Michael Natkin has had his blog since 2007. I stumbled across it sometime in November or December 2007. The photography needed some help and the writing could be a little clunky (then), but here was a blog where I could learn about dragonfruit, umami, and gremolata from someone who knew a lot about food but wasn't a snob. There was something, some passion for ingredients and the joy and craft of food, that kept me coming back to his blog. Over the past few years, Natkin has tweaked his recipes, experimented with new ingredients, tasted his way through Israel, staged at several restaurants, and polished his presentation. This book, Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes - so much more than a cook book - is but one product of many labors of the heart, and it's a fine, fine first formal product.
There are recipes, to be sure, and they are colorful and flavorful, bright and comforting, exotic and familiar. His photography is beautiful, his writing careful but easygoing and creative. In the cutthroat world of "want it now," easily-accessible recipe websites, a cable channel with millions in marketing and bright fresh cooking wall-to-wall 24/7, there has to be more than flash and color. This collection has it all going on. This collection has two things that flashy web sites and thousands of other cook books do not. First, Natkin's recipes have essential appeal that is neither about cramming too much action into them (olive oil! butter! pancetta! All at once!) nor about removing an ingredient (meat) and building around the hole. Natkin's recipes are simple and elegant, even when they are humble. One of the best features of his blog has been how the five elements of taste complement one another, and which foods give those tastes. The recipes here use just those pieces. In the Corn and Tomato Confit Risotto, for example (someone else mentioned this recipe), textures and tastes add up to a synergystic whole: the snap of the corn and creaminess of the risotto, the sweetness of the confit balanced with the saltiness of risotto. Second, the recipes are accessible. Many of the recipes have prep times less than an hour, and many of those less than half an hour. The directions are clear and make no assumptions about what you can do. Sprinkled throughout the book are snippets of knowledgeable but relaxed commentary - one of the best elements of his blog, too - on where to find ingredients, the history of a dish, how to select fruits or veggies. The result is a collection of recipes that leave you learning about the food you're preparing and eating. His passion for the food is infectious.
In the same way that my Moosewood cookbooks became my go-to cookbooks in the 1990s, as I was just learning to really cook (not just assemble food), this book is destined for a reserved place on my shelf and a frequent place on my countertops as I happily try new recipes. It's such hit-and-miss with cookbooks out there. This one is all hits.