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Vegetable Literacy: Book Giveaway and Q & A with Deborah Madison

Vegetable Literacy: Book Giveaway and Q & A with Deborah Madison

Note: Due to technical difficulties, my website went down right after I posted this blog. Now that my site is back up, I invite you to leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Vegetable Literacy. If you were quick to enter and previously left a comment, it’s still there and you’re still in the running. The contest closes this Friday, August 9th, and more details are below!

Deborah Madison has a new and important book, Vegetable Literacy (June 2013, Ten Speed Press). The woman who moved vegetables from side-dish afterthoughts and ugh, the “healthy foods” column to the delectable center of the plate is taking us deeper into vegetal relationships. Think of this as a cook’s version of botany written in kitchen language that helps us make smarter choices from the garden and market. She had me at cotyledons. I always wondered why every beautiful bunch of market radishes had two faded round leaves among the lush green tops. Those are the remains of the first embryonic leaves, a telling detail about a plant’s journey.

Deborah and I first met in 1996 when she was on book tour for The Vegetarian Table: America (Chronicle) and I was her L.A. food stylist. We recently caught up electronically for this illuminating conversation. But first…

Thanks to Ten Speed Press, I have a copy of Vegetable Literacy to give away to one lucky reader. Here’s what to do to enter the contest:

  1. Leave a comment on this post answering this question: What is your favorite vegetable and why?
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm Pacific Daylight Time on Friday, August 9, 2013. The winner will be chosen at random (using and will be posted to my blog on Tuesday, August 13, 2013.
  3. The giveaway is open to U.S. readers.
  4. One entry/comment per person, please.

In Vegetable Literacy, you give readers hundreds of ideas and tools. Tell us about one of your own take-aways from this project.

One thing that has changed me comes under the heading of “using the whole plant.” I found that as a result of having grown something myself from seed, I became so much more curious about what, in fact, I could eat from my efforts—often parts, forms and stages of vegetables that you don’t see in supermarkets or even farmers markets—broccoli leaves, radish greens, bolting chard leaves, kale that has flowered (though I saw a lot of that in Portland this spring). The garden really provoked my own curiosity and taught me to see things in a fresh and different way. It taught me about seeing stages, relationships, insects, and sun and shade and what happens in either condition. Seeing in general.

Is there a vegetable you just don’t care for?

Just yesterday I was grilling King Oyster mushrooms and found myself thinking, I don’t really love mushrooms! Flavor, yes. Texture? Not always. Sometimes I feel like I’m expected to love all vegetables with equal enthusiasm, but in fact, I don’t. We’re not talking about a violent dislike as much as, “I’m not so crazy about ….” But I try to include them in my books anyway because others like them.

What else would readers be surprised to learn about you?

People often don’t invite me to their homes for a meal because they say they are intimidated. Well, I get intimidated too! Many of my friends who are not food professionals are really good cooks, and I get a little nervous cooking for them. Plus, like anyone, I make mistakes—things don’t always come out right. There are bad days in the kitchen along with the good.


There is a lot to worry about when it comes to food and eating habits in America—from obesity and fast food to the Farm Bill. Is there some good news in all that muck? What keeps you from jumping off a cliff?

Good question, and one I wrestle with daily. But I just came from the farmers’ market where I bought beautiful, well-grown produce that made me reaffirm my belief in the value of small, passionate, skillful farmers to make a difference (not that it had wavered). When I visited a garden in West Oakland started by City Slicker Farms, I came away with such a hopeful feeling that I was surprised. It was very uplifting. There are still lots of us pushing for the right to know about GMOs and all of that, and so many people taking on growing something of their own to eat—that’s all encouraging.

But it’s generally pretty grim, and frankly, I do get discouraged. And I’m experiencing global warming for real here in Santa Fe and trying to figure out how not to be undone by it when I see my beans withering in the heat or tomatoes not setting fruit. I’m trying to find a positive way to wrap my head around this and figure out some positive gardening solutions instead of just getting discouraged.

Do you have one main wish for American cooks?

To really know their ingredients—their names, their stories and histories—and to take pleasure in that knowledge.

Photo by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

I can’t wait to make the Ivory Carrot Soup and the Carrot Soup with Tangled Collard Greens in Coconut Butter and Dukkah, pictured above. What cooking technique, ingredient, or subject would you like to delve into?

I would choose one Asian cuisine and really work on getting to know it well. And there’s a host of Asian greens and other vegetables I would love to learn more about, both to cook and to grow.

You write in Vegetable Literacy that after years of travel, you are happy to travel no farther than your garden, that growing food has been its own sort of journey. When wanderlust strikes again, where would you like to go?

Portland, Oregon. I long for moisture, and the farmers’ markets there are stupendous. Absolutely gorgeous food. But I am still traveling—Mexico and Italy this summer. I had hoped to go to Iceland, too, but that’s on hold for a while. Ironically, because of the book, I’m not home much this summer and because of the drought, I’m not planting a garden. You have to be home to garden, drought or not.

That’s a life lesson right there: you have to be present to make a difference. Speaking of focus, first you gave us The Greens Cookbook, then Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Local Flavors, and now Vegetable Literacy. Among your many cookbooks, these stand out as seminal, defining works that have changed the way America thinks about vegetables. What’s next?

I have some thoughts but they’re still baby thoughts, so I have to take good care of them and not talk about them. In the meantime, I’m bringing Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone up to date with new recipes, ingredients and information that’s new since the book was first written.

Nice to know about VCE, since it’s my go-to wedding shower gift! Any pet peeves you’d like to get off your chest?

The infantile “veggie” word. To me, it’s baby talk and doesn’t do vegetables justice.

Amen to that.


For a chance to win a copy of Deborah Madison’s beautiful Vegetable Literacy, don’t forget to post your answer below no later than 11:59 PDT, August 9: What is your favorite vegetable and why?


  1. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    From Alison:

    Favorites. Much like a mother, I hate to say “favorite” but you know you have one. Cucumbers, Persian. The crunch. The line from The Importance of Being Ernest, asking Lane about where all the cucumber sandwiches had gone. I could say Broccoli, because my husband will eat it any day of the week. Or beets, golden or red, that I never had growing up because my mother had to eat them every day as a child and couldn’t tolerate serving them to my sister and I. Or those small, black cherry tomato’s in my yard right now. Cucumbers it is!

  2. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    From Kathleen (Kathy) Turk:

    I love carrots. They are so satisfying, both sweet and savory. Carrots are versatile, lending themselves to many dishes–as a bouquet garni, or in soups, stews, salads, drinks and desserts. For a piece of heaven blend carrot juice with just cream and drink, or freeze into ice cream. I also love that the entire plant can be eaten, or, as a biennial, left in the ground to bloom the following spring and summer with sweet blossoms that attract beneficial insects.

  3. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    From Laura Barton:

    Growing up it was spinach, but now it’s a close tie with kale! It/they can be eaten raw or cooked: steamed, sauteed, tucked into a wrap, put into an omelet, added in a soup or stew at the last minute. YUM! And of course there are those who favor kale ‘chips’ but I just love the greens 🙂

  4. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    From Alexandra:

    a cucumber. so distinct in flavor. i want to wear it as a perfume. it embodies the word “refreshing.” i wait for these beauties every season and then pickle them to make them last longer. i remember the first time i ever saw a lemon cucumber – it blew my mind. then it happened again when i came across an armenian cuke. i love these juicy, fragrant water bombs.

  5. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    From Jo Anne Kindler:

    I love winter squash, simply prepared by roasting and adding a bit of butter and salt.

  6. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    From KarenV:

    This year, my favorite vegetable is an heirloom squash called trombetta di Albenga. It is beautiful to grow and has amazing flavor. I still love chard, tomatoes, and long beans.

  7. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    From Gabby Robinson:

    Hatch chiles top my list here in Denver, CO. I use them for both sweet and savory applications!

  8. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    From threecollie:

    I like peas. Nothing fancy about them, but whether you add some to an omelet for interest, to a salad for texture, or pop open a few pods in the garden just to enjoy, they unfailingly taste great.

  9. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    From Dana @ Foodie Goes Healthy:

    I love asparagus: in soup, risotto, salads, pasta, grilled, roasted with Parmesan, with sesame dressing. Oh, so many tasty ways.

  10. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    From Susan:

    If I was on a desert island (not a dessert island- which my answer might be different:) and could only have one vegetable it would be carrot.

    The are sweet and versatile; and my go to snack vegetable. I have checked out your ebook from the Santa Monica library and made your red lentil curry! It was delicious. Many more recipes I want to try.

  11. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    From : Lisa Lucas Talbot:

    I’m torn! I love tomatoes, but botanically they’re fruits, not vegetables–or so I’ve always understood. I also love potatoes because of the variety of types and preparations, and because they’re my ultimate comfort food. (Is it too early in the day to make a potato gratin…?)

  12. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    From Angela Hunter Geiss:

    Hi! Love this book! Have one from the library on my nightstand right now. Would love a copy of my own. My favorite vegetable hum…I like so many…Right now I am very into cucumbers, all types. I have been juicing and pickling and eating them straight out of the garden. Going to plant lemon cucumbers for the late summer /fall garden.

  13. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    From Marie:

    There are so many wonderful vegetables, but I think my favorite would be tomatoes. Anything from grape tomatoes to beautiful slicers like Brandywine. Fresh in salads, cooked in a sauce, or roasted – they are a treat to the palette.

  14. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    From Marlene:

    My favorite vegetable is the sweet potato because it is so versatile.

  15. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    From Ellen Walton:

    omatoes. Have to have a Mortgage Lifter or two as therapy every summer. And a small white cherry tomato that my husband loves. I love coming home and going into the yard to pick part of dinner.

  16. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    From Carolyn Taffel:

    My favorite vegetable is the sweet potato because it is delicious, versatile and nutritious. It can be baked, roasted, mashed or fried. It can be served savory or sweet. It provides beta carotene and is so filling!

  17. Amelia Saltsman August 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    From Diana Freedman:

    My favorite vegetable is probably arugula. I always have it in my fridge, and it usually plays a roll in any salad ordered out. Although, it may be loosing its status to baby black kale, which also finds its way into my basket every time I spy it at the outdoor market.

  18. Dave August 6, 2013 at 6:08 am - Reply

    Great interview Amelia! And an important book, as you say. My favorite vegetable…too hard to pick just one! But tomatoes right now, especially oxheart tomatoes. I sliced one thick yesterday, seasoned both sides, then grilled it quick like a tuna steak. Perfect with pasta and a pesto of garden herbs and greens.

  19. Joan Isaacs August 6, 2013 at 7:00 am - Reply

    I love all vegetables but my favorite is probably asparagus : roasted, steamed, in risotto , with Parmesan .

  20. Mary Hughes August 6, 2013 at 8:27 am - Reply

    My favorite is zucchini. I can grill it to put in a hummus sandwich, and slice it thin and use it as a substitute for pasta in lasagna, it can be battered and fried as a substitute for french fries, it is inexpensive for most people and easily/widely grown by people and found in most farmer’s markets.

  21. Laurie Bernhard August 6, 2013 at 8:52 am - Reply

    I had a smoked trout salad in-house applewood smoked rainbow trout, market lettuce, kumquats, marcona almonds, grapefruit, dill, champagne vinaigrette at the L & E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake (LA) that had sea beans in it. They are a seaweed vegetable that looks like a greed bean with a delicious salty flavor that is really unique. I’d never come across them before Do you know of them? Or where to get them?

    Favorite vegetable artichoke especially when grilled with a touch of salt and pepper.

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm - Reply

      Hi Laurie,
      Sea beans are not actually a seaweed, but Salicornia,the name aptly referring to the inherent saltiness that comes from growing along the seacoast and marshes. Also called samphire, seaphire, sea pickle, and more, there are actually two different plants called samphire, one of which is in the same family as the carrot!

  22. Sam August 6, 2013 at 9:08 am - Reply

    I love all vegetables with the exception of snow peas, but if I have to claim my favouite, it’s likely potatoes: from small spring steamed potatoes with butter and mint to big over winter baking potatoes cut into wedges, coated in garlic and roasted. Yum. Deborah Madison has been greatly influential in increasing my skill and confidence cooking vegetables, I crave her next book.

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      Deborah is a master, indeed. Potatoes are extraordinary. Did you know they contain a surprisingly high amount of Vitamin C?

  23. Victoria August 6, 2013 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Home grown tomatoes! They go with a lot of stuff I like to eat: sauce for pasta and pizza, salads, etc. And they are so easy to grow.

  24. Regina Urbina August 6, 2013 at 9:27 am - Reply

    I like most veggies and I eat them cooked and in salads every day.
    My favorite has to be artichokes. I love to eat them with olive oil and lemon juice and a little salt. They taste so yummy, creamy and sweet. They also leave a delicious after taste in my mouth.

  25. Charlie Miller August 6, 2013 at 9:31 am - Reply

    My favorite vegetable is the soybean. It’s incredibly versatile, delicious fresh and also an important ingredient in many cuisines.

  26. taggylee August 6, 2013 at 9:33 am - Reply

    my favorite vegetable would have to be brussels sprouts. i grew up thinking i hated them because my parents hated them and never served them. i discovered them in adulthood, perfectly cooked and seasoned, i could not get enough!

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 4:03 pm - Reply

      You raise a really good point, Taggylee. There are so many misunderstood fruits and vegetables, either because they were poorly grown, over-stored, or indifferently cooked. Brussels sprouts are a perfect example!

  27. Kris August 6, 2013 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Right now I’m going to say my favorite vegetable is sweet Carmen peppers. But, I could probably choose many others.

  28. Avery August 6, 2013 at 9:57 am - Reply

    I love a good squash. Not only is this one of the few vegetables native to this great continent, but it is also simply delicious. There are dozens of squash varieties out there, each with there own distinctive (and sweet!) flavor. From soups to patés and ravioli to risotto, you can do so much with this gourd.

    And let’s not forget that the flower is just as fun to eat and cook with as the vegetable I love so much. The first big squash at market implicates the height of apple cider season, the changing of the leaves, and the mad rush to can everything in sight.

    And have you ever served a cheese fondue cooked in a kabocha squash before…

    • Yvonne Kopina August 6, 2013 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      Wow! I love the fondue in kabocha squash idea…must try it! Thank you!

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm - Reply

      I’m with Yvonne; definitely going to remember cheese fondue in Kabocha squash come winter.

  29. Donna Rose August 6, 2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Oh, it would have to be homegrown lemon cucumbers. Ours are just coming on. They were about the only “exotic” vegetable we grew when I was a child. I felt very blessed to have eaten them all my life.
    Walking through the apple orchard on a hot summer to have lunch
    with my grandma always meant sliced lemon cucumbers, peeled ripe tomatoes (that was pretty exotic too) and Tillamook sharp cheddar. Thanks for helping me evoke these fond memories.

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      It’s only a hop and a skip from vegetable to lovely food memory! Thank you for sharing.

  30. Hae Jung Cho August 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    It is so hard to choose! I love so many vegetables. Right now, I would say fresh lima beans. They get so silky when you cook them in water, with a dab of butter and salt and pepper. I can eat just lima beans for lunch! I have to also mention white asparagus, ramps (in cream or pickled), and leeks (in vinaigrette from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone).

  31. Stephanie August 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    I love fresh beets…shredded raw on a salad, grilled on the BBQ, cubed in a chilled bowl of borscht. So sweet and earthy, the beautiful colors alone bring a smile to my face.

  32. Laura Seligman August 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Cauliflower! It’s this season’s favorite: smooth and creamy steamed, or roasted and crunchy. Sly and silky as a thickener.

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm - Reply

      Sly and silky: What a poetic way to describe the shapeshifting ways of one of the most versatile vegetables!

  33. Luna Garcia August 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Baby Artichokes from Castroville, CA for sure. Book looks great! ginger cornmeal nectarine topping looks great too 🙂

  34. Sara Bir August 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Beets are my favorite vegetable, for eating and for thinking about. They are so knobby and dirty and saturated. Thank you for posting this fun interview with Deborah, Amelia. To see the favorite vegetables of other readers is a pleasure. I keep looking and looking at my library’s copy of “Vegetable Literacy” like I looked at the toy section of the J.C. Penney catalog. I’ve hit maximum renewals, but I’m wondering: why doesn’t everyone in the county have this book on hold?

  35. Yvonne Kopina August 6, 2013 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    So many “favorites!” For now, carrots, because one can enjoy them fresh or cook anyway: braised, steamed, fried, grilled, candied, etc… and they are delicious pickled! Can be used in savory and dessert recipes. You can utilize peels and tops (pesto, soup, natural food coloring, etc…), too…so there is no waste!…very economical to buy and easy to grow – in the ground and in containers. In SoCal, available anytime of the year! Delicious and nutritious!

  36. Susan G August 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    My favorite vegetable is whatever is in season in my garden. I love ‘farm-to-table’ when in comes from my own back yard! Right now, we are eating tomatoes with basil and fresh mozzarella cheese – yum, and I am canning tomatoes for winter days. I am also loving my yellow zucchinis and making zucchini crusts for pizzas with fresh tomato sauce. Also made a great pasta combo using mashed cooked zucchini, garlic and onions as a ‘sauce’. GREAT BOOK!

  37. Cathy @ She Paused 4 Thought August 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Zucchini blossoms. Because they are so beautiful and versatile. I love to stuff and bake them.

  38. Paul LoNigro August 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    I grew up eating every vegetable and raised my kids the same way. Now I would say that cauliflower is the one for me because it can be enjoyed so many ways: raw, steamed, sizzled on a cast iron skillet, sliced and grilled on the bbq, in mashed potatoes, and my mom showed me even in eggs.
    Thanks for the great interview Amelia.

    Paul LoNigro
    Cypress CA

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm - Reply

      I can hear the cauliflower sizzling in that skillet right now! One of my favorite vegetables too.

  39. Betty Mallorca August 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    Favorite? It’s hard to choose. I am really enjoying the few things that are coming up in my little 2-bed raised garden — my first garden in about 15 years. I’ve got two kinds of kale (you can do so much with it and it’s so good for you!); some chard that isn’t thriving very well; three kinds of tomatoes which are just coming on, at last; a volunteer summer squash (the way to keep up with them is to harvest them when they are Really Tiny!); and a few herbs which get added in to jazz things up. I love picking them and eating them in a salad 15 min later! Umm, can I choose that many things? I bet I disqualified myself!

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 3:53 pm - Reply

      You are truly a gardener at heart, Betty. Some people nest to settle a home; you plant a garden!

  40. Cathleen Sullivan August 7, 2013 at 8:13 am - Reply

    Red Beets. Hands down. They are rich, beautifully deep red/purple, earthy and have a rich round sweetness. They can be in savory or sweet dishes. If you have ever read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, you know that beets are sensuous, luscious and of the earth. I love beets

  41. Lisa August 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    It’s so hard to pick one! My favorite lately is cauliflower because of how versatile it is, I make “rice”, mashed cauliflower, roasted, steamed, etc..
    But I also can’t live without my greens 🙂

  42. MariaSole August 8, 2013 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    Right now my favorite vegetable is corn — so sweet and juicy. Grilled or steamed, on the cob or off — it’s so good! Lately we have been grilling it and adding a little cilantro butter and salt. Although now that it’s at its peak here in CT we don’t even need to cook it and can just eat it off the cob. 🙂

    • Amelia Saltsman August 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      I can just imagine what Connecticut corn must taste like right about now! Yellow, white, or calico?

  43. Doris R August 9, 2013 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Right now…can’t beat a farmer’s market tomato.

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