I know you’re out there, you people who read cookbooks as though they’re novels. Well, I’m here to report that I’m fast becoming one of you. It’s all thanks to Mark Bittman and his latest, “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” If it weren’t so outsized, so hefty, I’d probably have taken it to bed with me last night.
I’m not new to Bittman; I’m a fan of his The New York Times “The Minimalist” column. But I recently got my hands on this book. What I like is that not only is he precise and pragmatic, he’s also full of inspired variations. And you can tell how much he loves being in the kitchen and pan-searing tomatoes or grilling watermelon. Or stuffing fresh pasta with mashed favas. Whatever he’s doing, you know he’s comfortable doing it, and that gives a cook hope.
My reading is a mix of “a-ha” moments (“You can think of [soup making] as a one-pot course on fundamental cooking techniques,” Bittman says) and head noddings (hooray to the repurposing of leftovers!). I’m meat-free (not on moral grounds, mind you, it’s more of a taste thing) and so I cook mostly vegetarian anyway, with a lot of fish thrown in. But even though I’ve been eating this way for years, there’s a whole extension of my world out there that includes novelties like bulgur and miso.
In fact, it’s Bittman’s enthusiasm for bulgur and miso that sent me traipsing around town just the other day in search of those two ingredients. I know bulgur from tabbouleh, but little did I know how much I’d love it warm, with Bittman’s recipe of dark sesame oil and green beans and soy sauce. Oh, the nutty rich goodness. I’m going to blow through that $3.49 bag I finally found at the third store (I swear, I thought these ingredients were just left of “regular.” I was astounded at how difficult they were to track down). It was worth it.