During a recent nomadic period in my life, I stored several boxes of cookbooks at a friend's house. When I finally settled down, one of the first things I did was to retrieve those boxes and slowly, box by box, unpack them. It was interesting to see which of the cookbooks made it onto my shelves, which went back into the box for further storage, and which went into the sell/give away pile. Sometimes this decision was hard and I pondered and fretted, not wanting to regret my choices but not wanting to overburden my shelves either. But when I unpacked Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, there was no hesitation. It practically leapt onto my cookbook shelf of its own accord.
To my mind, Moosewood Restaurant is an institution. This collectively owned, James Beard awarded, mostly vegetarian restaurant (they occasionally serve fish and seafood) located in Ithaca, NY is as popular and relevant today as it was when it was founded in 1973. In fact, Moosewood is scheduled to release a cookbook sometime this year, the 13th volume in their library of cookbooks based on the restaurant's menus as well as home-cooked favorites.
Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant was first published in 1990 and is the collective's 2nd cookbook. It's a collection of recipes from their special Sunday night meals when they presented foods from one particular ethnic, national, or regional cuisine. Each of the collective's owners took on a cuisine, offering a dozen or so recipes for soups, starters, mains, sides, breads, salads, and desserts.
What first attracted me to this cookbook and still impresses me today is its scope. When I picked this book up in the mid-1990's, I was living in a small Midwestern city that didn't have much to offer beyond European-based cuisines. (Even the local Chinese restaurants were quite bland and dumbed down.) So paging through Sundays opened an enormous world of flavor, texture, and ingredient possibilities for me. Here there were recipes from the Caribbean, Chile, Japan, North and South Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia. And while there were some familiar recipes from the American South and New England, there were also Jewish, Provencal, Eastern European, and Finnish food to explore. Chinese, Indian, Italian, and the British Isles rounded out the selection.
When I revisit the book today, I am struck by how delicious most of the offerings still sound. While some of the dishes have become mainstream (Fresh Spring Rolls, for instance), there are also some recipes that are still unique and exciting, such as the Serbian, Croatian, Russian, and Slovenian foods from the Eastern European chapter. And how wonderful it is to have a recipe for Bouillabaisse with Rouille (Provence) in the same book as Senegalese Seafood Stew (West Africa) and Seafood and Vegetable Hotpot with Pungent Dipping Sauce (Japan)!
There are a few things I would update. For example, an old favorite recipe, Sara's Oat Bread, calls for 1/2 cup of brown sugar. The headnotes say to follow the recipe exactly for 'a wonderfully light and tender bread,' but I would cut that amount in half today, if not more. It's certainly worth a try.
But there's one thing I would never change and that's the recipe for Buttermilk Biscuits. For almost 20 years, this has been my go-to recipe for biscuits. I have multiplied it times ten to feed a crowd, played a little with the flour (subbing out some of the white for whole wheat) and replaced thinned yogurt for the buttermilk when none was on hand. No matter what, it has always produced the best flaky, buttery, layered biscuits. Always. And even though I have the recipe memorized, it's for this reason alone I will forever keep Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant on my shelf.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant by The Moosewood Collective
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(Images: Dana Velden)