The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini

The Vegetable Butcher is a user-friendly, beautifully presented, and thorough reference on vegetables (and some fruit ‘vegetables’ such as tomatoes). From selection to varieties, preparation and then cooking tips, followed by recipes, this is a nice one-stop shop on a subject rarely covered in such detail. Of note, however, that only 1 in every 5 recipe has an image and most of the recipes have no introduction to tell about presentation, flavor, or even if it is an entree or side dish. The strength of the book is clearly as a reference rather than a recipe book.

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The book breaks down as follows: Butchery basics (including care of knives) and pantry support (what else you’ll want to have ready). Then an alphabetical presentation of the vegetables, starting with artichokes and arugula and ending with winter squash and zucchini. An index at the end includes recipes by season and type and an index.

Each vegetable has a photographed picture intro page (perhaps more useful as a pretty graphic than necessarily identifying varieties of that item). The intro page includes a short write up, best season info, partner foods, varieties, selection, and storage. Because each vegetable only has 2 large images (1 from one of the recipes and this intro page), the intro pages are easy to find for referencing. Although the intro pages are a bit graphic-designy busy (so you have to search for info in the paragraph block design elements), there is a lot of great information contained within.

After the intro page comes the instructions on preparing (butchering) the vegetables. Nearly all instruction pages have small photographs to accompany the directions and notes about particularities of that vegetable. Following the butchery instructions are cooking methods – typically from sauteing to blanching or baking. Finally, each vegetable has 1-4 recipes using different varieties to best effect.

The book is beautifully presented with, as noted, a strong graphic design element. That makes the book easy to use as a reference and as a cookbook. Frustrating, though, were the recipes. They were all well done, and often included ‘sub recipes’ including vinaigrettes or sauces as well. But lack of introductions/descriptions/images left me puzzling at several – what they would look like, how they were supposed to taste, and even how they were to be served. I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a sauce or a soup, an entree or a side dish.

In all, this has proven to be an excellent resource. I wouldn’t say there are a lot of exotic vegetables – I was familiar with all but two or so. A lot of the ‘exotic’ vegetables would be variations of the more familiar staple for example. But for great tidbits – such as which spinach makes the best salads as opposed to best for cooking, or which herbs infuse best when solid and which should be chopped before using – then this is a great reference. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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