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Madison’s new cookbook teaches ‘Vegetable Literacy’

By From page A1 | April 18, 2013

Renowned chef and cookbook author Deborah Madison returns to her hometown for a presentation at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St. in downtown Davis. Courtesy photo

Renowned chef and cookbook author Deborah Madison returns to her hometown for a presentation at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St. in downtown Davis. Courtesy photo

You’re browsing the supermarket’s produce aisle, and you see a bunch of radishes with leaves gone wild. You move on.

Not so fast, says Deborah Madison, a world-renowned chef and author of a new cookbook, “Vegetable Literacy.” Not only does she outline potential uses for the radish leaves, but she explains that the leaves are higher in nutrients than the more popular roots.

Incorporating the less commonly used portions of vegetables is just one of the aspects on which her cookbook focuses, in a section apart from its more than 300 recipes.

“There’s lots of parts of plants that we don’t usually see, because we’re just seeing the choice pieces,” Madison says. “We’ll see the broccoli crowns — sometimes stems — but never the leaves, despite them being edible.

“We talk a lot in this culture about wasting food, but we don’t talk about the fact that there is a lot to plants that we can eat that aren’t generally considered.”

Madison is returning home — she was raised in Davis — to share these ideas. She’ll discuss how people can make use of this knowledge themselves when she visits The Avid Reader, 617 Second St., at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Her brother, Mike Madison, lives just outside Davis and grows organic flowers, melons and olives on land bordering Winters. He also has written books, including his ruminations about life as a farmer in “Blithe Tomato.”

The other local angle connected to her visit is Farm Fresh to You’s sponsorship of the event. The organic produce delivery service has donated several boxes of community-grown foodstuffs to be given away as prizes to attendees.

Having Yolo County’s farming community participate this way feeds into a primary purpose of hers, which is to entice more support for local agriculture in an individual’s food selection.

“I’ve always put a high value on working with farmers, long before it was a fashionable thing to do,” she says. “That’s what really what I’ve been interested in. More of my books are more focused on that than anything else.”

Madison has devoted herself to the promotion of eating produce to such an extent that she’s often incorrectly labeled a vegetarian, she says.

Referring to her as such could be an allusion to the vegetarian dining establishment that provided her entrance into the culinary world in the late 1970s: San Francisco’s Greens Restaurant.

In her background is also a plethora of books — 10 in total, counting her latest — that also would indicate a plant-based diet, such as “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” or “This Can’t Be Tofu.”

However, her interest is in taking advantage of fresh food, she explains, not the consumption (or lack thereof) of meat.

“I’ve never been a card-carrying vegetarian,” she says. “I mean, there’s actually bacon in a recipe of mine.”

But certainly it’s the greens that rule the day in “Vegetable Literacy.” The book’s chapters are split into 12 botanical families — spanning everything from carrots to legumes — to showcase and inform readers of their diversity.

Madison’s cookbook also works to draw parallels between seemingly different types of vegetables. She says it’s a characteristic that has aroused some of the most animated feedback from its readers:

“In particular, they’re always surprised when you say, ‘You know that spinach, beet greens and chard are all related, right? And you can use them pretty much interchangeably.’ ”

With this book’s lessons, readers are allowed improvisation in the kitchen that even extends to those aforementioned radish tops. Don’t be afraid of them, Madison says.

“If you can have more options, then why not use them?” she adds.

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

Brett Johnson

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