Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom is Deborah Madison's newest book, and an epic book it is! Vegetable Literacy is an amazing introduction to the connections between the foods we eat. Madison writes lovingly and eloquently about the relationships between plant families and how to bring the beauty of those relationships into the kitchen.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, each focusing on one plant family. Some, like the morning glory family, are short, featuring only the humble sweet potato as its edible species. But other, longer chapters include expansive stories of both unique and commonplace vegetables– the longer chapters include the carrot family (featuring parsnips, celery, fennel, dill and more), the brassica family (featuring kale, cabbage, bok choi, turnips and wasabi), the legume family (peas, beans and all manner of pulses) and the grass family (corn, wheat, wild rice, bamboo and oat).
What Madison has done in Vegetable Literacy is to combine the knowledge of gardeners and farmers and bring it to the table. In her chapter on nightshades, for example, she notes that by virtue of being related, plants like peppers, eggplant, tomato and potato have a natural affinity to each other, and make for wonderful recipes like in the Gratin of Tomatoes, Eggplant and Chard. And it's important to note that the recipes featured in this book are not terribly complicated. In fact, many of the recipes are actually just simple instructions to make the most of your fresh bounty: how to make your own tisane from fresh herbs from the mint family, how to dress a salad without making dressing, how to perfectly roast your Brussels Sprouts with just oil, salt and pepper, and how to make freshly cooked beans and grains. The Ivory Carrot Soup shown below is one of the recipes that really showcases Madison's vision for her veggies. This gorgeous soup features just a handful of ingredients (onion, herbs, stock) to really show off the beauty of the orange and white roots.
The book features a startling amount of information on growing, harvesting, selecting and cooking fresh, beautiful produce. Some might find it useful as a coffee-table book, others as a cookbook beside the stove, while some might even read it cover-to-cover like a novel (guilty!). And whether you are a home gardener or a a full-time chef, this book will inspire you to learn more about these plant relationships and learn how to make the most of them in your kitchen.
Soup image from Serious Eats, other photos from Vibrant Wellness Journal