- Virginia Johnson
I’m a fan of the Moosewood Collective and own a lot of their cookbooks. Last year, I was given another entry to their line, Cooking for Health. I was pleased to see their fresh and easy philosophy of the 1970s had been updated for modern tastes. Never heard of Moosewood? Not everyone has, yet they were named one of 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century by Bon Appétit magazine, and our own Sammy T’s seems to have drawn on them for vegetarian inspiration.
Moosewood Restaurant began in 1973 in Ithaca, New York, back when vegetarianism was a new idea for most Americans. It was a popular place, and soon enough their dishes were gathered into a bestselling book. The listings in the first editions of the original Moosewood Cookbook drew a lot on established recipes that happened to be vegetarian and were adapted to be prepared easily with nothing fancier than a blender.
Looking back at those original recipes, I see a lot of youthful exuberance in its hand-lettered, in-house illustrated pages. Nothing was off limits except meat itself. Whipping cream, full-fat cheeses, and lots of butter—this was comfort food at its most enjoyable, just without the meat. These days, it’s hard to find the original version of that cookbook.
In the decades to follow, its author, Mollie Katzen, came out with a new and revised edition. Twenty years on, the author had rethought her recipes, realizing that a lot of them simply weren’t good for daily dining. Out went the rich dairy products and in came the tangier flavors. It was vegetarianism reduced and reconsidered, but for many of those used to the original versions of the recipes, they simply did not stack up.
More than a dozen years after the revised edition and many wonderful cookbooks later, a new entry in their series, Cooking for Health, shows a maturity and understanding of the consequences of eating without forethought yet keeps the flavors nicely balanced. Many of the recipes also cater to vegans who chose to use no animal products whatsoever. These are new and unique--not attempts to remold old favorites into something completely different.
The recipes are fresh in every sense of the word, from Pineapple Salsa with Blueberries to Rice Salad with Herbs to Greek Vegetable Pie, with a crust made of brown rice, walnuts and Kalamata olives. They have also included some treats ranging from the traditional Apple-Blueberry Crumble to updates on classic ideas, such as Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan-Oat Crust and Fruit and Nut Truffles. Each listing includes menu ideas, nutritional information, and clear instructions. True to the Moosewood-style, all are simple to prepare, and separate sections give a lot of wisdom on how to handle the ingredients.
Another diet-conscious entry to the Moosewood cookbook line is Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites.
Ethnic foods are often featured on the menu in Ithaca and in their cookbooks, as their cooks hail from many cultures. Here’s a little music at Moosewood Restaurant to get you in the mood for creative cooking: