest generation of vegetarian cooks’ burgeoning interest in tasty ethnic cuisines, home gardening and farmers’ markets as well as meatless meals. Natkin has pulled it all together in Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution, with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes. From the standpoint of a well-traveled home cook, he also chronicles his travels and forays into flavorful, globally influenced recipes at Herbivoracious.com.
Why Vegetarian, Why Now?
Grilled Tofu and Pepper Tacos
New Ethnic Vegetarian Recipes Rock Taste Buds by Judith Fertig
Celebrating Vegetarian Awareness Month, Natural Awakenings visits the continuing evolutions of vegetarian eating habits and leading cookbooks.
ncient India and Egypt are known to have served up plant-based diets, but vegetarian cookbooks are a relatively recent American phenomenon. The genre debuted nationally in 1977 with Mollie Katzen’s groundbreaking classic, the first Moosewood Cookbook, sharing recipes gleaned from her restaurant and a collective coop in Ithaca, New York. Considered one of Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat, by Health magazine, she has also hosted several PBS cooking shows. When Katzen first took up the cause, vegetarian cooking was earnest, if earthy, relying heavily upon such staples as brown rice, mushrooms and tofu. The options were limited for those that didn’t capitalize on a home garden or live in a cosmopolitan city.
Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s, cookbook author and food blogger Michael Natkin remembers…“when vegetables were boiled until they begged for mercy.” Being a vegetarian then meant a commitment to a philosophy, not necessarily an expectation of flavor and pleasure. In 1981, an Indian actress and cookbook author introduced Americans to exotic vegetarian dishes from India in Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East: Vegetarian Cooking. Still, without an Asian market nearby, hard-to-find ingredients like dhal (a lentil) or fenugreek (a seed) might have derailed attempts to make such recipes. By 1990, Chef Deborah Madison had contributed The Savory Way, which upped the quotient of colorful foods inspired by classic French cuisine. She
“Because vegetarian meals are good for you, tread more lightly on our planet’s resources and are kinder to animals,” Natkin responds. “The planet isn’t designed to support billions of meat-eaters. Plus, many are concerned about the methods of animal agriculture—think of industrial hog farms, for instance, which can be environmental nightmares. If you want to eat meat from smaller producers with higher ethical standards, it’s more expensive,” he says. “Even if you eat meatless only now and again, it’s better for the family budget, your health and the planet.” Natkin is well aware of the “dark days for vegetables,” when commerce dictated that varieties be chosen and grown primarily for their ability to withstand long-distance transport. Now, due to rising demand, more are grown for flavor, advises Natkin, and that makes vegetarian meals taste better and become more popular. Natkin further suggests, “If you want a sustainable diet, it must include foods that you like, not foods that you think you should like. They have to taste good, otherwise you won’t stick with it.” Natkin’s cookbook encompasses dishes from locales as diverse as India, Iran, Japan, Mexico and Thailand. His special touch is conceiving ways to convert traditional recipes to vegetarian variations while maintaining unique flavors and combinations of textures. From a deconstructed sushi to tofu tacos, Natkin coaxes the most flavor out of his ingredients—from cooking pasta