I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve never eaten at Moosewood Restaurant, operated by a 19-person collective in Ithaca, N.Y. The place has been waving the flag of vegetarianism — in all its tofu-and-brown-rice-eating glory — for some 40 years now, not to mention that it was advocating for local and organic food long before it was fashionable.
Like so many other places with a penchant for natural cooking, Moosewood has felt familiar even though I haven’t been there, thanks to the group’s many cookbooks — starting with Mollie Katzen’s classic 1977 title, “The Moosewood Cookbook.” I was 12 when it came out, and in those days I was mostly cooking up chicken-fried steak, so I didn’t pay much attention to what became one of the most popular vegetarian cookbooks of all time.
Years later, it was “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant,” the 1990 cookbook that focused on the restaurant’s weekly ethnic meals, that made its way into my repertoire — and introduced me as a new college grad to Sichuan peppercorns, tahini, roti and the like. Who’d ever heard of peanut butter in soup? West Africans, that’s who. “Sundays at Moosewood” was a primer in global cuisine from a vegetarian (or pescatarian, to be more accurate) perspective.
Now that the collective has another book out — “Moosewood Restaurant Favorites” (St. Martin’s Griffin) — I paged through to see whether some of my favorites are theirs. Sure enough, there was the West African Peanut Soup, slightly simplified. I started chopping onions, celery and sweet potatoes and made it last week. With its layers of spicy, earthy and bright flavors, it was nostalgic and modern, all in one.
Kind of like Moosewood itself, I realized.