Weekday Vegetarian: Book Review of The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu

Weekday Vegetarian Jerusalem-artichoke-fritters-photo

You know the drill. Maybe you were tired after work so you picked up some fast food rather than cooking and now you've had a lousy meal and you have the garbage to show for it. Or maybe you are going to cook, but you don't realize the fish you just bought is endangered. Alexandra Zissu would like you to give some consideration to these sorts of things, and she's written The Conscious Kitchen to help you do it.

So, what does she mean by the phrase the conscious kitchen?
Among many things she means:

1. Purchasing and eating food that is healthy
2. Learning basic cooking skills so that you can cut out processed foods and fast foods
3. Knowing where your food comes from and buying local organic or sustainably harvested foods
4. Using local farmers' markets whenever possible
5. Reducing the amount of meat, especially red meat, in your diet
6. Purchasing and using energy efficient appliances
7. Using cleaning products that don't contain carcinogens or poisons

It all comes down to thinking about the health and ecological consequences of the choices that you make in your daily life and The Conscious Kitchen takes you step by step through everything you need to know.

This is a great book if you are just getting started in this kind of thinking. It's well researched and thorough and there is nothing preachy or doctrinaire about the writing. Ms. Zissu is well aware that everyone has a line they won't cross, but she points out that some action is better than no action at all. She encourages the reader to strive for better and healthier food, and for a healthier kitchen. Even if you already do a lot of these things, there is still much to mine from this book. It's filled with all kinds of useful information, like short tips about everything from fishing to making your own pasta, to lists for further reading on many topics, to sources for ingredients and organic beer.

I think this would be a terrific companion piece for Kate Heyhoe's book Cooking Green. The two books largely cover the same material, but they come at it from slightly different angles. The Conscious Kitchen is more weighted to the actual food sources and eco-friendly ingredients, while Cooking Green leans more to information about saving energy while cooking and being more efficient in the kitchen, once you've got the ingredients there. There are a few recipes in The Conscious Kitchen, but they are sprinkled throughout the book and I found them a little harder to find than the recipes in Cooking Green which are all grouped together at the back of the book.


I didn't use one of the recipes in the book for this post, but I did buy my dinner at the farmers' market, which Ms. Zissu encourages readers to seek out (as do I). I got some wild sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) which are the first foraged foodstuffs I've had this year from Seth at Forbes Wild Foods.

Jerusalem Artichoke Fritters

1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed
1 carrot, peeled
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Fresh black pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste
2 eggs
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Peanut oil for frying

1. Heat oven to 250 degrees. Grate Jerusalem artichokes and carrot into a mixing bowl. Add shallots. Stir together cornmeal, flour, salt and baking powder, and stir in, mixing well. Season with pepper and Tabasco to taste. Add eggs, and mix thoroughly.

2. Combine chives, sour cream and lime juice, and set aside.

3. Pour oil 1/2 inch deep into a large skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until sizzling. Drop mixture in by tablespoons, flattening slightly. Fry until crisp and golden brown, turning once. Transfer to oven on a baking sheet lined with paper towel while frying more. Serve with sour cream mixture.

From The New York Times, Monday April 5, 2010

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