Despite the fact that I'm not a vegetarian, I find that most of my tried-and-true favorite cookbooks are about vegetarian cooking, such as Sundays at Moosewood and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. While Moosewood and VCE are well-known to most of us, I'm pleased to talk today about a well-respected but still lesser-known cookbook: the award winning The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by chef, cooking instructor, and author Peter Berley.
My copy with notes for increasing a recipe x 12!
The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen was released in 2000 and won both a James Beard and an IACP Award. It received rave reviews from many noted vegetarian cooks and eaters and was very popular. It has more of a cult following today, but like VCE, I feel this book should be on the shelves of vegetarians and omnivores alike. Indeed, Peter Berley went on to author two more cookbooks, one of which is called The Flexitarian Table that advocates for a vegetable intense, but not exclusively vegetarian, diet. As Mr. Berley said on an episode of Martha Stewart Living (see link, below), he is more interested in sustainability and responsible food sourcing these days.
When I first encountered this book, I was the head of a kitchen that cooked 3 vegetarian meals a day for about 60 people, 6 days a week. Needless to say, it was important to find new, fresh ideas to keep everyone happy. Not always possible, of course, but The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen was a huge help. The main reason for this was Berley's fresh, unique approach to some of the meat substitutes I had to work with like tempeh and tofu. An excellent example is his recipe for Tofu in White Wine, Mustard, and Dill, which calls for tofu to be cooked in a marinade of olive oil, red onions, white wine, mustard, honey, and fresh dill.
There are also several delicious recipes for tempeh, such as a barbecued sandwich filling with soy sauce, cumin, maple syrup, paprika, and thyme, and another version with apple and mustard. And his tempeh take on the classic Chicken with 40-Cloves of Garlic is amazing. I don't usually care too much for recipes that simply sub in meat substitutes, but the success of Berley's tofu and tempeh recipes is that he works with the unique properties of these ingredients instead of hiding them.
Another favorite section consists of four seasonal takes on miso soup, one each for spring, summer, autumn, and winter, The winter version has root vegetables and a dark, pungent barley miso, while the spring version has dill, scallions, radishes and peas in a light barley miso with lemon.
The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen also has many grain- and vegetable-focused recipes, seasonal salads, pastas and breads, and of course desserts. While the word 'vegetarian' is in the title, the truth is, most of the recipes are vegan, an influence perhaps from Berley's several years as the executive chef of Angelica Kitchen in NYC. These days, you can find him teaching classes in New York and Brooklyn, and in his own cooking studio in North Fork, NY. Here is a charming glimpse of Berley teaching his daughter how to make applesauce and latkes:
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(Images: Dana Velden)