Jeanne Lemlin makes vegetarian mainstream

Tuesday November 6, 2012

Whether you are just beginning to cook or have been cooking your whole long life, Jeanne Lemlin's new large but not-too-large, easy-to-handle cookbook, "Simply Satisfying: Over 200 Vegetarian Recipes You'll Want to Make Again and Again," will take you on a vegetarian journey from almonds to zucchini.

Lemlin is an old hand at vegetarian cookbooks. She's been having hers published since the 1980s. She won the James Beard Award for her "Quick Vegetarian Pleasures" in 1992.

"I'm noted for aiming for the busy person who wants to eat good food. People like quick," Lemlin said.

"Simply Satisfying" is an update of her third cookbook, "Vegetarian Pleasures" which was a menu-formatted cookbook published in 1986 and has been out-of-print for years.

When Matthew Lore, owner of The Experiment, a small, trade book publishing company in New York City, picked up a copy of "Vegetarian Pleasures" at the Strand Book Store, which specializes in used, rare and out-of-print books, he later told Lemlin he fell in love with it.

Lemlin went over her book to be sure her recipes were up to her current standards.

"I don't wanna put recipes in that I would not make," she said.

While they were appropriate at the time, now, she does not want to take the time to make a soufflé or zabaglione, and lima beans do not appeal to her as much as they did back then.

She starts with a few pages of tips on how to wash greens, use fresh herbs, the importance of properly cooking brown rice and the tools you'll need to do all that.

The book is easy to use because it has both comprehensive contents pages and over a dozen pages of index for easy reference. She includes a glossary of ingredients which goes into some detail about beans and Asian sesame oil, why to use unsalted butter and the like.

Oh. And don't forget the appetizing photos that seduce anyone flipping through the book to make the baked, stuffed artichokes or the fragrant vegetables stew with corn dumplings, Lemlin's favorite, not to mention the poached pears in red wine with raisins and the hot fudge pudding cake.

Lemlin covers breakfast, then goes through chapters on meal courses: starters, salads and dressings, soups and stews, egg dishes, savory tarts and pizzas, main dish pasta and grains.

Her further chapters are more specific: a variety of baked entrÈes including a walnut loaf with Burgundy sauce and mac and cheese with cauliflower and jalapeños; one on Indian cooking; one devoted to tofu and tempeh; simple but creative side dishes grains, broccoli, cabbage, chestnuts, etc.; and five chapters on dessert.

She said she cut some dessert recipes because she did not have to match each entrée with a dessert -- as in the menu format of her original. But there are still 40 desserts, including classics like apple crisp, Lemlin's childhood favorite cowboy cookies, an oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie, Linzertorte, gingerbread, rice pudding, Indian kheer, and Indian pudding.

She also has intriguing, sophisticated recipes for strawberries marinated in red wine, an apricot orange mousse and a pear crisp which includes dried apricots.

She ends with a chapter on how to make all the basics and then one with menu suggestions. The basics include vegetable stock, perfect brown rice, breadcrumbs, various pestos, mayonnaise, ghee, a variety of pastry crusts and more.

Her menus are divided into quick, informal, elegant, summer, breakfast/brunch and a Thanksgiving menu.

Lemlin became a vegetarian after seeing film documentaries about slaughterhouses when she was 15. She grew up in New Bedford where water was a big part of her childhood.

"Once in a while I eat fish. I never felt the same way about fish or shrimp or clams," she said last week.

"I like food. I try to eat food that's the least manipulated and I eat carefully," Lemlin said, "But I'm not obsessed. I don't want to turn this into a religion."

She does have a garden and freezes her homemade pestos.

In general, polenta is her favorite quick meal. She'll cook it from scratch in six minutes, she said, using regular not coarse cornmeal.

"Tomato sauce takes two minutes to. I use a lot of garlic, crushed tomatoes, salt and freshly ground pepper. I just sauté the garlic in olive oil, immediately put in the can of crushed tomatoes then simmer it for five minutes. You don't have to cook it for hours and hours or even add herbs."

"I might add some of my frozen pesto," Lemlin said with animation. "I freeze the pesto in small containers. I use the jelly-size containers, not ice-cube size. That way, I can really grab it. I'll put it in the sink under warm running water then pop it out right into my hand.

"I shave the pesto all over my dish. I shave strips from it easily. That's my own I idea. I love this trick! Then, I just put what I don't use back in the freezer and I use lots of parmesan cheese on the dish."

"I'll shave the cilantro pesto for Indian and Mexican foods. If you shave the cilantro pesto all over enchiladas, you've got these bright green squiggles and it looks beautiful.

She whips up dinner for herself and her husband in half an hour.

"I still get fan letters saying people love my books and they are falling apart," Lemlin said.

She noted that her readers like her books because, "The recipes are easy.

"People really use my cookbooks," she said emphatically. "They don't just read ‘em in bed!"

Now, they can have a brand, new one


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