Two-time James Beard Award-winning author Karen Page has written an impressive follow-up to her classic, The Flavor Bible. This time, she turns her attention to plant-based cooking in The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. The 554-page tome (with photos by Andrew Dornenburg) includes no recipes but instead a detailed history of veggie cuisine, ideas for jump-starting creative meals — and the author’s own journey to that side of the table.
She starts by confessing that, after two decades of food writing, “My life included an endless pursuit of deliciousness, and I was always thrilled to discover what I’d learn from the next bite. But as more and more headlines trumpeted the relationship between nutrition and wellness, it dawned on me that for someone who ate for a living, I’d thought surprisingly little about what to put in my body.”
Page cites a survey that found many Americans believe it is easier to compute their income tax than to figure out what it means to eat healthy. Eventually, the Harvard-educated Page concluded that she should overhaul her diet and even earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation.
Her big book leaves no kale leaf unturned in its very detailed exploration of how the food we consume affects not only our own well-being, but the health of the planet. She argues that you can maximize flavor while creating “compassionate cuisine.” The book is more informative than preachy, but Page doesn’t hold back: “Choosing to not eat meat, or even to eat less of it, is a simple yet powerful way to be a part of the solution to some of the most pressing problems of today and tomorrow.”
This is more encyclopedia than cookbook, the intent being to educate and inspire in the kitchen. There are sample menus, thoughts from numerous chefs and thousands of “flavor matchmaking” combos. And, in case you’re wondering what kind of wine goes with potato-nettle soup, master sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate in New York City offers a mini-course on pairing wines with vegetarian and vegan dishes.
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There's also a clever list of what to substitute if you are craving meaty things like bacon or sloppy joes. (Dieihard carnivores probably will not be persuaded to try seasoned jackfruit in place of pulled pork.)
The book is chock-full of fun facts: Who knew that Leonardo da Vinci and Johnny Appleseed were vegetarians? Pretty much every prominent American plant-friendly chef and restaurant gets a shout-out, including two local favorites: Tal Ronnen’s Crossroads and Canoga Park fixture Follow Your Heart.