In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a couple of books about vegetables from the BPL and the SPL. I barely looked through either one of them.
The first, “Field Guide to Produce,” is fairly compact. I picked it up on a whim while browsing the rather sparse cooking and plants sections at the SPL’s West Branch. I thought it might be a good reference book — something to keep around the kitchen and refer to when you want to know how to do x with y vegetable. A couple of days before it was due back at the library I flipped through it again and was a little disappointed. It just didn’t strike me as particularly useful — most of the book is focused on how to identify the veggie at hand, with photos of the different kinds of apples, for example. Yes, this is useful in its own way, but not for me.
The second book is Barbara Kafka’s “Vegetable Love,” which I still have. I read about it somewhere and it sounded great, so I requested it at the BPL before their copy had even arrived. I was excited when it finally came, especially since it was right at the beginning of the summer — I have time to cook and the veggies are fresh.
Man, is this book overwhelming. Since she is focusing on vegetables, she decided to arrange the recipes by veggie, within chapters that are each a part of the world (for example, “Vegetables of the New World,” “Vegetables of Asia and Africa”). The section for each veggie, or type of veggie (a bunch of different beans are all lumped together in one section) contains a history of the food, and then recipes. Salads, sauces, entrees, desserts — it’s all jumbled together.
This approach is daunting to me. When I get a new cookbook, I like to skim through the whole thing, looking at all the recipes and attempting to make mental notes about what I want to make. When I’m searching for a dish to cook, I like to open a cookbook to a chapter about the particular type of dish I want to make (salads, entrees, whatever) and go from there; if I have a particular ingredient I want to use, then I”ll check the index. I know that it shouldn’t matter which way one looks up the recipes, but this is just too much. There are 521 pages of recipes in this book. My “Gourmet Cookbook” is probably just as big, but the divisions by type of food make it more manageable.
That being said, I can see how this would be a useful book for a true cook — someone who goes out to the local market, sees what’s fresh and just picks it up. With this book, if you’ve decided to make a dish highlighting fennel, you can flip through that section and see what sounds good. And what I’ve seen from flipping through it at random, there are a lot of good recipes, some simple, others more complex.