In My Kitchen with Deborah Madison

By Molly Beverly / Photography By Brenna Zumbro & Erin Scott | September 13, 2017
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These days you can find everything on the web. Search for any ingredient or idea and in a flash appear hundreds of recipes plus reviews, videos and step-by-step blogs. Despite these instantly available resources, some hold-in-your- hand cookbooks are still worth buying. In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press, 2017) is one of them. In My Kitchen is substantial: 100 recipes, with beautiful coffee-table-quality photos and a lifetime of kitchen wisdom from a true master of vegetable-centric cooking.

It’s vegetable-centric, not vegetarian, because “you don’t need to be a vegetarian to like vegetables,” according to Madison. She practically invented the concept of putting vegetables at the center of the plate as the main attraction, and the main course, for the modern cook.

Published just this year, In My Kitchen contains Madison’s favorite well-honed, well-loved and well-used recipes, updated to reflect new ingredients and techniques and refined for a lighter touch and simpler preparation without losing robust flavor. These are the recipes she throws together for a quick dinner and those she shares over her own kitchen table from years of writing, teaching, cooking and eating.

The book has glorious photos because Madison believes food should be beautiful—not the calculated beauty of constructed plating and contrived garnishes but beautiful with the vibrancy of fresh vegetables arranged casually with a sprinkle of herbs and edible blossoms. The book is an invitation into Madison’s kitchen, and a chance to tap into her years of experience. You can’t get that in an internet search.


photo courtesy of Ten Speed Press

Words of Wisdom

In My Kitchen opens with the gentle heading “A Few Things I’ve Learned About Vegetarian Cooking” with a list of revelations. Here are a few of my favorites:
Coax Flavor from Sweet Vegetables
“One excellent way of getting the best out of sweet vegetables (like peppers, onions, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes or beets) is to embrace caramelizing. The sugars that abide so abundantly in these vegetables are drawn out with heat and in a hot pan with little or no liquid, they’ll start to brown, or caramelize, as they come out.”
Pick a Central Dish
“Follow the classic meal pattern and have something impressive in the center of the plate—not a fake piece of meat, but something very specific and focused; essentially, a centerpiece that other dishes flatter and complement…”
Above All, Don’t Apologize
“Don’t apologize because you feel your food is lacking. If you do that, you just take away the pleasure of others.”

The Recipes

Perusing the table of contents, I see an alphabetical list of impressive vegetable-centric dishes. For example: Rio Zape Beans with Smoked Chile, Roasted Cauliflower with Romesco Sauce, Chard and Saffron Flan in an Almond Crust, Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Crushed Roasted Walnuts, Yeasted Buckwheat Waffles, Olive Oil, Almond and Blood Orange Cake. The names are almost good enough to eat.

But recipes are made of paper and cookbooks are only as good as the dishes they produce, so I invited some friends over for dinner and tested a few of Madison’s recipes.

I served Madison’s hummus and baked ricotta dishes as appetizers with blue corn and pita chips and slices of cucumber.

Hummus Worth Making (In My Kitchen, pg. 132) returns this popular food to its Middle Eastern origins. It’s made with cooked dried chickpeas, and then dressed with warm olive oil, garnished with sumac, pepper flakes, minced parsley and fresh mint leaves. That’s traditional. It’s beautiful and even more delicious than you can imagine. No leftovers.

Baked Ricotta Infused with Thyme (pgs. 215–17) is just too simple not to make. It’s ricotta cheese, olive oil and a few sprigs of herbs, baked until a little brown crust forms around the edge. Drizzle with olive oil before serving. So easy, so good.


I accompanied the eggplant main dish with crusty ciabatta, Paso Robles Zinfandel and the salad.

Eggplant Gratin with a Golden Dome of Saffron-Ricotta Custard (pg. 108). Madison told me that she loves this recipe so I tried it out for the impressive center of the plate. The recipe involves a little more work. It is prepared in three parts—roasted eggplant, tomato sauce and Parmesan custard topping. The parts are assembled with the custard on top and baked to a golden brown. Impressive and fantastic.

Citrus and Avocado Salad with Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette and Shredded Greens (pgs. 94–6). The dressing recipe flavored with lime, cumin, coriander, jalapeño, green onion, mustard, paprika and cilantro is the big hit. Madison originally used it to dress Romaine salads at Greens, her pioneering restaurant on San Francisco Bay, and here it appears over oranges, other citrus and avocados. I left the avocados out (an option in the recipe) and added tomatoes and cucumbers because my garden is overflowing with them right now. It’s a recipe that adjusts well and complements what’s on hand.

For dessert, I served this cake with sugared berries and a bit of yogurt whisked with whipping cream.

Olive Oil, Almond and Blood Orange Cake (pgs. 172–4) Madison loves this recipe so much that it appears in two other books. It’s dense with ground almonds but the eggs keep it light. It’s sweet but not too sweet. Olive oil, orange zest and almond extract marry into a delightful complexity You can imagine this nutty, citrusy end to the meal. But don’t imagine too much; try it yourself.

I still eat meat, but tonight I don’t miss it and I’m going to try out many more of Madison’s recipes. At the finish of our vegetable-centric meal there were no apologies. Everyone was happy.

Thank you, Deborah Madison, for inviting us into your kitchen and for sharing your many years of vegetable wisdom.

Deborah Madison will be visiting Phoenix on November 11 and 12 for book signings and a lunch at FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale. For more information, see

A Little History

Over the past 40 years Madison has defined, introduced, promoted, educated and embellished vegetable-centric food. She has authored 14 cookbooks, written countless articles, won a multitude of awards, lectured, taught, cooked, founded Slow Food Santa Fe and managed the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market.

It all began in 1975 when after cooking stints at the San Francisco Zen Center, Green Gulch Farm and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Madison opened Greens, the first gourmet vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant and the cookbook that followed (The Greens Cookbook, released in 1987) were a revelation: vegetable-centered food could be delicious, elegant, exciting and stand up to the tough culinary scrutiny of a major foodie city. By the way, Greens, the restaurant, is still open.

Ten years later Madison published the definitive vegetarian cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. (There is now a revised edition, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, published in 2014.) This comprehensive volume with 1,600 recipes is considered the ultimate vegetable cookbook for vegetarians and everyone else.

Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes was published in 2013. It's an in-depth culinary study of food plants from the perspective of their botanical families, giving their plant and food relationships with recipes. It's an excellent food reference for both gardeners and cooks.

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