Grains, Greens and Some Much-Needed Glamour

By Candy Sagon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Deborah Madison has done for vegetarian meals what the television show "Extreme Makeover" has done for the dowdy: transform them into something sexy and appealing.

She's done it with a combination of relaxed charm, a warmly reassuring writing style and reliable recipes in such classics as "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" and "The Greens Cookbook." Now comes her newest book, "Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison's Kitchen" (Broadway Books, $27.50).

And just in time, too. A new Stanford University School of Medicine study found that a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans has twice the cholesterol-lowering power of a conventional meat-based low-fat diet -- even when both diets contain the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.

The study of 120 adults found that, for example, eating a bean burrito, spinach salad and an oatmeal-carrot cookie is healthier for you than stir-fried lean beef with asparagus and a low-fat chocolate chip cookie. Even such conventional low-fat foods as Weight Watchers lasagna and turkey bologna weren't as effective at lowering cholesterol as vegetarian choices such as dark green salads and lentil soup, according to the study.

All of which makes Madison's book extra-welcome. For those wanting to add more plant-based, vegetarian meals to the dinner schedule, "Vegetarian Suppers" is a good place to start. Madison provides a variety of options to consider, such as a grilled vegetable sandwich with chipotle mayonnaise, tofu stir-fries, and whole-wheat pasta and chickpeas.

One caveat, however: Although she includes chapters on supper sandwiches and light meals for warm weather, this is not necessarily the book to rely on for fast weeknight cooking. While the recipes from those chapters come together quickly, others are more suited to weekend cooking and entertaining when there's more time for peeling and chopping.

Still, Madison does what she always does, providing a fresh, creative perspective on vegetarian meals. Because she herself is a part-time vegetarian, she understands those of us who still eat meat occasionally but who want to make non-meat meals a bigger part of our diet. And because she knows that vegetarian meals can be just as sophisticated as those with meat, she also includes a wine recommendation with each recipe.

Pasta and Chickpeas

4 servings

In the book, this recipe calls for fresh sage to stand up to the heartiness of whole-wheat pasta, but we liked using basil -- to give it a pesto flavor -- and regular pasta.

This is also an easy dish to vary based on what's available. When tomatoes are at their peak, cut up a few and add them at the very end. Some cooked dark green or black lentils can be substituted for the chickpeas (or used in addition). You can also add some mild ricotta or slivers of the stronger-flavored ricotta salata to this dish. A zinfandel from Sonoma would be a good wine to serve.

12 ounces dried regular or whole-wheat pasta shells

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