“There is so much good food in the world,” Sarah Copeland
begins. She says a lot more but, in so many ways, that is the guiding idea
behind Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite (Chronicle Books).
Copeland explains that she came to vegetarianism slowly, having been raised by people from farm families. “Sunday mornings smelled like bacon,” she writes in Feast. Her lifestyle
change came on gradually, for both health and moral reasons, becoming vegetarian
was “a very natural, gradual shift.”
The challenge, for her as well as for many people whose eating lives are charting a similar course, is how to fill the table with
delicious and varied foods and flavors 365 days a year. The resulting quest
ended up with the ultimate creation of the beautiful and practical Feast.
What’s the bottom line, she asks? “I always say, ‘Eat
cake and vegetables!’ Eat wonderful, delicious, healthful foods, mostly
vegetables, and leave a tiny bit of room for dessert.” The balance of Feast
backs this axiom, with gorgeous recipes for whole food — mostly vegetables
— along with enough other stuff for interest and diversity.
A day that starts with Country Eggs and Gravy with Arugula is an
indulgence even carnivores are likely to enjoy. There’s nothing missing here
from the perfect country breakfast. At least, there’s nothing missing that
anyone will notice!
I loved the Polenta with Winter Salad, Poached Egg and Blue
Cheese. It’s a super satisfying cold season meal that puts together several
things in a way I would have never considered. (Polenta in salad? Hmmmm. And
then: of course!)
But my favorite, in a book filled with innovations and great
ideas, is Spring Vegetable Paella. Here Paella celebrates the first gorgeous
vegetables of spring rather than an abundance of fish and shellfish and the
resulting dish is glorious.
A dessert section is thoughtful and complete, the Vegetarian
Larder chapter gives thought to important ingredients like non-dairy milks,
plant-based proteins and other considerations for cooking that is healthful and
mostly free of animal products. Another section, Prep School, deals with basic preparations
that will simplify all of your cooking. How to supreme an orange, make a cauliflower
steak and buy, store and clean asparagus and many other small things that add
up to a lot of great information.
There were a couple things that I did find disappointing in Feast.
First, as I’ve noted before, fish is not a vegetable. So a few recipes that
include salmon and halibut in what is billed as a vegetarian cookbook are not
welcome. Second (and this is a personal pet peeve that you might not
share!) the words “barley” and “risotto” don’t belong together in one recipe.
Risotto is made with arborio rice. Period. (Call me old school if you like, but there
it is.) Make a risotto with barley and it’s something different… and not quite
Beyond these quibbles, I have nothing but good things to
say. Feast is beautifully photographed, the recipes are innovative as well as
clear and well-shared. If you’re newly vegetarian (or on that path) and
pondering what next to put on the table, have a good look at Feast. (Just avoid
the fish.) ◊
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.