Moosewood's Simple Suppers

A few months ago, when we started our vegetarian kick, we got a Moosewood cookbook at the suggestion of a veggie friend. The Moosewood Collective is a group of people who’ve run a veggie-friendly restaurant in New York for two or three decades. They’ve published a number of cookbooks sporting recipes they prepare in their restaurant, and we settled on Simple Suppers, which provides a decent variety of general veggie options, all designed to be fairly simple to prepare. After the introduction, they publish about a dozen pasta recipes, followed by a dozen sautes and curries. Next come bean and tofu dishes, followed by egg dishes, main dish grains, main dish salads, soups, sandwiches and other things of that ilk, fish, side grains, side dishes, and side salads. Then come dressings, seasonings, condiments, sauces, and finally desserts. The cookbook wraps up with some short guides to keeping an adequately stocked pantry and some tools and techniques.

As someone who was pretty skeptical about being able to find vegetarian recipes that were tasty (I came into this whole veggie thing not crazy about some curries and coconut milk, though I’ve since had a change of heart) and not a Byzantine undertaking to prepare, I’ve found this cookbook to be an eye-opener. In a good way. Of the half  dozen or so recipes we’ve tried so far, we’ve liked most of them a whole lot and are a little dubious about only one. All but the one are things we’d definitely eat again. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call some of the recipes simple, they’ve all been manageable enough, though they’ve all also taken me more time and effort to prepare than the book suggests. This is probably user error, though there may be a dash (sorry, couldn’t resist) of underzealous estimating by authors who do these preparations many times a day. In any case, the recipes are doable and have so far been a hit among those I’ve served them to.

Now, on to a few of the recipes. Let’s talk cauliflower. In the last month, I’ve made two dishes from the book that relied heavily on cauliflower. The first was “roasted vegetable curry” (page 53). I was serving for four vegetarians, two omnivores (so it was a side for them), and two kids (who don’t eat much). The recipe is designed to serve four, but because I knew we were a hungry bunch and I wanted there to be leftovers, I tripled the recipe rather than simply doubling it. We ate just about every morsel, leaving one small portion for the next day. It was heaps and heaps of food, so the shortage is a reflection of how yummy it was and not of portion size deficiencies. I don’t know what all fair use will allow me to publish about the recipe; here’s hoping I don’t overstep. You roast some cubed sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and chopped onion for a half hour or so. Then you pour a curry sauce (coconut milk, diced tomatoes, ginger root, and curry powder or garam masala) over it and roast for a few more minutes. I served it over basmati rice, and it was, as noted, a big hit. Prep time was longer than advertised for me, partially because I have a lousy grater and ginger root isn’t the easiest thing to grate anyway.

Next up in the cauliflower department was the dinner I cooked (on a whim, thumbing through the cookbook and finding a recipe for which I happened to have the ingredients) tonight. Flip to page 120 for “curried cauliflower and chickpea soup.” For this one, you make a soup of chickpeas, cauliflower, onion, curry powder, water or broth, ginger root, and diced tomatoes. Even though it’s billed as a soup, I served it over rice, and we loved it. The recipe recommends serving a chutney with the soup, and I think that might have added a little tang that would have been good for the recipe, which nevertheless stands well enough on its own. We’ll be eating both this and the roasted veggie curry again. This one also has the added benefit of being pretty darned low-fat (I’d guess), a can of chickpeas weighing in at 6.5 grams of fat (and chickpeas are by no means the foundation of the soup) and the only other fat I can account for being the little bit of oil you cook the onions in.

A few weeks ago, I made a tofu and mushroom marsala from the book for a covered dish affair. Here I have to correct my previous statement about these recipes all being things I’d eat again. I liked this one well enough, but it’s not great for leftovers, and who wants to cook a dinner that’s good for only one meal? I also found the portion sizing on this one to be way off. The recipe claims to serve four, but it should be upped to 6 or 8. This was a fortuitous thing for this outing, as the host made the only other main dish, and we’d’ve all had room left in our tummies without my contribution. The other thing that bothered me about this one was that though I think it’s supposed to be a plated dish, people kept calling it soup (even though after doubling the recipie and putting a whole bottle of wine in it, I was still a little short on the proposed liquid amount). Again, possibly user error here. It’s something I might make again after halving the recipe to avoid leftovers, but I’d eat one of the cauliflower dishes first any day. That said, one of my fellow cover-dishers said (and not in the backhanded way it could have been said) that it was the best tofu dish she had ever had.

Next in the lineup is the “roasted ratatouille” (page 50), which is accompanied by a gorgeous picture of the dish, which is what made me want to fix it in the first place (there should be a federal law that all recipes in books should have beautiful representative pictures). It’s basically roasted eggplant, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, red or yellow peppers, and garlic, served over the pasta or grain of your choice. We thought this was really tasty and nice to look at. Next time, though, we’ll probably see if we can come up with a sauce to give it a little more zip. But I think there is a next time in the future of this recipe.

I’ve made a couple more of the recipes, but I’m running out of steam here (as probably are you). There are a number of others that I’m ready to queue up (navajo stew, sesame tofu with spinach, and shortcut chili top among them). If you’re in the market for a veggie-friendly cookbook, I’d say this one’s probably a pretty good bet. The recipes aren’t all quite simple, but neither are they terribly difficult, and your mileage no doubt varies with relation to how fast you are with a knife. Portion size seems a little uneven so far, but in my experience, portion sizes are never understimated, so who can really complain? I do wish there were more recipes (the egg and fish ones don’t particularly interest me at a glance, for example), but then, Moosewood publishes a number of cookbooks, so the lack of variety in this case is a function primarily of my frugality. At $30-plus, I think this cookbook has already returned on the investment, but it’ll have to return some more (and it no doubt will) before I’m ready to drop another $30-plus for a little more variety.

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