Like many people, Laurel's Kitchen introduced me to vegetarianism as a way of life, not just a food style. But far from strident evangelizing, this hefty volume leads by example. The authors testify to their vegetarian path and how they learned to cook along the way.
When Laurel's Kitchen -- A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition was first published in the 1970s, the world of healthy foods looked quite different than it does today. The bread was a fluffy, white balloon and beef was for dinner. Whole-wheat flour? Forget about. Soy milk? No way. Many products we now expect to see at any large supermarket could only be found at hole-in-the-wall natural foods stores in the student districts of large cities and college towns.
Nothing remotely like a healthy, vegetarian convenience product was available, so vegetarian who wanted to actually eat nutritious, balanced, and varied meals had to cook. And really cook, making everything from bread to peanut butter to yogurt from scratch. Laurel's Kitchen told them how to do it.
Do we still need Laurel's Kitchen? I think our wallets would say yes. Convenient foods are expensive, and the book's simple approach empowers the reader to say, Yes, I can. I have made yogurt with powdered milk and an electric heating pad, using this book. I have baked whole-wheat, multi-grain nut bread in coffee cans, using this book. I have even sprouted seeds with wet paper towels and plastics bags, using this book.
In addition to yogurt making, bread baking, and mung-bean sprouting, Laurel's Kitchen features pages and pages of vegetarian versions of basic fare. A sprinkling of Indian and Asian dishes, as well as American southern cooking, adds variety. All recipes have clear directions and minimal ingredients (that are a lot easier to find these days). They also have an intangible quality, a gentleness and sense of peace, the authors have found as the walk, and cook, softly on the earth.
In addition to being a philosophy book and a cook book, Laurel's Kitchen is an extensive nutrition guide. All major macro and micro nutrients rank a chapter. Do you wish to understand how incomplete vegetable proteins can be combined into complimentary amino acids and thus be as complete a protein source as meat? Here is your teacher.
When I sat down to re-read Laurel's Kitchen, I wondered if it would seem dated. But I still felt welcomed, and still felt I had a lot to learn there. I'm excited to try the vegetable-bean casserole. My local supermarket carries whole-wheat egg noodles now.