The Sustainable Kitchen

by Stu Stein, Mary Hinds and Judith Dern

Published by New Society Publishers

219 pages, 2004

Buy it online



Walking the Talk

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen


Hot off the griddle, The Sustainable Kitchen by Stu Stein, Mary Hinds and Judith Dern is a visual as well as a culinary feast. It's a cookbook with a conscience and the message is simple: buy food in season that has been responsibly grown or raised and buy it locally.

"Farmers are the people who should be driving your diet and what's on your dinner table," writes Stein. This means that you don't go to the market looking for asparagus or strawberries in December, rather you go with an open mind, simply seeking out the freshest alternatives.

Two of the authors, Stein and Hinds, are executive chefs and owners of the Peerless Restaurant in Ashland, Oregon. Unfortunately, in my area I don't have the luxury of harvesting Kumamoto oysters, I've rarely seen fresh local sturgeon in my fish market and I wish the farmers in my area would provide me with the same sweet fennel the Peerless gets. I'd love to try those wild Oregon truffles or the Napa cabbage as well. My point is that in some ways the book's theme clashes with the content. Quite a few of the wonderful recipes in this cookbook will be actually unusable for many people if we are to follow the message of the book. The authors write, for example, of a spicy sausage that they make from lamb imported from North Africa. Whoops.

Walking your talk is never easy, though, and those who try should be permitted a few missteps. I therefore intend to try some of those exotic oysters from Australia and Portugal and to see if I can track down those Asian delicacies that are have been transplanted into my local waters, the buttery kumamotos.

Everyone knows that a cookbook is not a work or fiction or poetry. It cannot be solely enjoyed sitting down and turning the pages, at least not by most. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and so I selected three recipes.

Enjoying the fruits of a small garden and having access to a local farmers' market, I was able to find recipes where local produce was featured. Roasted Elephant Garlic Soup with grilled Japanese Eggplant and Basil Puree was the first dish that called out to me. I have fields of basil, as well as my own leeks, onions and potatoes, make my own wines from very local produce like dandelions and rose hips, and Japanese eggplant and elephant garlic was available at the farmers' market. The authors state the soup can be served hot or cold and as this was a warm weather season, I choose the latter. The verdict : yum.

My second trial was the Roasted Squash Gnocchi with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Brown Butter Sauce. While I have to confess that this year's crop of squash is still in its infant stage, I did have some of my own last year's crop in the freezer, thus achieving 50 per cent of the fresh and local guide. I also had potatoes and local free range eggs. I have to admit that I probably did over mix, in spite of the warnings in capitals not to do so. Happily, this meal was just for myself and my partner, and we enjoyed the flavor and fun of tasting something more inspired than my usual tofu stir fry.

We love harvesting our own wild mushrooms, the main ingredient in the Wild Mushroom crepes with Red Wine Reduction recipe. In the process I learned a simple way to bring out the full flavor of the mushroom by using the "holy trinity" of salt, soya sauce and a pinch of sugar. It really works and the rating on this one was yummiest.

(No-one can write about wild mushrooms without that essential word of caution, however. Don't go collecting unless you really know your mushrooms.)

My final verdict on The Sustainable Kitchen: if you are a gourmet chef who reaches for sherry vinegar and hazelnut oil as frequently as the average home cook grabs for the salt and pepper, you will savor this book. If caramelizing and chiffonading are processes you regularly perform in your kitchen, you will sigh with delight when you open these pages. For me, this book will come out with my best china on those occasions when I want to impress. | June 2004


Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.