The Vegetable Butcher
A book review by Linda Kissam & Adrianne Morrison
Vegetable lovers unite! The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini by Cara Mangini is the perfect book for you.
Now, we all know preparation may not be the most exciting aspect of cooking vegetables, but learning the correct techniques for both selecting, prepping and cooking does make a big difference in the final taste and presentation of dishes. Good techniques can keep a beginning cook from getting exasperated and help an experienced cook more thoroughly enjoy time spent in the kitchen.
In this book, step-by-step instructions for preparing and cooking vegetables are detailed carefully and photographed beautifully. With a little practice, you’ll soon be chopping, dicing, seeding, and zesting like a pro. Guaranteed.
Review partner Adrianne Morrison and I tackled this book differently. I reviewed the hard copy edition, Adrianne the e-book version. Although we both thought the book showed 4-star merit, our experiences with the format led us to different conclusions and different scores.
We both felt this is a great book for taking the guess out of preparing almost every vegetable. Not only does it contain recipes for favorite vegetable dishes, but also information on how to choose, store, cut, and prepare almost every vegetable anyone would want to eat- ever. The pictures are beautiful – and show the way to prep them. Since sometimes just providing instruction through words leaves readers a bit confused, it’s better to actually see how things should be done. Everyone, from the novice home chef to veteran chefs can learn something from this informative book.
We both recommend this as a unique shower or wedding gift. The book by itself would be great for a shower gift. Add in some of the high-end knives the author suggests along with the book and you have just presented the gift of a lifetime of culinary goodness. Put the book in sack of produce and you have a birthday or holiday gift that keeps on giving.
Here are our reviews.
I like many things about this book. It is divided by the names of the vegetables and shows how to prep each. It gives suggestions on serving, as well as one or a few more showstopper recipes that are stylish and unique for each vegetable. The recipes look fabulous and come in a large selection of choices: Fall Farmer’s Market Tacos, Cauliflower and Caramelized Fennel Soup, Tomato and Thyme Scones, Carrot Coconut Muffins, Kabocha Squash, Adzuki Bean, and Ginger-Coconut Curry just to name a few. The recipes are easy to follow. Most importantly, they pretty much look as pictured.
The section on knives is exceptional. I can’t tell you the number of times I have purchased the wrong tool for the right job. It appears the correct knife drawer would hold four basic knives made out of the best carbon-steel available. Who knew? I have a bazillion knives not doing anything. They are out. What is in is a paring knife, an 8-inch chef’s knife and two more that will, I think, surprise you. You can find out what the last two are by turning to page 5.
I give this book a 4-star rating. The hardcover is easy to read and follow. The photography is really well done.
Today, many of us opt to use our electronic devices instead of books, so I reviewed the Kindle version of the Vegetable Butcher in 3 formats: MacBook, iPad and iPhone. It’s evident, writers and editors have a mighty job these days to create a book compatible in print as well as multiple digital formats thus appealing to all readers. If you are typically willing to overlook the inherent issues of looking good across all platforms, then you will find the content worth the read. FYI, my favorite way to approach on-line books is to highlight as I read so I can easily get back to what interests me.
My vote for best view is iPhone, then iPad, and least impressive is on MacBook. Photos in the open-book-view are not placed appropriately and text size and box highlighting is distracting. I’m not a fan of the A-Z vegetable photography, although I can appreciate the intent is artistic. It became a game to identify the next vegetable pictured because it most often displayed prior to its description. I did pretty well until “Salsify and Scorzonera” showed up which completely stumped me!
“Butchery Essentials, A Visual Guide to Basic Cuts,” however, has great photos that are definitely helpful in defining vegetable prep steps and these pics display well on all devices.
You’ll find a chapter dedicated to Herbs, a “Mushroom Cheat Sheet,” and lots of yummy sounding recipes like Chocolate Avocado Budino with Cinnamon and Sea Salt, a custardy Italian pudding (loc. 1101), Smashed and Seared Beets with Chimichurri and Goat Cheese Crema (loc. 1213), and Potato Gnocchi with Sweet Peas and Gorgonzola Sauce (loc. 5342).
In Pantry Support (loc. 500) author, Cara Mangini shares “There are also partnerships
with grains, beans, nuts and cheese that support vegetables and turn them into hearty and satisfying meals. Once you get comfortable with these ingredients and how to pair them, you can freestyle with any vegetable—no recipe needed.” She includes a reminder to freeze your scraps so you can make delicious stock. Wish I had learned this habit from Mom, but since I didn’t, it’s nice to be reminded and offered a Rich Roasted Vegetable Stock recipe (loc. 615).
Finally, we’ve all tasted Carrot Cake. It’s pretty darn good, right? But what about a Parsnip-Ginger Layered Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting (loc. 4045)? You make it; I’ll try it—and that says a lot because anyone who knows me, knows I don’t do parsnips. Cake—Yes. Parsnips—No. Yet, the Vegetable Butcher promises when you know how to select and prepare parsnips they are “sweeter than carrots, with nutty-earthy notes…”
Each vegetable has Best Seasons and Good Partners recommendations. And, when you have the on-line version, you can consult it anytime like at the Farmers Market.
I give it four-stars for content, but a three-star rating in the e-book format.
This is a gorgeous recipe generously shared by author Cara Mangini from The Vegetable Butcher, and Workman Publishing.
Fall Farmers’ Market Tacos
Serves 3 to 5
We all love tacos—let’s face it. There is a childlike excitement that comes with strategizing their assembly. For the cook, I think there’s even more fun in determining which fillings and toppings will make the cut for the table (the more toppings, the better). Your entire family can enjoy shopping at the farmers’ market for ingredients, depending on the season. In the summer, I use zucchini, corn, and red potatoes with toppings like radishes and Tomato and Peach Salsa (page 297). In the fall, I turn to sweet potatoes, thin-skinned delicata squash, and the last of the season’s peppers, topped with queso fresco and finely sliced cabbage. Guacamole and a tomatillo salsa will enhance almost any filling you can dream up. For sides, black beans, along with rice or quinoa, do the job. Best of all, taco leftovers rival the real thing—highly anticipated the whole next day.
For the Tacos
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 dried chipotle (stemmed) or chipotle in adobo, finely chopped 1 large delicata squash (about 1 pound), cut into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons 1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra as needed 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced 1 poblano, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice Generous handful of fresh cilantro leaves and thin stems, coarsely chopped Small flour and/or corn tortillas, warmed Black Beans with Lime (recipe follows; optional)
For the Toppings
1/2 small red cabbage, thinly sliced Freshly crumbled queso fresco, feta, or goat cheese Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt Classic Guacamole (page 44) or sliced avocado Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (page 293) or store-bought salsa verde or roasted tomato salsa
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the chipotle. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, being careful not to let it burn. Add the squash, sweet potato, ½ teaspoon of salt, cumin, and ¾ cup of water. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until the sweet potatoes and squash begin to soften, about 6 minutes.
- Add the onion and poblano and season them with another ¼ teaspoon of salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender and browned on the edges, 6 to 8 minutes more. Add the lime juice and cook, stirring, until it is fully incorporated, 1 minute. Transfer to a serving platter and top with the chopped cilantro.
- Serve with the warm tortillas, Black Beans with Lime, if using, and a selection of toppings.
Notes: Use 2 dried chipotles or chipotles in adobo if you like extra heat.
You can substitute peeled and diced kabocha for the delicata squash. Butternut squash also works but it will take a bit longer to cook, so sauté it for a few minutes before adding the sweet potato and water.
Throw end-of-the-season cherry tomatoes into the skillet toward the end of cooking and allow them to blister and burst. It makes for a quick kind of on-the-spot salsa.
Black Beans with Lime
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup dried black beans, picked through, rinsed, and soaked overnight (see Note) 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra as needed 1 bay leaf 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 large yellow or white onion, finely diced (about 1 cup) 2 garlic cloves, minced 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1. Fill a medium-size saucepan or Dutch oven with water, leaving about 2 inches of space at the top. Drain the soaked beans and add them to the water with 1 teaspoon of salt and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and cook, partially covered, until the beans are tender, 40 to 60 minutes. (Add more water to the pan if needed to keep the beans completely covered during cooking.) Drain the beans, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaf.
- Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, another 30 seconds. Add the black beans and the reserved cooking liquid, and stir to incorporate. Add a generous pinch of salt to taste, plus the cumin, cayenne pepper, and lime juice. Bring the beans to a low simmer and cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the remaining liquid has thickened, 5 to 8 minutes.
Note: You can use 2 1/2 to 3 cups of canned beans, rinsed, in place of the cooked beans. Skip step 1, and add the canned beans in step 2; use 1 cup of vegetable stock (see pages 20–21) in place of the reserved cooking liquid.
The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini
By Cara Mangini
Published 2016, Workman Publishing
$29.95 Hardcover, $28.45 Kindle
Photo Credit: Interior images to Matthew Benson