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A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends
By Jack Bishop
(Houghton Mifflin Company, June 2004)

A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends



Try as we might, some of us are just not cut out to be career vegetarians. It all sounds appealing at first—good politics, good health... but then comes that moment when a whiff of barbecue floats in the summer breeze... or when everyone else oohs and aahs over the sublime foie gras, while we stifle that rightful envy. That’s usually when we break down and reassess our commitment to a vegetarian diet.

However, another big reason we pursue vegetarian cooking and eating is because talented chefs and food people like Jack Bishop make it easy for us to grasp the concept of a meatless diet as one that is filled with great joy: bright, big, fresh flavors, easy to cook, and immensely satisfying. Vegetarian food done right can do more than merely address primordial gastronomic needs—in fact, it can be downright charismatic.

Bishop is executive editor of Cook’s Illustrated, author of several cookbooks, and a principal cast member of America’s Test Kitchen, a successful PBS television show. His latest effort is entitled A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends. In this book, his credentials are strengthened by the fact that his daily cooking must meet the needs of his busy family—a wife and two young daughters. Bishop’s plate is laden with personal and professional commitments that require his cooking to impress numerous palates, yet not demand countless hours of prep and cooking.

A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen has converted us, again, back to the joys of vegetarianism. It doesn’t mean we won’t stumble in the near future, but we’re perfectly happy at the moment, because this book is exciting. Funny, the first page we opened to was Miso and Shiitake Mushroom Soup with Sesame Seeds—and we had all ingredients on hand. It was a quick and competent miso, and three of us emptied the pot with vigor. We had a small appetite left, so we tried Sugar Snap Peas with Fried Ginger, and Tomato and Mango Salad with Curry-Orange Vinaigrette. The whole affair took less than half an hour. Good thing we weren’t longing for after-dinner sweets because A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen is dessert-less.

Bishop’s reverence for produce shows throughout his new book. Chapters are organized by season, so there are four sumptuous sections with nearly 250 recipes in all. Beginning with spring, he fills the pages with smart, interesting recipes and garnishes them with his notes, observations and advice. Coconut Rice with Edamame and Leeks? Bishop says, “Think of this as rice and beans with Thai and spring flavors.” And it is delightful. Or what about Baked Chard Stems with Tomatoes, Garlic, and Parmesan.

This is but one good reason to hang onto things you would normally toss. We fell hard for Stewed Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Fennel Seeds, equally delicious if you substitute other legumes and a complete meal served over his cinnamon-scented Basmati Rice Pilaf.

When the summer season is in full swing, you get Grilled Mozzarella Sandwiches with Tomato-Green Olive Salad, Corn Pudding with Poblano Chiles and Monterey Jack Cheese, and another good excuse to buy those squash blossoms—Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Quick Tomato Salsa. Fall turns hearty and rustic with a flawless Fettuccine with Mascarpone and Sage-Walnut Brown Butter, Green Lentil and Roasted Vegetable Salad with Mustard-Tarragon Vinaigrette, and Bruschetta with White Bean Puree, Arugula and Grilled Portobellos. Bishop draws inspiration in all seasons from the cuisines of Southeast Asia, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean, and India, so variety and excitement can be found everywhere, in dishes like Rigatoni with Cauliflower, Curry Powder, and Coconut Milk, or Chinese Noodles with Golden Tofu and Greens.

As the cold and dark of winter sets in, there’s even more reason to keep A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen close by. Actually, there are more than 50 reasons—like Curried Red Lentils with Caramelized Onions or Soba Noodles with Chard and Raisins. There’s no better reminder of an escape to warm weather than Caribbean Black Beans with Sautéed Plantains—and no better comfort than Macaroni and Cheese, Italian Style, or Mushroom Barley Risotto.

Whether you put together an entire affair using one of Bishop’s thoughtfully composed menus, such as a Spring Dinner Party with Mediterranean Flavors, or piece things together on your own, there’s more than a year’s worth of seriously good eating. You won’t get bored, you won’t go hungry and you won’t be exhausted from cooking.

A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen gives us the best of everything, courtesy of a master chef, appealing writer and sensible home cook. Here is the best of vegetarian food: exciting, fun, complete meals with international appeal. Bishop provides the best way to take a vacation (permanently, perhaps) from meat, poultry, and seafood. Looking at the book another way, it’s a worthwhile venture into a vegetarian lifestyle—with sustainable appeal. With food like this, you probably won’t miss the sizzle of a steak or the smell of chickens roasting next time the breeze is blowing in your direction.

Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler

(Updated: 01/16/09 SB)

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