May 25, 2010 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- During
the annual James Beard Foundation Awards earlier this month in New York,
reporters asked many of the nation's best chefs to predict the next big cooking
trend, now that the bizarre fixation with bacon in mainstream restaurants is on
the wane. Their answer was resounding: vegetables.
Recipes included with this story: White House No-Cream Creamed Spinach, Swiss
Chard and Garbanzo Bean Soup
This was the same weekend that celebrated molecular gastronomist Jose Andres was
profiled on "60 Minutes," and the chef made a statement that startled host
Anderson Cooper: "I believe the future is vegetables and fruit. They are so much
more sexier than a piece of chicken. Think about it for a second. Let's compare
the best chicken breast from the best farm with a beautiful pineapple. Cut the
pineapple and already the aromas are inundating the entire kitchen. It has
acidity, a sour after-note, touches of passionfruit. And the chicken breast?
It's OK, but I think meat is slightly overrated. Meat, to me, is slightly
The very next day, celebrity chef Mario Batali announced that each of his 14
restaurants would begin observing Meatless Mondays, with vegetables and grains
taking on larger roles throughout the rest of the week as well. All this comes
on the heels of Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" reality show, which got
surprisingly large ratings this spring for a Friday-night program about making
school lunches healthier by serving more fresh vegetables.
If it feels like we've suddenly entered a plant-based moment in time, we can
thank first lady Michelle Obama, who launched the White House garden last year
and used it to start a nationwide discussion about nutrition, and how
instrumental fruits and vegetables can be in the fight against obesity, diabetes
and heart disease. While the Obama family isn't vegan, the first lady's message
resonates with people who are.
"What I've learned from being a mom, in trying to feed my girls, is that it is
so important for them to get regular fruits and vegetables in their diet," Obama
said last year. "They have nutrients. They make you strong. They are brain
And there's plenty of food for thought in the just-released "A White House
Garden Cookbook" ($24.95, Red Rock Press, 160 pages), by Clara Silverstein. The
book features many recipes created by chefs working in the White House, as well
as updated recipes from previous administrations, going all the way back to
Martha Washington. Also included are recipes from community gardens and organic
farms across the nation that were inspired by the White House garden's symbolic
message about eating well, and which feature ingredients that were part of the
garden's first harvest.
The cookbook includes details about the long history of gardening at the White
House, including tidbits about Thomas Jefferson's obsession with fresh peas, and
how Abraham Lincoln used his small garden plot to help feed Union troops who
camped out on the lawn during the Civil War. But White House gardens faded as we
shifted from being a nation of farmers to city dwellers. The last garden, the
Roosevelt Victory Garden, was planted almost 70 years ago.
But the heart of the book is its recipes, and many of them are vegan or easily
adaptable by substituting margarine for the small amounts of butter that are
called for. Three of the recipes come from Northwest cooks, including a
Milwaukie schoolteacher's pear-fennel salad, and a Eugene school group's orange
juice-glazed baby carrots. The standout, Swiss Chard and Garbanzo Bean Soup,
comes from Blue Earth Farms in Chehalis, Wash., and it's loaded with flavor and
has very little fat.
In fact, most of the recipes emphasize low-fat cooking techniques, which is in
step with the garden's healthy mission. Of the White House recipes, the No-Cream
Creamed Spinach, stands out for its calorie-cutting approach, using pureed
spinach instead of the hefty amounts of butter and cream that are traditionally
used to give the dish its creamy mouth feel.
Michelle Obama concedes that changing America's diet won't happen overnight, but
she has said she hopes the White House garden can be a catalyst. Clearly a lot
of the country's top chefs are listening, and this cookbook should help the
seeds of change take root everywhere, helping people eat a more plant-focused
diet, even if they don't identify themselves as vegan.
-- Grant Butler