Book Review: Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook

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Category : Book and Movie Reviews

Northwest Vegetarian CookbookAs the end of canning season approaches, and my pantry is full of local ingredients I will use throughout the winter, my thoughts begin to turn toward new and interesting recipes to try. I pull out cookbooks, buy a few new ones, and explore the possibilities.

One of my favorite cookbooks to browse is The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook: 200 Recipes That Celebrate the Flavors of Oregon and Washington by Debra Daniels-Zeller. I was first attracted to the book by the enticing cover photo of one of my top food choices–fresh asparagus. Later I had the good fortune to meet the author at a Community Food Co-op event about a year ago. I enjoyed talking with her, and later visited her blog titled “Food Connections: connecting with local foods in the Northwest and beyond.” I’ve been following her work ever since.

While I’m not currently a vegetarian, I was for about 15 years, and I still enjoy a meatless meal or dish from time to time. Debra’s book is full of creative and scrumptious recipes made with mostly local Northwest ingredients, ingredients that can easily be found in our area. The book is organized into six sections: The Well-grounded Breakfast, Salads Year-Round, Seasonal Soups and Homemade Breads, Starters and Side Dishes, Savory Vegetarian Entrees, and Fresh Fruit Desserts.

What I find especially appealing about this cookbook are the stories. Each section has several stories around a different theme, including things like bees and pollinators, farmland preservation, seed production, first-generation farmers, fruit tree and berry farmers, and lots of stories about individual regional farms Debra has visited and farmers she has met and gotten to know well. This is a cookbook to curl up with in front of the fireplace on a wet and windy night.

Also placed in strategic location throughout the book are sidebars with cooking tips (“Tips for Perfect Pancakes”, for example), agricultural information (“Conservation Easements to Protect Farmland”), and information about particular ingredients (“The Venerable Cabbage”). Debra’s writing style is lively and engaging, and she knows how to tell a story well. She clearly knows her subject well, both in terms of cooking and local Northwest food sources.

Debra’s love of local foods and the farmers who produce them clearly shines through all of her writing, both in the book and on her blog. I strongly encourage you to check out both, whether you are vegetarian or not. Dog lovers will especially enjoy her blog, featuring many photos and stories about her canine “Cooking Assistant”, an endearing Bassett hound.

For a sample of her work, her Borscht recipe is reprinted by permission from the book. There were a few ingredients which were not local, so I’ve added notes about adaptations I made to substitute local ingredients. The results were both lovely and delectable. The surprising (to me) use of potato to thicken the beet soup gave it a smooth, creamy texture without the use of cream. Give it a try!

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