Highlight: Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook

Vegetables are the new heroes of the food world, as more and more of us try to eat healthier meals, many attempt to lose weight and others simply want to give up eating meat. This week we bring you a plethora of Deborah Madison from her much heralded new cookbook, Vegetable Literacy.

 When I lived in Santa Cruz, CA, Deborah worked at the Greens at Fort Mason Restaurant which was way ahead of even CA culinary leadership. She has always excelled in the vegetable kingdom and in her new book she talks about growing the food as well as cooking it. 

 I find reviews helpful, so some are included in this post. I tested and photographed new recipes from Vegetable Literacy. The first one you will find below.

 Quotes from Deborah Madison-Vegetable Literacy

“The garden is the other side of the kitchen”.

“As a beginning Gardner, I join forces w all the million of others who have been inspired for one reason or another to try to grow something. It’s a movement I’m thrilled to see happen and am thrilled to be part of”.

 In her latest cookbook, Deborah Madison, America’s leading authority on vegetarian cooking and author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, reveals the surprising relationships between vegetables, edible flowers, and herbs within the same botanical families, and how understanding these connections can help home cooks see everyday vegetables in new light.


“I have always marveled at Deborah Madison’s deep knowledge of vegetables and her original creations, which taste just as delicious as they sound. Vegetable Literacy is her latest tour de force, a massive well of knowledge that makes you want to read and learn as well as cook. A fine achievement and a real inspiration for me.” 

—Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Plenty and Jerusalem

 “I have long been a fan of both Deborah’s vibrant food and her many thorough, thoughtful cookbooks. In Vegetable Literacy she offers, with abundant warmth and generosity, observations from years of garden-to-table cooking. Filled with fascinating botanical notes and inspired recipes that really explore vegetables from the ground up—it is a pleasure to read. The writing is beautiful and the lessons are astutely down to earth.”

—David Tanis, author of Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys

 “Deborah Madison has taken vegetables to a whole new level. You’ll want to know what she knows—about botany, family pairings, and companion flavors on the plate. In cooking, Madison excels, but she’s also a natural with observation in the garden. Her passion is palpable, her scholarship tops, and her prose exquisite.”

—Amy P. Goldman, PhD, author of The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table

 “The are few people equipped with the curiosity, skill, and eye for observation required to construct a volume of this size and scope—and Deborah does it masterfully. Vegetable Literacy will shift the way both home and professional cooks think about the relationship between ingredients, and vegetables in particular. Using this book has felt like a missing puzzle piece snapping into place—inspiring, intimate, informative, and beautifully illustrated.”

—Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Every Day

 “For those of us who love vegetables, Deborah Madison gives not only practical tips for buying them, but also a bounty of diverse recipes. This is a monumental cookbook from a gifted writer and one of the best cooks of our time.” 

—David Lebovitz, author of Ready for Dessert and The Sweet Life in Paris

 “In Vegetable Literacy, Deborah Madison elegantly folds together a joy of gardening, a fascination for botanical kinship, and an expansive knowledge of fine and simple cooking. This book is a nutrient-dense treasure.” 

—Wendy Johnson, author of Gardening at Dragon’s Gate: a Work in the Wild and Cultivated World

 “In her most exciting and innovative book to date, Deborah Madison shows us how the botany in our gardens can inform and guide our preparation and cooking of meals that will both delight and nourish us all. Come directly from the garden to the kitchen with Deborah, and you will never observe or use vegetables in an uninspired way again. This book feeds our imaginations and souls with more insights per page than any cookbook I know.” 

—Gary Paul Nabhan, ethnobotanist and author of Coming Home to Eat and Desert Terroi

Braised Fennel Wedges with Saffron and Tomato

Deborah Madison suggests you leave the core intact when slicing the fennel as it’s what really holds the slices together. Make sure to brown the fennel before adding the cooking liquid. Reserve a few of the greens for a delicate garnish at the very end. Serve it however you’d like; fennel pairs beautifully with fish or chicken, but gives grains a whole new character. Play with heartier grains like farro, wheat berries or even barley. Slightly adapted from: Vegetable Literacy

Serves: 4 

  • 2 large fennel bulbs
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Finely chopped fennel stalks
  • Finely chopped fennel greens
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • Kosher salt
  • Cooked Quinoa (or other favorite grain), for serving (optional)
  • Crumbled goat cheese, for serving (optional)
  • Chopped Italian parsley, for serving (optional)

 Trim off the stalks and greens from the fennel bulbs and chop finely. Set aside. If the outer leaves of the bulbs look scarred, take a slice off the base and loosen them and set them aside for another use. Halve each bulb lengthwise and cut the halves into wedges about 1-2 inches thick. 

 Heat the olive oil in a wide saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and fennel seeds, crumble in the saffron and thyme, and then cook until the onions soften and the steam releases the color from the saffron, about 7-10 minutes. Add the fennel wedges and cook them until golden, turning them and the onions occasionally. Once they are well colored, add the garlic, stir in the tomato paste, capers and then add the stock and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Scrape the pan to release the juices, then cover and simmer until the fennel is tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Serve over a bed of cooked quinoa with a little crumbled goat cheese and chopped fennel greens and parsley for garnish.

 Note: If there’s excess liquid at the end of cooking, pour it into a small skillet. When ready to serve, add 1 tablespoon butter to the juices, bring to a boil and simmer until rich and syrupy. Pour the thickened sauce over the warm fennel.