Since the first edition of Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook came out in 1974, the collective behind Ithaca, New York's mostly-vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant has produced a grand total of nine cookbooks. I own four of these: the revised edition of Moosewood Cookbook (which features lower-fat variations of the original recipes), Moosewood Restaurant New Classics (two copies, actually, and somehow I still haven't written it up), a used copy of New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant and the title book of this writeup. Of my Moosewood collection, I have to admit that New Classics is my favorite, but that's probably at least in part because it was the first one I got for my personal collection, and thus the one I've tested most extensively (and beaten up to the ponit of needing the second copy, a most welcome gift indeed). That's not to say that Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home isn't a great book; it is. But you don't have to take my word for it: if official validation is your thing, rest assured that Cooks At Home won the 1995 James Beard award for Best Vegetarian Cookbook.
This was the first Moosewood cookbook I ever bought, as a gift for my mom years ago, and for awhile before I moved away to college and beyond, I used it more than she did. Since then she's warmed up to it over time, for a number of reasons. One, almost all of the recipes in this book take only 30 minutes of total cooking and preparation time or fewer. There's a few recipes that are more involved, including some that take up to an hour, but for the most part these are quick and easy dishes, many of them meals unto themselves. Which brings me to the second thing my mom likes about this cookbook: many of the dishes are designed so that you can cook a side dish at the same time as the main dish, and thus have a whole meal ready in half an hour. And finally, many of the recipes come with soup, salad, or other side dish recommendations, so you don't even have to do any meal planning (which my mom hates). There's also helpful meal planning hints in the appendices at the back of the book, which I love --- these include lists of ingredients and their uses, as well as all-purpose cooking tips like "how to cook dried beans" and and "here's how many carrots go into a cup" which is the kind of stuff you learn with experience but dang it's nice to be able to look it up, too.
What I love most about this cookbook (my mom eventually returned the favor and got me my own copy in March of 2003) is the feeling of drawing on its authors' years of cooking experience, which they express with enthusiasm, even passion, that's at once intuitive and inspiring to me. For beginners, there's plenty of helpful hints (those ingredient lists), and for experienced and experimentalist cooks there's plenty of great starting-off points that can lead to new avenues of culinary exploration. For my mom, there's actually lists of sample menus in the back, including combinations that are impressive enough to serve when company's coming over, kid-friendly foods, and entire meals that can be cooked in the span of half an hour. There's also lists of nondairy and vegan recipes, a handy list of useful items to keep in any well-stocked kitchen, and general notes on cooking techniques. And for me, there's nice wide margins on every recipe, so I can scribble notes about all the substitutions and variations I've tried, and when.
To give you an idea of the wide variety of recipes that appear in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home, here's what's on the pages I currently have bookmarked:
- Simple Garlic Broth, from the Soup section,
- Black Bean Dip, from the Dips, Spreads, and Quick Breads section,
- Coconut Basmati Rice, from the Grains section,
- Caribbean Black Beans and Curried Chickpeas and Tofu in the Beans section (the latter goes great with the Coconut Basmati Rice)
- Tunisian Vegetable Stew from the Stews section
And that's not including any recipes from the sections called "Salads and Sides", "Dressings, Salsas, and Sauces", "Main Dish Salads", "Pastas", "Stir-Fries and Sautés", "Fish", "Sandwiches, Tortillas, and Pizzas", "Eggs and Pancakes", and "Desserts". The Moosewood Collective take inspiration from a wide range of cultures and cuisines, and this is reflected in their recipes. They also encourage their readers to cook, whenever possible, from fresh ingredients rather than pre-packaged ones, which is to say they help people make healthy food that tastes real instead of processed.
I recommend Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home to anyone interested in playing with a wide range of exciting raw materials in the kitchen. It's a good place to start learning about vegetarian food as well, but it's definitely not just a vegetarian cookbook (as if there could be such a thing); for one thing, there's that entire section of fish recipes, and for another, it's got something for all but the most rabidly fanatical of carnivores. (You don't have to be a vegetarian to like vegetarian food, doncha know.) Atkins Diet adherents might be disappointed --- many of the recipes do call for carbohydrates (the entire sections on grains and pastas, for instance), but South Beach Diet fans should be able to find plenty to work with thanks to the emphasis on healthier high-fiber whole-grain carbs. Even my mom, who sometimes seems to be on a different diet every month, seems to come back to this cookbook time and time again --- and despite our different reasons for loving it, we both enjoy sharing and comparing notes on its contents. And that's just great.