Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook

Image of Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook
Release Date: 
May 21, 2019
Anthony Bourdain/Ecco
Reviewed by: 

“[Y]ou might think of this book as you would your very own vegetable-cooking school + toolbox + charismatic coach in one.”

Vegetables Unleashed is not a book about vegetarianism. Its author, renowned Spanish chef José Andrés, is not a vegetarian. Far from it. There is no call-to-action in the book designed to inspire you to “eat healthy,” “clean,” or to give up meat.  None.

Plus, the book, published by an imprint named after Anthony Bourdain, is also  dedicated to the late chef and storyteller, known the world over for eating anything as long as it was delicious and shared in friendship.

But José Andrés is a vegetable enthusiast and, as such, does do his darnedest best to let us know what we are missing, and to make sure that we, well, stop missing it!

“Fruits and vegetables are sexy in a way that a chicken breast never can be. Think about it: What happens when you bite into a piece of meat? The first five seconds are kind of interesting, but then you spend another twenty seconds chewing something that has no flavor. Now think about a pineapple. As soon as your fork hits the flesh, its scent fills the air like a wonderful perfume. Then you bite down: juicy, sweet, and acidic, with notes of passion fruit and citrus and mystery that linger long after you stop chewing. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Also shared here are his personal vegetable philosophy (which includes quoting from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”), a José glossary, a boiling tutorial, and a plant index and pantry checklist. And sprinkled throughout and among the enticing full-color photos of what the recipes are supposed to look like, there are interviews with farmers, cooks, moms, and other vegetable lovers, as well as odes to well-loved global favorites, like the Spanish Tortilla—one of more than a few nods to his home country—and some interesting short essays on foods (or food groups) currently suffering the weight of our generalized misconceptions and ill-conceived expectations.

We “learn” that 87% of Americans are deficient in their intake of fruits and vegetables, and that potatoes are the only vegetable 40% of American children ever eat. But that is the extent of the numbers, statistics or medical claims in this book. Vegetables Unleashed makes its arguments by way of recipes, and the stars of the book are the vegetables, with dozens of familiar-enough recipes that still manage to have a fresh, intriguing element to them. Full awareness of all our possible misgivings is, then, on display here, as we seem to be eased into a lifetime of potentially craving the fruits of the earth.

The book is, naturally, arranged to be used according to the seasons, as José Andrés suggests our vegetables should be, and there’s a lot to make the case that eating vegetables as part of our diet can be a delicious experience and do much for our general enjoyment of life and living things.

Spring includes recipes for Artichoke Chips, Miso-Roasted Asparagus, Avocado Milkshake, and Carrot Pasta. Summer shows us how to make Microwaved Corn Four Ways, Corn Cakes à la Irma Rombauer, Cucumber Shaved Ice, and Fried Eggplants with Honey. Fall brings Drunken Apples, Cauliflower with Béchamel and Mushroom Cappuccino, while Winter serves Mom’s Lentil Soup, Persimmon, Burrata and Jamón Salad. Spanish-Japanese Garbanzo Stew, Red Wine Mashed Potatoes, and Mexican Street-Style Fruit Salad. A final section on sauces and dressings to bring out the flavor of vegetables in meals addresses objections against blandness and boredom.

Would people who already love vegetables enjoy this book? Sure. Even vegans will like knowing that there are no “offensive” images of cooked game, fish, or meat in it. But this is primarily a book for people who do not cook much and do not eat vegetables if they can help it, so perhaps the thing that bodes best for its success among those ranks is the simplicity of its non-cookbook cookbook approach:

With most recipes calling for few and familiar ingredients, each one’s instructions are less than a page long and big photos suggest doable, delicious results; you might think of this book as you would your very own vegetable-cooking school + toolbox + charismatic coach in one.