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12 Things I Learned Working on the New Edition of How To Cook Everything Vegetarian

What can we say, we love vegetables. And we’re always on the lookout for new ways to cook our favorites standby, and new ingredients that will elevate our vegetarian and vegan dishes. So we’ve partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to celebrate the completely revised 10th anniversary edition of Mark Bittman’s classic, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian—and share some of the book’s pro vegetable lessons.

I had been a vegetarian for nearly two years, but didn’t really learn how to cook—meaning I felt confident in the kitchen and could make a dish intuitively—until I bought Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian in 2007. It’s a cookbook that teaches you the skills you need to cook without a cookbook, but you’ll keep it around for recipe information and encyclopedic ingredient chapters. It’s my number one recommendation to friends, and the most-battered and stained cookbook in my extensive collection.

Bittman is back! Vegetarians and vegans (and the rest of us) rejoice!
Bittman is back! Vegetarians and vegans (and the rest of us) rejoice!

So I was insanely honored when Mark Bittman reached out to me about working on some of his books, including what is basically my cooking bible. To be able to have any input in how this book was updated was equally exhilarating and intimidating. Fortunately, the process of making a cookbook takes a village, and with a team of expert cooks, led by my vegetarian-cooking-idol Mark Bittman and the very skilled Pam Hoenig, we created a completely revised, everything-you-need-to-know reference book to cook without meat (or eggs or dairy) for 2017.

I learned so much from the first edition—and even more from the second. Here are just a handful of the things I learned from working on the revised edition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:

1. Chickpea Flour is Magical

One ingredient we gave a lot more importance to in this new edition is chickpea flour. Between the Chickpea Fries, Chickpea “Tofu,” Mostly Vegetable Vegan Quiche, and Socca, there’s basically nothing this workhorse ingredient can’t do. Plus, it’s full of protein and gluten-free, if that matters to you. Now, I’m never without it in my pantry.

1 Bag of Chickpea Flour, 5 Ways to Use It
1 Bag of Chickpea Flour, 5 Ways to Use It
by Lindsey S. Love | Dolly and Oatmeal

2. How to Cook Beans

I was once on an hour-long conference call about proper bean-cooking technique. Thankfully, all you need to do is read over the new-and-improved directions and your beans will turn out great.

3. Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pesto are Out

I became a vegetarian in 2006 and it often felt like my only options in restaurants were some play on caprese salad (always with bad tomatoes), or goat cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes—a combination that got really old, really fast. Thankfully, vegetarian cooking has come a long way over the last decade, and cutting recipes with this dated combo was part of the book’s update. I still love pesto and have sun-dried tomatoes in my cupboard, but you won’t see them combined in a quiche any more.

11 Ways to Get Creative with Pesto
11 Ways to Get Creative with Pesto
by Sarah Jampel

4. Full-Fat Dairy is Best

I’m so grateful that the current eating zeitgeist agrees with me that low-fat dairy is a poor substitute for the real thing. Obviously, if you love skim milk no one will stop you from using it. But now the recipes call for just the ingredients that will make a dish taste the best: whole milk, cream, or half and half. I’m also inspired to eat vegan more, so when I do enjoy dairy, I like it to be the good, full-fat stuff.

5. Vegan is (Almost) Mainstream

Speaking of, one of the goals of updating the book was to vegan-ize way more recipes. Ten years ago, eating vegan was still a fringe idea. Now, you have mainstream food media devoting plenty of space to vegan cooking (including this very website!). How exciting that the cookbook-consuming public is enthusiastic about plant-based cooking and eating.

6. Deep-Frying Brussels Sprouts at Home is Not a Good Idea

I worked as a line cook in a restaurant that went through an insane amount of deep-fried Brussels sprouts—people couldn’t get enough of them. Unfortunately, my idea that you could recreate the dish at home was a disaster. The splattering oil was emotionally traumatic—though not physically, thankfully—for one of our recipe testers. We scrapped that idea immediately.

Deep Frying Without Fear
Deep Frying Without Fear
by Marian Bull
Down & Dirty: Brussels Sprouts
Down & Dirty: Brussels Sprouts
by Nozlee Samadzadeh

7. Recipe Testing Isn’t as Easy as You Think

Besides frying mishaps (see above), recipe testing can be a difficult endeavor. It’s not leisurely cooking your way through a recipe and giving a thumbs up or a thumbs down, as some people seem to imagine. You have to measure and time everything, at every step. You have to take notes and pictures. And after you’ve done all that, you have to remember to tell the recipe writer whether you actually like the dish or not—very specifically. Much respect to all our recipe testers!

8. People Love Jackfruit

Based on a small sampling of my friends, BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches are the most exciting recipe addition to this book. For those unfamiliar with jackfruit, it’s a ginormous tropical fruit that, when harvested young and then shredded, makes a fabulous meat substitute. You can find it simmered in barbecue sauce in the book, and it cooks up a lot like pulled pork. Everyone I fed these sandwiches to swore they couldn’t tell the difference.

The Best Meat Substitute Might Be... A Fruit?
The Best Meat Substitute Might Be… A Fruit?
by Lindsay-Jean Hard

9. How to Roast Vegetables

Mark Bittman has a very specific way of roasting vegetables, and it is much better than the technique I was using before…which, to be fair, wasn’t really a technique but more of a put-them-in-the-oven-until-they’re-done kind of thing. Turns out, your roasted vegetables can be perfect every time if you remember just a few easy steps. Now, each and every time I roast vegetables, I know that the oven should be hot, the pan shouldn’t be crowded, and most importantly, I need to set a timer and not touch them for the first 20 minutes.

10. Making Fresh Pasta at Home is Totally Doable

Before working on this book, I only made fresh pasta when I was being paid to do it. But working on the pasta chapter reminded how really easy it is to do at home. The dough takes minutes to make with a food processor, and rolling is a great meditative evening task. Also: plastic clothes hangers are ideal for drying your homemade pasta.

11. The World of Non-Dairy Milk is Wide and Varied

Back in 2007, soy milk was the most widely available milk substitute. In 2017, there are so many options—you can make your own milk from cashews, buckwheat, sunflower seeds, coconut, flax, hemp, sesame, and on and on!—that we had to help narrow them down for each recipe. The strong flavor of coconut milk only mixes with with certain other flavors, and almond milk isn’t as neutral as you might think. For some recipes, like Vegan Risotto, soy milk is too strong, but oat or five-grain (or seven-grain) milk is just right.

12. Upside-Down Cake is the Best Last Minute Dessert

I didn’t cook too many dessert recipes from the first edition, but if I had made the Plum-Rosemary Upside-Down Cake ten years ago, it would have saved me a lot of stress. The recipe is delicious, the batter doesn’t require room temperature butter (and therefore no planning is necessary), and the fruit options are infinite. It’s become my go-to, need-to-make-something-right-now dessert.

What are your favorite recipes and lessons from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian? Let us know in the comments!

We’ve partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to celebrate the completely revised 10th anniversary edition of Mark Bittman’s classic, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and share some of the book’s best lessons.

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