What does it really mean to be an environmentally conscious cook?
You might already have your own answer to that question. But if you don’t — or if you’re looking for new ideas on the subject — two recent cookbooks offer fresh perspectives on how to cook and care for the planet.
Myra Goodman believes that cooking from scratch is one of the most beneficial things a person can do for the environment. She offers a bushel of recipes and kitchen tips to back up that claim in her new cookbook, The Earthbound Cook: 250 Recipes for Delicious Food and a Healthy Planet. Goodman cofounded Earthbound Farm in 1984 with her husband, Drew. The company has since become the largest grower of organic produce in the country.
More than a decade ago, before Googling became ubiquitous, I scoured the library for information on how to raise a healthy family. I was a new mom and wanted to know more about the choices involved in feeding my family. The Earthbound Cook would have answered many of my questions, with its valuable sections on water conservation, frozen versus canned food, food labeling, cast-iron cookware, sustainable seafood, and more. The book takes much of the guesswork out of cooking and cleaning greener. Now I know, for example, that it’s more eco to wash dishes in the dishwasher instead of by hand. (The challenge now? Training my kids not to prewash their plates before loading up the machine.)
It’s Goodman’s recipes, though, that will keep me coming back to her book. I am a home cook with a meat-as-condiment philosophy (much to my teenage son’s dismay), so I especially appreciated Goodman’s creative, vegetable-focused recipes. Her cauliflower “couscous” uses a risotto-style cooking method that is both unique and tasty. And many of her salad recipes feature original pairings, such as Heirloom Lettuce Salad with Strawberries, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese.
The Earthbound Cook is comprehensive enough to appeal to new cooks trying to build a repertoire, with chapters on bread baking and vegetarian entrées as well as soups, sides, and desserts. But experienced home cooks will find plenty here to spice up their kitchen routines. While my family wasn’t crazy about the Enchiladas with Green Olives (too spicy and too olive-y), we all loved the Amazing Turkey Chili that lives up to its name.
In Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers, Janet Fletcher profiles 10 small farms throughout the United States, from Golden Earthworm Organic Farm in Jamesport, New York, to Dancing Roots Farm in Troutdale, Oregon. These portraits tell the farmers’ personal stories — their quirky backgrounds, struggles, passions, and occasional recipes.
Eating Local organizes its 150 recipes by main ingredient, making it a snap to find a recipe if you’re stumped by yet another eggplant in your CSA box. The recipes reflect contemporary flavors; Green-Garlic Soufflé, Crispy Kale Chips, and Grilled Romaine with Six-Minute Farm Egg all caught my eye.
But I enjoyed Eating Local’s farm profiles, with their heartfelt accounts and lush photography, more than its recipes, many of which call for ingredients that simply aren’t available at my local farmers’ market. Instead, I would love to see truly local versions of Eating Local, highlighting just the farmers and produce of a single region. A Pacific Northwest version of such a book, for example, wouldn’t include Mixed Citrus Compote, since citrus doesn’t grow here. It might, however, feature the piperade-inspired Creamy Eggs with Tomato and Peppers, Basque Style — a comforting meal that my family devoured.
So while I enjoyed the farm photos and local inspiration in Eating Local, it’s Myra Goodman’s Earthbound Cook that I will reach for when it’s time to figure out what’s for dinner. Goodman’s Pork Chile Verde has already become a permanent fixture in my family’s weekly winter rotation. And I can’t wait for spring, when my first CSA veggies will encourage me to try more earthbound recipes.
Megan Holden is a writer living in Portland, Oregon.
Editor’s note: Oregonians: On Tuesday, April 12, 2011, at 7 p.m., Myra Goodman will discuss The Earthbound Cook and sign cookbooks at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, in Beaverton.
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