Mollie Katzen believes "vegetarian" should be used as an adjective rather than a noun.
"I like to avoid the labels that keep people in different camps," says the Berkeley, Calif.-based cookbook author, whose 1977 "Moosewood Cookbook" served as a Rosetta stone of sorts in giving the larger public an awareness and understanding of vegetarian cooking.
Her newest book is called "The Heart of the Plate." The plant-centered recipes are designed to be adapted — dairy items, say, can be removed to make a dish vegan. Or, conversely, one might want to pair a piece of leftover steak alongside. Katzen is cool with wherever a cook wants to go. For her today, vegetarian cooking is less about keeping meat off a plate and more about putting on more vegetables.
"Once you buy it and use it, it becomes your book," she explains. "You can turn the recipe into something that is completely yours."
Katzen helps you do that with a chapter devoted to sauces, vinaigrettes, toppings and other touches to allow all different types of eaters to customize a common dish to their own tastes and beliefs.
Don't worry about the "new generation" in the subtitle. It's not a reference to age, she says, but an attempt to stress how important it is to learn new things and new flavors. Katzen, too, has been evolving as a cook.
"A beautiful plate of food, simply cooked, maximally flavored, and embracing as many plant components as will harmoniously fit" is how she defines her cuisine in the book. "My food is sharper, livelier, spicier, lighter, and more relaxed than it used to be."
"I still cook from the 'Moosewood Cookbook' sometimes," Katzen says. "I'm much more inclined to keep the food as different components where I once put it all into one place, added sunflower seeds, eggs and cheese, and baked it.
"My initial cooking was to swap-in for the meat. … Now, my cooking is more confident. This idea has been around enough. And ingredients are so good. There is brighter, prettier produce and beautiful olive oils now. It was hard to find even fresh broccoli then and you couldn't find good olive oil when I started cooking."
"The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation"
By Mollie Katzen, Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $34.99
Brussels sprouts gratin with potatoes and spinach
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8
Note: This recipe from Mollie Katzen's "The Heart of the Plate" can be turned into a vegan dish if made with olive oil, soy milk and no cheese. For the breadcrumbs, toast 2 slices of whole wheat bread and crumble using a food processor.
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, or 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound smallish potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch-thick half circles (peeling is optional)
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (include all the leaves that fall off while you're cutting them)
2 cups chopped onion, about 1 large
1 teaspoon salt