This Thing Now: "The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook"
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Celeriac schnitzel. Spinach pâté. Barley porridge with hunks of fresh farmer cheese.
No, I'm not rambling off dishes from the menus of hot vegetable-forward restaurant favorites, like NYC's Semilla or Philly's Vedge. I'm paging through The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook ($30), published in 1938 by a Yiddish-speaking, cabbage- and cauliflower-advocating chef and cooking instructor, Fania Lewando, and just now available for the first time in English.
Back in the day, when war was approaching in the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," Lewando was a big name. Artist Marc Chagall dined at the restaurant she ran with her egg merchant husband in Vilna, Lithuania, and she also formed her own cooking school.
The book is a fascinating, rather forward-thinking approach to cooking vegetables. Lewando's legacy lives on as she elevates roots, fruits and leafy greens from lowly ingredients of hardship and mourning to refreshing, innovative building blocks to more nutritional cooking.
Her recipes are terse—maybe because there are 400 squeezed into the pages—and require readers to know their way around the kitchen, as in you don't need to be told to pick up a whisk to beat egg whites into frothy submission. But it's all so whimsical and modern, with entire chapters dedicated to cutlets (made from the likes of lima beans, oats and mushroom-stuffed potatoes! and "Miscellaneous Dishes," like imitation caviar made with starchy sago pearls, strawberry pierogi and the aforementioned schnitzel. They read like the vegetable main courses that are gracing many a restaurant menu today.
So you heard it here. Jewish vegetarian cuisine: It's making a comeback.
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