Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin is the sort of cookbook we really shouldn't need, as most of us with access to Southern California's abundant produce already have what the second half of the subtitle offers: 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes. But we really didn't need a book on The Art of Charcuterie, or another Essential Pepin book, either.
What we really did need, with a blogger cookbook at least, is summed up neatly in the first half of that subtitle: A Flavor Revolution. Not so much in terms of the recipes, though that red lentil and kabocha squash soup with harissa oil does sound pretty terrific for lunch.
What we've been craving is a renegade uprising against celebrity-chef cookbooks, mommy-blogger kitchen memoirs and the endless arsenal of Betty Crocker cupcake updates that gather dust on our desk every month. A blogger's cookbook with a broad, possibly even lasting, kitchen relevance. And for that, we needed a small publisher.
Or maybe we just needed a 45-year-old blogger, as Natkin happens to be (his popular blog is also called Herbivoracious) to finally get a more seasoned, less fleeting approach to those online tofu poke (p. 41) and sabich (p. 134) recipes -- the latter being a fried eggplant-egg-hummus sandwich that Natkin describes as a "popular Sabbath food for Iraqi Jews, who, when they emigrated to Israel and set up a community in Ramat Gan, brought the sandwich with them." In other words, Herbivoracious is refreshingly old-school for a blogger cookbook.
The subtle difference between this and most blogger cookbooks we've seen is that Natkin talks about the food that has inspired him -- but rarely discusses himself. The focus is on the recipes. Consider a relatively simple recipe for potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms in red wine sauce, a recipe Natkin says he developed after finding a "pile" of Rose Finn Apple fingerling potatoes in his garden and buying some "beauties" (chanterelles) to go along with them. That's where the personal story ends, as it should. He devotes the bulk of the recipe header to perfecting our (not his) mushroom cooking techniques and suggestions for turning the dish into something else: savory pie filling, or maybe an entire mushroom tasting dinner. Hardly a novel concept, but one all too often overlooked in cookbooks today.
That absence of a deliberate Pioneer Woman-type story angle is something we can't thank Natkin for enough. Yes, his blog and this book are focused on vegetarian food, but more as a broad subject, just as Alice Medrich focuses so beautifully on desserts. Natkin seems more at home with everyday recipes such as a global Sicilian-style spaghetti (p. 175) and Thai khai soi (curried noodles with fried tofu). The peach crostatas, apple-celery sorbets and sesame-orange sablés are right at home here, too.
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Could this be the new (mature) direction of blogger cookbooks? We hope our koftas (Middle Eastern meatballs, p. 137) that it is.
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