The Vegetarian Flavor Bible (podcast)

Feb 10th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured Articles
The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page; photographs by Andrew Dornenburg

Vegetarianism held no appeal for James Beard award-winning food writer Karen Page. She said besides enjoying the occasional vegetarian dish “like eggplant Parmesan, for example,” she never paid much attention to it, or considered going down that gustatory path herself.

Yet, after a four deaths in her family—including her father, step-mother, father in law and mother in law—Karen said she and her husband and collaborator, Andrew Dornenburg, had some serious thinking to do.

During a phone conversation from her home in New York, Karen told  me cancer caused the deaths of each of her loved ones. She added that through her research she discovered growing support among nutritionists and the healthcare community at large for proper nutrition as a  means of preventing some forms of the disease. “It got the the point that Andrew and I could no longer put one and one together and not get two–and that ‘two’ is how nutrition and wellness are inextricably linked.”

So, she said they finally took a look at their diets and asked what they could do when they were not eating professionally to keep themselves healthy.

After delving deeply into nutritional science data, and even earning a 2013 Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell in conjunction with the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, the answer for Karen and Andrew turned out to be: a plant based diet. “Despite the fact as foodies, we kind of held our noses about the idea; we thought, what the heck, let’s at least experiment with it.”

Once the couple began experimenting with plant-based cooking at home, and dining at top-rated vegetarian and vegan restaurants, Karen says they were blown away. “As food writers who have won awards for our books, who have thought a lot about flavor, we were shocked by how much we learned about flavor from the experience of stopping eating meat in May 2012.”

She said they learned how much the flavor profiles of various dishes are rooted in the vegetables, herbs and spices–and had very little to do with whether or not there’s meat in a dish.

This life change inspired Karen to write The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. It is modeled after her 2009 James Beard award-winning book, The Flavor Bible, which is a comprehensive reference of contemporary compatible flavors—including animal proteins. And while those who live a meat-free existence can easily use The Flavor Bible to create sumptuous, plant-based dishes, Karen believed she could better serve the plant eating public by creating a volume dedicated solely to vegetables.

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is 50% longer than the original Flavor Bible, and that’s without the inclusion of meat, poultry, or seafood. Kare says: “Because when you’re not cooking with meat, all the other ingredients take on increasing importance. “In The Flavor Bible, I think I  had four pages on mushrooms. In the new book, I have 16.”

Like its predecessor, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is not for everyone. There are no recipes in this book, only compatible flavor combinations. It is not a cookbook. It is a book for cooks who do not require a detailed ingredient list, concise measurements, or step-by-step instructions. It is for intuitive culinary types who are comfortable moving through the process and learning as they go.

As with The Flavor Bible, for this all-vegetable volume, Karen Page says she reached out to professional chefs and restaurateurs of vegetarian and vegan eateries, and discussed how they created delicious, balanced dishes with their ingredients of choice. From these discussions, she created her reference book.

In it you will discover:

  • Flavor profiles of hundreds of foods—along with their peak seasons, botanical relatives, possible substitutes, nutritional profiles, serving suggestions, and other cooking tips.
  • An alphabetical list of idea starters—including cuisines, ingredients, meal occasions, seasons, and tastes—to inspire your next sweet or savory creation.
  • A color-coding system—dark green, green, yellow, orange, and red—to aid in the selection of more nutritionally dense foods.
  • Techniques that today’s leading-edge vegetable-loving chefs use to maximize flavor.
  • Tips for making vegetarian versions of standard dishes and for veganizing vegetarian dishes.
  • A sidebar featuring master sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier’s advice for pairing wine with plant-based dishes.
  • A historical time line of the history of vegetarianism, from antiquity to the present, and
  • A chef’s-eye view of the subject, thanks to more than one hundred four-color photographs by Andrew Dornenburg.

At first, understanding how to use the book seems a daunting task. Yet, if you are patient, take your time, you build you confidence and intuition and discover the ease of use and the other helpful information provided by the author to inspire more plant-based cooking in your kitchen.

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