Archive for May, 2009

Cookbooks, cookbooks, cookbooks

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by hoveringdog

I’ve been having so much fun cooking from the great vegan cookbooks published so far this year that I haven’t been very inclined to experiment with my own historical weirdness. It’s amazing to see how vegan recipes have evolved in only a couple of decades from obscure underground zines to glossy best sellers, andVegan Brunch the standard of the food itself from bog-standard grilled tofu dishes to a genuinely distinctive and varied cuisine. Here are a few 2009 cookbooks I’ve been exploring lately:

The lovely and talented Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author with Terry Romero of Vegan with a Vengeance and Veganomicon, has published Vegan Brunch, with more than 175 recipes for what is arguably the best meal of the day. She includes a handful of indespensible brunch items reprinted or slightly revised from her previous books, standards such as pancakes or tempeh bacon, but the bulk of the Tropical Vegan Kitchenvolume is filled with original and innovative brunch ideas, such as a variety of tofu omelettes flavored with the uncannily egg-like taste of black salt and several waffle ideas including gingerbread, peanut butter, and chocolate beer.

I love Donna Klein’s books Vegan Italiano and Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen because they include so many recipes that are quick and inexpensive. Most other cookbooks I whip out for special occassions or a random indulgence, but a number of Klein’s recipes have become my regular standbys. She uses very few obscure, foodie ingredients, just basic fruits, vegetables, grains, and other readily available staples. Her most recent book, Tropical Vegan Kitchen, is similarly quick and easy to use, with recipes from tropical locations around the world, Vegan Soul Kitchensuch as coconut tofu with spicy pineapple chutney or African black barley stew with okra and tomatoes. Her recipe for Bangkok-style basil sesame noodles has become a regular in my kitchen.

In Vegan Soul Kitchen, food activist Bryant Terry reinvents African-American cuisine with healthy, animal-free recipes like black-eyed pea fritters with hot pepper sauce, spicy mafé tempeh, and savory triple-corn grits. A nice added touch is the “soundtrack” with each recipe, suggestions like Toots & The Maytals’ “Water Melon” for the citrus and spice pickled watermelon rind or Booker T.’s “Green Onions” for the pan-fried grit cakes with caramelized spring onions, a gentle reminder of the intersection of food and other aspects of culture and community.

I’ve also been recently inspired to start pickling with the publication of the revised edition of Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. It’s not a strictly vegan book—there’s one short chapter in the four-hundred-page tome on pickled meats and eggs—but it seems to be an excellent primer on preserving vegetables. I say “seems to be” because I’m still awaiting the chance to deliver a verdict on the Japanese kimuchi that’s currently fermenting away and stinking up one of my cupboards.

Anyway, I promise I’ll tear myself away from these books sometime soon and get back into the wonderful Victorian world of boiled celery on toast. On second thought, I might just spend a little more time with my new cookbook purchases…

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‘Shrooms

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , on May 1, 2009 by hoveringdog

An ex-girlfriend of mine described my compulsive need to find an answer to any random question that occurs to me as “Research OCD.” And it seems to me an apt enough description. It’s what made me a mediocre research student—my doctoral thesis was a painfully drawn-out affair because I got too easily distracted by other interests—but what I hope will make me a tolerably decent librarian once I’m through with my most recent reckless foray into postgraduate education.

Mushrooms

So when I discovered today that the grocery store had acquired a stock of strange and wondrous new mushrooms, including the white beech mushrooms I ultimately bought, I began to wonder about the history of fungiculture. I assumed that eating edible wild fungus dated well back into prehistory, but when did humans start cultivating ‘shrooms for themselves?

I was surprised to find that with all the food-related microhistories written in recent years on everything from cod to coffee to corn (just to name the C’s), I couldn’t find a comprehensive history of fungiculture. Hallucinogenic mushrooms, yes, and a book about truffles, but not the plain old edible ones. I did put my research skills to work, though, and found a few interesting historical tidbits.

Turns out I had assumed correctly that the consumption of mushrooms goes back quite a way: traces of puffball mushrooms have been found in Stone Age settlements. In ancient Egypt, only pharaohs were allowed to consume mushrooms, which the Egyptians regarded as “sons of the gods” sent down to earth on lighting bolts. Apparently, this wasn’t an isolated notion: Roman folklore also perpetuated the strange association of mushrooms and lightning, claiming that mushrooms sprung from the earth in places where lightning had struck.

Actual cultivation of mushrooms, however, turns out to have been a much later development, in the West at least. The technique to cultivate the common button mushroom was discovered in France by mid-seventeenth-century melon farmers. By the mid-eighteenth century, mushroom cultivators had discovered that mushrooms could be more easily grown in subterranean caverns, where the factors of temperature and humidity were less variable. The US didn’t catch on until the latter half of the nineteenth century when fungiculture was introduced to the US from England and small-scale efforts at cultivating mushrooms began in New York’s Long Island.

So anyway, today’s mushroom purchase was destined for the wok, where I stir-fried them up with some carrots and snowpeas and my own spicy miso stir-fry sauce. Here’s the formula I used, after the fold:
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