The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet by Nava Atlas
254 pages; Paperback, Sketches no Photography
Broadway Books, 2001
Reviewed by Edith Springer for Good Cooking, November, 2001
The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet The Holy Grail for food lovers who are not full-time vegetarians but nonetheless enjoy meatless dishes is to find interesting and tasty recipes that are not overly complex and time-consuming to prepare. This is especially true for busy people on the run who are used to the simplicity of quick, meat-based meals. Hence, the promise of Nava Atlas' The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet to provide "[simple vegetarian] recipes that are pared down to their very essence, but remain splendid" is intriguing.

The book is organized into 11 chapters that pretty much cover the vegetarian canon: soups, salads, pastas, grains, beans, soy, vegetables, and fruits. There are also helpful chapters on wraps, pizza and appetizers. Scattered throughout the book are descriptions of ingredients (very useful for novice vegetarians) and tips on how to prepare items such as dried beans, pasta, polenta and a variety of vegetables. There are no illustrations or photographs of techniques or the completed dishes.

The recipes are interestingly named and they are indeed simple - as promised each is limited to five ingredients, not including water, salt and pepper. This is made possible in part by the author's liberal use of prepared sauces and other convenience foods. Overall there is a relatively modest use of fresh herbs and spices, which are a staple in traditional vegetarian cookbooks. Nutritional information on the number of calories and the amounts of fat, cholesterol and sodium is provided for each dish.

With this cookbook the essential question is whether good tasting food is sacrificed at the altar of simplicity. Based on a sample of two, I would have to say that the recipes, while simple and healthful, do not produce particularly flavorful results. I tried the Leek and Potato Soup (p. 27) and Soy and Honey-Glazed Winter Squash (p. 217), both of which I have done before using different recipes that work well. In the first case, the soup was watery and relatively tasteless, despite adding copious amounts of salt. (The absence of any guidance on the amount of salt to be added is a general drawback throughout the book.) Checking through my other recipe, I would say that Ms. Atlas needs to use fresh herbs, spices and, in general, more than five ingredients to make a good soup. In the case of the glazed squash, the real problem is that she does not use butter, which is essential for candied/glazed root vegetables. A few spices (and a lot of salt!) would help this dish as well.

Many fruits, vegetables and grains are quite tasty when prepared simply. In The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet Nava Atlas sets out on a quest to produce more ambitious dishes that have a limited number of ingredients and are easy to prepare, but are still flavorful. In my view she has not yet found the "Holy Grail."

Good Cooking likes clean, pure flavors. Chefs often overdo seasonings and add too many ingredients. The 5-Ingredient Gourmet is a guide, you can enjoy the recipes as written, or in The review---er's case add butter if that's your thing. We agree about salting guidance, which is very important in creating and preparing recipes! This book offers many good ideas.

Soy and Honey-Glazed Winter Squash
6 Servings

A sweet-and-salty glaze gives this squash dish a pleasant Asian spin.

2 1/2 to 3 pounds small winter squash (carnival, golden acorn, delicata, or other)
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

Calories: 116Total fat: 1 gProtein: 2 g %Carbohydrate: 23 gCholesterol: O mgSodium: 338 mg

1. The squashes may be baked in the oven or microwave. If you are going to use the oven, preheat it to 375 degrees F.

2. Cut the squashes in half lengthwise. Place the halves, cut side up, in a baking dish with about 1/2 inch of water, and cover each half tightly with foil. Bake until easily pierced with a knife but still firm, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the type and size of squash used. Or microwave, using 4 to 7 minutes each as a rule of thumb per small squash or 10 minutes for a butternut. Test occasionally to make sure they don't overcook.

3. When the squashes are cool enough to handle, scoop out and discard the seeds. Peel the squashes and cut into 1-inch chunks.

4. Combine the remaining ingredients in an extra-wide skillet or stir-fry pan and heat gently, stirring together. Add the squash and turn up the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring, until the liquid reduces and the squash is nicely glazed, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve at once.
(The author Nava Atlas)