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April 16, 2013

Vegetable Literacy

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

I love Deborah Madison’s latest vegetarian tome, “Vegetable Literacy,” because of its encyclopedic approach. Madison divides the book into 12 chapters, one for each of the 12 families in the plant kingdom. Madison explains that knowledge of how vegetables are related is useful in the kitchen, particularly for substituting ingredients — an aspect of culinary literacy that is nowhere better exemplified than the Cook It Raw foraging events, though Madison shows how just a little know-how goes a long way even in a simple garden. I found this book fascinating not because I want to be a vegetarian, but because I want to be smarter about how I use the different vegetables I find at the green market. Just last week, a farmer advised that his sorrel would make a good sauce for fish. Indeed, Madison includes a recipe for creamy sorrel sauce that’s great not only with fish, but also for flavoring potatoes. As spring approaches and the market begins to abound with fresh produce, I look forward to buying lamb’s-quarters with the understanding that it’s part of the goosefoot and amaranth families, which include beets, chard, quinoa and spinach. When summer squash becomes abundant, try out the recipe (to the right) for summer squash tartines with rosemary and lemon.