Mollie Katzen’s bestselling Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977, was the right cookbook at the right time. Its cozy, spiral-bound, handwritten appearance and simple, hearty vegetarian recipes had tremendous appeal to a generation that was fed up with frozen TV dinners and learning to love their veggies. Moosewood taught them to enjoy cooking wholesome, delicious meals from scratch.
Katzen’s newest cookbook, The Heart of the Plate, reflects our contemporary preference for lighter, livelier, and spicier vegetarian fare. While the recipes in Moosewood tended to be a bit heavy on the beans and grains, those in The Heart of the Plate emphasize contrasts in colors, flavors, and textures, and often flip the ratio of veggies to carbs, “delivering more garden items to the plate,” as Katzen writes.
The recipes in The Heart of the Plate call for common vegetables — carrots, cabbage, yams, zucchini, along with other easily obtained ingredients — but the dishes themselves are anything but ordinary, likely to stimulate even a jaded cook’s interest. There are appealing hot and cold soups, like Green Matzoh Ball Soup (made with broccoli) and a beautiful pastel Cucumber-Melon-Peach Gazpacho. Among the salad standouts are the Grilled Bread and Kale Salad with Red Onion, Walnuts, and Figs; and Green Rice with Grapes and Pecans. Katzen’s vegetable stews are filling without being heavy; some are twists on traditional themes, like Mushroom Stroganoff over Cabbage “Noodles.” She devotes an entire chapter to “the ultimate savory comfort food: mashed vegetables, like Curried Mashed Carrots and Cashews. (“Why stop at mashed potatoes?” she asks.) Even her rice, pasta, and grain recipes tend to be highly “vegecentric,” like her four Seasonal Lasagna Stacks — generous combinations of vegetables housing minimal noodles, with very light touches of cheese. Tempting oven-to-table meals include Caramelized Onion Frittata with Artichoke Hearts, Zucchini and Goat Cheese; and Katzen’s new takes on veggie burgers and pancakes, like Sweet Potato-Chickpea-Quinoa Burgers and Zucchini-Ricotta Cloud Cakes. She also includes an assortment of nutritious and delectable-sounding “Sauces, Vinaigrettes, Toppings, and Other Meaningful Touches” as well as a selection of her favorite desserts, like Bittersweet Mocha Bundt Cake and Brûléed Persimmon Pudding.
The “optional enhancements” that follow most of the recipes encourage experimentation, and Katzen’s warm, witty narrative makes her good company in the kitchen. Cooking should appeal to all the senses, she writes. “Snapping asparagus can be as satisfying as popping bubble wrap, replete with crisp sound effects.”
The Heart of the Plate features the author’s signature sketches along with her beautiful photos of selected recipes. Suggested menus, separated into vegetarian and vegan, can be followed exactly or used as templates for creating meals.
There’s nothing like an original and beautiful new vegetarian cookbook to inspire a cook to buy some fresh veggies and cook up a batch of something healthy and delicious for family and friends. The Heart of the Plate is just such a book.
Carol is the executive editor of Jewish Book Council. She joined the JBC as the editor of Jewish Book World in 2003, shortly after her son’s bar mitzvah. Before having a family she held positions as an editor and copywriter and is the author of two books on tennis and other racquet sports. She is a native New Yorker and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a BA and MA in English.