Deborah Madison Talks About Revising Her Beloved Cookbook: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, What’s Changed & What Hasn’t

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Aya Brackett)

Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is one of the most popular and respected cookbooks of our time. Since 1997 it has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, won many awards, and has consistently remained on many cooks’ lists of most favorite cookbooks.

It makes sense, then, to give it a bit of an update. After all, so much has changed in the food world in the 17 years since it was first released: so many new or more available foods, more information on health and nutrition, shifting tastes and priorities. But it’s tricky, too. What to keep? What to leave out? What to add? But if anyone were up to the challenge, it would be Deborah Madison. Read on for her thoughts on the joys and challenges of revising a beloved cookbook.

(Image credit: Deborah Madison)

I’ve spied this in several professional kitchens and

this famous picture

Here’s Deborah on the process of revising this wonderful and well-loved book.

Where did the idea to revise come from?

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time because well, times have changed. I wanted to update it, I mean really update it, on its 10th anniversary but Broadway, the original publisher, wasn’t interested. But then Ten Speed Press was and we got to work. I worked on it intermittently for about two years.

It was a challenge to do this, to rewrite it. We wanted to leave in what people expected to find, so in some respects the book had to stay the same. But in other ways, we wanted to give it a refresh, to add things that we’ve learned about since then. I wanted to update it because we now have new foods that we didn’t have then and we have new information about the foods we did have, like tofu.

What about the Vs for vegan? They’re new, right?

I had always wanted to at least put a V by the recipes that happen to be vegan for people who were looking for that. But I had to draw the line there and not get into gluten-free, sugar-free, because it could go on and on and that’s not the aim of the book.

Of course it’s possible to make many of these recipes vegan by just switching the fat from butter to coconut oil, for instance. So I figured that vegans know how to convert these things these days, there’s so much information out there now and they know what to do. If something is appealing to them but I didn’t mark it, they’ll be able to change it. Ghee and coconut oil can usually be exchanged, for example, and I often go back and forth between the two of them. I added a few vegan pizza recipes (without cheese) because they’re so delicious.

What else did you do in the process?

I thought while I was at it I could lighten up some of the recipes, take out some of the really creamy stuff and some of the ones that were, I don’t know, too challenging.

There was one recipe that I was actually wrong on! It was the Sizzling Risotto Gratin which is a very rich but wonderful dish. I was giving a talk somewhere and I mentioned that it was an example of a dish that I was planning on taking out. Two women came up to me afterwards and said “You can’t take that out because we always make that for each other on our birthdays!” I was very touched so I said “OK, I’ll leave it in. Why not!” When I rewrote the introduction I made sure to mention that story.

And it’s hard to tell what is too complicated for people. Aaron Wehner, the publisher of Ten Speed Press, reminded me that sometimes people like a challenge. And they do. Sometimes I like a challenge, too, and it’s not like there are too many of them in the book. So that really wasn’t the prime reason for taking out a recipe. The questions were more like: is this something we would eat now? Would we eat this but maybe use coconut oil instead of another fat? Those kinds of questions.

Quinoa is a good example. I did have several recipes in the original but now we have black and red varieties so I expanded there and I also added a little timbale with lots of cumin and turmeric and dried fruits.

What is a favorite new ingredient in the book?

Millet grits is a good example. They were something that I had never seen before. Millet is a really good grain because it’s alkaline which apparently means it reduces inflammation. But it is also a challenge to cook because some grains stay harder and some get mushy. The grits are great because it solves that issue. They’re really lovely. They’re a little hard to find although I think you can get them through Bob’s Red Mill.

(Image credit: Deborah Madison)

How much is new in the book?

There are 150 recipes that are new but most of the original recipes are still there. We took out the photographs and the illustrations, and redesigned it. The introduction is new and much of the front of the book has been updated and revised, as well as recipe headnotes. And the cover is new of course!

I introduced some miso sauces because fermented forms of soy are preferred to nonfermented these days. But I also left all the tofu because tofu is a good food and there are times you want to eat it. I definitely felt a no-knead bread should be there. I worked on one with Penny Wisner and she said you can use this recipe but you have to give credit to Jim Lahey, which I happily did.

There are a lot of pastas made from new-to-us foods like einkorn wheat, which makes a great spaghetti so I added a recipe for einkorn pasta with hot and spicy arugula. There’s a mac’n’cheese recipe that uses quinoa noodles. These pastas are really great and they’re sold in most supermarkets these days.

There are also many foods that were around in 1997 but now people have more access to them such as milks made from hemp or almond. When I was first starting to to write VCE if you wanted soy milk, it was kind of hard to find. It was tucked back in the corner of a health food store, it wasn’t like it is to day with all these other milks. Or chickpea flour. You could get it in an Indian store if you knew to ask for besan flour but you wouldn’t be making socca or chickpea flour crepes. Farro is another ancient food that is new to many!

Did you change any equipment called for in the book?

I didn’t do much with the pressure cooker in the new edition but I am starting to use it more often these days. One night I was having a dinner party and I decided at the last minute that I really needed a soup so I made a lentil soup in the pressure cooker in 15 minutes. I went and took my shower, came back to the kitchen and it was done! I ran it through the blender because it was sort of an elegant dinner and I wanted it creamy and smooth and then I made a little marjoram, walnut and garlic sauce to go with it. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, why don’t people just give themselves a break and start using these more!’ It’s so easy!

It’s so blissful to have something like that your fingertips. Every time I give a talk and mention the pressure cooker, though, people tell me how scared they are of them, even people who are really interested in food. So that kind of thing really persists. It takes a while for the word to get out that they’re really safe these days.

When it comes to the slow cooker, it took me a while to get on board. I tried The Greens Black Bean Chili recipe using the slow cooker and it wasn’t quite as good. Don’t get me wrong — it was still very good but it didn’t have quite the zip, the flavors were a little muddled. But I understand that using a slow cooker means that you can throw a recipe together and walk away and in the end you have a great dish. If that’s the difference between eating food that you’ve cooked or eating carry out, then I say by all means use one.

I know of a lot of ranchers who swear by slow cookers. One said to me recently that they really felt sorry for people who don’t know that you can put a tough piece of meat in a slow cooker in the morning and come back at the end of the day and have a terrific meal. Of course, VCE isn’t a meat cookbook, but hearing that one rancher say that really did wake me up to explore the slow cooker some more.

We have lots of great books on pressure cookers and slow cookers these days, so I just wanted to introduce them into the new edition of VCE and if people are really intrigued, they can of course look further.

Was it hard to retest all the recipes?

I actually had a wonderful time remaking a lot of these recipes. It was fun to take VCE out and turn to something and just start cooking. I was really pleased with the food and how it tasted and it was also just fun to play with new foods, like mixing vietnamese coriander with rice noodles, which is technically a form of pasta salad but much more fresh and lively.

Or delicata squash. One thing I learned since writing the book is you can eat the skins! You don’t have to peel it, you can just wash it, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, slice it and toss it in some coconut oil (if the oil is still hard, just plop some on the pan and put it in the oven for a few minutes to melt and then toss it again.) Add some sea salt, roast it up and, oh my gosh, it’s so good, so delicious and so crazy easy to do!

Do people need to buy this edition if they already have the first?

I’ve actually have already had some people write to me with that question. And I say, you don’t need to get the second one if you’re happy with the first edition, if you use it a lot, if you have all your notes in it, your favorite recipes marked. Don’t feel you have to run out and get it. But some day you may want to or someone may give it to you or you may pick it up and look through it and realize you like the new design, the new recipes.

It’s kind of like having a couple of editions of The Joy of Cooking.

Exactly! I have a few different editions of The Joy of Cooking and it’s not like I’m a big user but it is one of the few books I keep in my kitchen. In fact, the original title was supposed to be The Joy of Vegetarian Cooking but they were reissuing a new edition of The Joy of Cooking that same year so they asked me to change the title. But it’s the same idea.

And of course the book can be used by meat eaters as well. I remember once someone stopped me at the airport. He had seen me on television that morning and he said “Your book looks really good and I would love to buy it but unfortunately I’m not a vegetarian.” And I said, “But you do eat vegetables, right?”

That’s why it says ‘for everyone’ whether you’re a vegan, meat eater, or not. This is my discomfort with the word vegetarian. For many people it’s saying no — it’s pushing things away. Instead, I like the idea of saying yes, everyone can sit at this table!

Thank you, Deborah!

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