Thomas herself has lived the kind of ‘why pigeonhole yourself?’ life more should in this world — with her husband Gregory Nava she’s done quite a bit of work in film, perhaps most famously the still-excellent El Norte — but The Vegetarian Epicure, written while she was in grad school for film (and I’m impressed for that reason alone! wish I had had that kind of energy when I was pursuing my master’s) was her first success and deservedly so, helping to advance an idea of vegetarian cooking in America as something more than simply searching for analogues to meat dishes.
The introduction to the book is worth a read alone, a statement of purpose delighting in the possibilities of good food and good living as working in tandem, dealing with the kind of questions that still recur today about food supply health, appropriate amounts of protein and simply the idea of not regularly eating meat — and as I keep saying, I’m omnivorous, I just want that kind of good food myself! (And if you’ve read my blog enough by now you should know that’s part of the goal anyway.)
To quote a nice bit from Thomas’s introduction:
Vegetarian cooking is not a substitute for anything. It is a rich and various cuisine, full of many marvelous dishes with definite characteristics not in imitation of anything else…It is not the slave of the ‘main course,’ even as it does not avoid that arrangement when it seems fitting and useful.
Thus, I think, this recipe — in the hopes that this can serve as a sampler for interested parties, I’ll quote it here, while urging you consider her books for further ideas. She hasn’t updated her site in a bit but had included new recipes and further reflections, and there are links from her site to purchase her three books. Give ‘em a try!
(As a side note — the seeded sourdough bread you see there also provided the croutons for the salad. Taking a tip from Mark Bittman I went ahead, diced up some bread and crisped it in the oven, drying out the portions nicely without having to fry them. Good idea, that.)
6 very large russet potatoes
2 large onions
1/4 cup butter (I substituted margarine)
1 tsp. Bakon yeast (I substituted a bacio tuscano spice blend from Avanti)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed)
1 cup strong vegetable broth
1 Tbs. fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
salt and pepper
chopped parsley (used as a garnish; as I had none to hand you won’t see any in the photo)
Peel the potatoes and dice them. Peel and coarsely chop the onions. Heat the butter in a large skillet and stir in the Bakon yeast. Sauté the onion and garlic in it until the onion is transparent. Add in the potato cubes and stir around for a few minutes.
When the potatoes are all evenly coated and warmed, add the vegetable broth, the tarragon, some salt and pepper and just enough water to barely reach the top of the potatoes; it should not be more than a cup. Let this mixture simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring often. The potatoes should be tender and most of the liquid gone. A thick sauce will form from the pieces of potato which fall apart.
Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a little wine vinegar over the potatoes and mix well. Sprinkle with some fresh chopped parsley and serve steaming hot.
Serves 6 to 8.