Cookbook of the week: 'In My Kitchen,' by Deborah Madison, and a soup recipe

Vegetable cooking has come an awfully long way since Deborah Madison started cooking vegetarian food, which the celebrated cookbook author circumspectly notes in the introduction to her 14th cookbook, out next month from Ten Speed Press. A veteran not just of cookbooks but of kitchens — she cooked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, opened her own restaurant Greens in San Francisco, and has cooked in Santa Fe and in Rome — Madison has documented the trajectory of vegetable cuisine over decades, as the rest of us have followed her, relied on her and largely played catch-up to her own sure sensibility. 

“In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes” sounds simple, understated, even ordinary — maybe a homey walk-off from someone with a stack of James Beard Awards on top off all those cookbooks (Madison was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame last year). It is not. Rather there are over 100 recipes — some new, some old, all reworked — for the kind of dishes that have made Madison’s books central, pivotal objects in our sauce-decorated libraries. There is an imprimatur by Yotam Ottolenghi (as if she needed it), and solid, pretty pictures by Erin Scott. There is chatty, workmanlike prose distilling what Madison has learned over her long career (“grow something!”). The recipes themselves, which aren’t divvied up into artificial or cute chapters (thank you), come in plain alphabetical order. And what recipes. 

Madison is terrific at that rare thing: making food that is simultaneously both plain and creative; wholesome yet also inventive and on-trend. So: masa crêpes with chard, black beans, avocado and pickled onions; stinging nettle soup with nigella seeds; artichoke and scallion sauté over garlic-rubbed toast. She plays off basics, making shortbread with anise, loading black-eyed peas with yogurt and tahini. A pot of lentil soup, that health food standard, uses red lentils, turmeric and ghee and comes dosed with homemade berbere, the addictive Ethiopian spice blend that dyes the soup red and rockets the flavor. (Make a lot of this; it will become as much of a necessity as the recipe for zhough, a green chile paste from Yemen, in Madison’s remarkable 2002 book “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets.”)

Recipe: Red lentil soup with berbere >>

The conceit of this latest cookbook is that it’s Madison’s “most personal” book, a kind of kitchen catalog of what she cooks at home. This is a nice trend, and one that many of our best cookbook writers have lately been following (the most recent books from Diana Kennedy, Nancy Silverton and Alton Brown have all been in this vein). This makes pragmatic sense, probably both for the authors and their publishers, but it also makes a lot of sense for the rest of us too: We want to come home and make delicious, inventive yet uncomplicated dishes as much as the professionals do. Madison’s new book helps us do exactly that; it’s as inventive and uncomplicated as the dishes themselves. 

Cookbook of the Week: “In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes,” by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press, $32.50)

RED LENTIL SOUP WITH BERBERE

50 minutes, plus cooling time. Serves 8 to 12.

BERBERE

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

4 allspice berries

6 cardamom pods, husks discarded

4 cloves

3 tablespoons ground New Mexico chile powder, more if desired

3 tablespoons smoked or regular paprika, sweet or hot

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon powdered ginger

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a dry skillet heated over medium heat, combine the coriander, fenugreek, peppercorns, allspice, cardamom and cloves. Toast until fragrant, then turn the seeds out onto a place to cool for several minutes. Grind the toasted spices to a powder, then place in a bowl and whisk in the chile powder, paprika, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Store in a tightly covered jar in a cool place.

RED LENTIL SOUP

2 cups split red lentils, picked over and rinsed several times

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

3 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil, divided

Sea salt

1 large onion, finely diced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons black mustard seeds

2 teaspoons prepared Berbere, divided

1 small bunch cilantro, stems finely sliced and leaves chopped, divided

Juice of 2 to 3 limes, or to taste

4 teaspoons olive oil

1. In a heavy soup pot, combine the lentils with 2 ½ quarts water, the turmeric, 2 tablespoons ghee and 2 ½ teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and gently simmer until the lentils are soft and just short of falling apart, about 15 minutes. If you prefer a smoother soup, puree the lentils.

2. While the soup is cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat and add the last bit of ghee. When it’s hot, add the onion with the cumin, mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon berbere and cilantro stems, stirring occasionally. When the onions are softened, add them to the lentils along with the chopped cilantro leaves, along with the juice from 2 limes. Taste and add additional juice, if desired, to bring up the flavors. The soup should be a tad sour.

3. At this point, if the soup seems too thick, add extra water, stock, coconut cream or coconut milk. Mix the remaining teaspoon of berbere with the olive oil and drizzle it over the surface of each bowl.

Each of 12 servings: Calories 173; Protein 8 grams; Carbohydrates 23 grams; Fiber 4 grams; Fat 6 grams; Saturated fat 3 grams; Cholesterol 9 mg; Sugar 1 gram; Sodium 519 mg.

Note: Adapted from a recipe by Deborah Madison in her cookbook, “In my Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes.”

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