The first dinner I prepared from scratch was the summer before my freshman year of college. I was house sitting and had my girlfriend, Avni, over. Since we were both becoming “grownups” in a matter of weeks (i.e. going off to college) we thought it was a good idea to spend a night learning how to cook. I borrowed my mother’s cookbook 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes and Avni and I flipped through the pages eventually deciding upon Minestrone soup. A good choice as it was healthy, cheap to make and seemed relatively easy.
After a giggly trip to the grocery store we set to work – chop the onion, mince two cloves of garlic… wait. What does mince mean? And how does one mince this garlic? And what is a clove? Upstairs we went to consult Google.
Amazingly, the soup came out well and we dined at the kitchen table with a candle lit, basking in our newfound culinary independence.
I don’t think I “cooked” again until the summer after my sophomore year of college when my now dear friend Karen was subletting a room from me. It had recently been brought to my attention that boys like girls who can cook more than canned corn, toast, oatmeal and ramen noodles. In my mind if there was to be any hope of me ever settling down with a guy I must learn this cooking thing. And so out came the 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes cookbook again – now dusty and a little soiled after serving as a plant stand for many moons.
A MAJOR thing I was missing in this “boys like girls who can cook” idea was that boys like girls who can cook like their moms – meaning with meat and fat. This didn’t cross my mind until years later, and had little effect on my culinary skills. So that summer I dabbled in cooking fat-free vegetarian dishes that ran the gamut from “so horrible we could not eat them,” to “so spicy your eyes watered when they were boiling,” to “ok if you are really intoxicated.” Not a lot of culinary success was achieved.
During my senior year of college I lived with an awesomely domestic girl named Jessica. Jessica had a well-stocked kitchen and a knack for making food that tasted like more than soggy tofu. One night Jessica tried to teach me how to make white fish pan seared in white wine and topped with mushrooms and rosemary. What she prepared was so good! Several weeks later, armed with this grand culinary knowledge, I attempted to woo a young man named Jason with pan seared fish. An hour later he was miserably ill in the bathroom. Whether or not it was my fault, we will never know. Karen, a cereal victim of my bad cooking, would probably argue that it was my cooking.
Luckily my skills in the kitchen eventually improved. I learned that a little oil helps a meal tremendously. I learned that flavors other than Italian and Mexican are good. I learned about seasonings and vinegars and how to pair foods to create good flavor combinations. Years later my food allergies took my culinary skills to the next level, forcing me into the kitchen on a near nightly basis as very few restaurants in Lexington cater to my particular needs.
Today I enjoy and look forward to cooking. I like grocery shopping and meal planning. I call my mom on a regular basis to boast about my most recent vegan creation. Although an omnivore with a picky palette, my mother listens and praises me – even though in her mind tofu does not deserve to be anywhere near a plastic plate, let alone fine china.
Bird and I have accumulated an impressive library of cookbooks to aid in meal preparation. Some are only opened once a year for special occasions while others are soiled with food, coming apart at the bindings and have more dog-eared pages than not. I thought I would share two of these much-loved books with you all. I encourage my omnivore readers to invest in these books and try eating a few less meat meals a week. Not only will you save money and help the planet, you will also do your body a favor. I promise, your body does want veggies and beans!
The Top Two Cookbooks Any Open-Minded Omni Should Add to Their Collection:
No. 1 Favorite: The Accidental Vegan – this book was a random purchase. Bird took me out to buy a few allergy-friendly cookbooks several days after the allergy diagnosis and we picked up this book as an afterthought on the way to the checkout. What a happy impulse! We have cooked from this book at least twice a week since. It is full of great recipes that use minimal ingredients, are well-balanced and wholesome and, most importantly, are rich in flavor.
No. 2 Favorite: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: This book has taken the place of the 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes. It is the Bible of vegetarian cooking. Want to know how to cook a Kohlrabi? It has tips! What can you do with amaranth? Are your in-laws coming and requested a hearty stew? This book has you covered. Additionally, it has some fantastic tips on cooking dry beans.
And for good measure:
No. 3 Favorite: Moosewood Restaurant – Cooking for Health: This book is rather new to my shelf but has yet to disappoint. These recipes are often a bit more involved than the first two, but they offer such complex flavors that it is worth the extra kitchen time. All these recipes were created with health in mind and combine nutritious ingredients with good fats and whole grains. Don’t let the healthiness fool you, though, these meals are just as good as the ones your mom used to make.