We are trying a new format for book reviews insh’Allaah, let me know what you think of it!
Introduction: No, we are not vegetarians. In fact, we know that Allaah has provided us with dietary guidelines that, if followed, will lead us to eating a healthy, balanced diet from the Tayyibaat, or good things that He has created. That being said, in practice, we eat mostly vegetable and grain based dishes for a variety of reasons, including their relative low cost, ease of preparation, and many health benefits.
This habit started before I was Muslim, when I was a single mother trying to get by on very little money. Mash’Allaah, little did I know that I was setting a lifelong pattern then! I worked at a natural food co-op and Mujaahid and I ate mostly vegetarian food with the occasional foray into the omniverous world. It was a drastic departure from my mother’s cooking, and the way she taught me to cook from when I was a little girl, which was always centered around meat, with the exception of breakfast. When I became Muslim and married, we just naturally continued on this path, and have been on it ever since.
Generally speaking, we make up most of our recipes, simply because when we were in Yemen, that is what we had to do. No cookbooks, no internet access, so we used our creativity to make whatever we could out of the food that we could afford, which was often seasonal in nature. Two things I never did grow to like (though I did get adept at cooking them): okra and eggplant. Ew.
A few months ago a friend sent me a box of gifts that included two books, one of which is the one I am reviewing today. (The other one, The Essential Urban Farmer, I already reviewed here.)
Author: Mark Bittman
Overall Rating: 10
Readability: 8 (yes, it is a cookbook, but it is one of those that is a pretty good read as well!)
Would I recommend it to others? Yes!
Read it again? Yes- we use it constantly to generate ideas and refer to for methods of doing things
What to Expect: First of all, I can’t vouch for every single recipe in the book, because I haven’t read them all, nor have I tried them. Obviously, if they use wine or some other prohibited ingredient, then the Muslims reading this review will have to disregard that particular recipe, or change it (I often substitute stock) to fit our dietary guidelines.
The book is very well organized, having chapters on such basics as ingredients, equipment and techniques in the front of the book. Later on, each chapter is divided by food subject, like Eggs, Dairy, and Cheese and Breads, Pizzas, Sandwiches and Wraps. One of the most helpful chapters is on produce. Bittman goes through and treats vegetables and fruits individually, with advice on the best way to cook each one, things that will complement it, and what can be substituted if you don’t have that particular item on hand but really want to try a recipe. He has a great chapter on cooking legumes, as well as one on grains that deals with some of the less well-known grains such as quinua as well as the usual customers. I find that very often we can’t follow a recipe exactly as written, but we have had no problems using them as a spring board for our own creations, which (usually!) turn out really well, alhamdulillah. We use his recipe for making fresh cheese regularly- it is very easy, and uses simple ingredients. We are going to share our cheese making adventures with you in a future post, insh’Allaah.
My thoughts on it: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is a valuable reference for anyone who wants to add variety and vegetables to her diet. It is original, thorough, usually practical, and provides recipes that can be used for everyday or spruced up for a special meal any time.