The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook by Steve Brill

500 pages; No photography, many sketches
Harvard Common Press, Boston, 2002
Reviewed by Chef John J. VyhnanekAugust, 2002

The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook A 50 pound mushroom: yikes, that would frighten the heck out of almost anyone, but not "Wildman" Steve Brill! The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook by Steve Brill and published by Harvard Common Press, Boston, 2002, contains a whopping 480+ pages of "Wild" forgeable vegetarian food, information, tips and most of all 500 recipes.

Being a country boy who became a chef, I can easily understand what Mr. Brill is saying when he talks about ramps, dock and burdock. As a youngster I was always coming home with birch bark to make a refreshing birch beer soda type of drink, young skunk cabbage hearts for my mother to braise in chicken stock and wild strawberries for topping ice cream, not to mention many insect bites! As a chef and educator I have developed a vast repertoire of recipes and techniques. I probably know over 100 recipes for chicken and prepare them all without referencing a recipe. Here too, Steve Brill knows his stuff!

For those who are vegetarian and feel there aren't enough good recipes for them to use or for the naturalist who wants to live off the land, this is an important book. Is that to say that this book will appeal and be of benefit to that group only? I venture to say, of course not! This book will benefit any serious cook's library. Although the recipes are well written and instructions clear, I don't think a novice will be at ease with some of the preparations. If you set your heart on making the recipe for Mayapple Salad Dressing, you'd better already have the Mayapples, for you won't find them at the local supermarket. On the other hand you will be able to buy Boletus edulis, Porcini or Cepes, at most gourmet markets, either fresh, dried or flash frozen to use in the recipes for Baked Boletes in Sour Cream. If you are lucky enough to know local mushroom hunters, have them be on the look out for chicken mushrooms this late summer and fall. You then can enjoy any of the 32 recipes using them in the book, including Chicken 'N' Dumplings which are made with the chicken mushrooms, not chicken! Remember this is a vegetarian cookbook and a very good one at that!

Adam Brandt's Chicken Mushroom Photo by Joe Brandt

After 1st grader Adam Brandt spotted and identified this huge chicken mushroom deep in the woods from the window of his speeding school bus, he returned with his parents to the right place and provided the family with a year's supply of choice gourmet fungus! For those of us who aren't vegetarians, there is a misconception that meatless dishes aren't satisfying and/or are bland. That can be proven wrong with the recipe for Steve's Curry. Although a bit challenging ingredient-wise, it was tasty and quite satisfying stomach-wise. I did have to salt to taste, as opposed to using the recommended amount of salt which I found inadequate.

In the Appendices Section starting on page 447 you will find related and helpful information for better using and understanding this book. There are 5 sections: herb and spice user's guide, a quick guide to making dairy-free cheese, a quick guide to wild wine, equivalents and flour substitutions.

So what's the bottom line? Buy the book is my recommendation! It's not trendy; it's a really good, well written, well thought out vegetarian cookbook. Actually I think it's one of--if not the best-- books written on the topic of preparing and savoring wild (and not so wild) natural foods, as the sub-title states. It's very interesting reading too! Good Cooking found the recipes easy to follow, although creatively challenging. ingredients like seasonings, soy milk, tofu cheese, etcetera can be purchased in natural food and gourmet markets. You might have a hard time finding many of the other ingredients out of the wild. Good Cooking wished the book had pictures, especially of the wild mushrooms!

"Wildman" puts the bite on Japanese Knotweed

VisIt'steve Brill's web site at for more information and recipes.

STEVE'S CURRY page 432

I first made this multi-vegetable curry soup with commercial ingredients

when I was teaching cooking classes in 1981, before I became the "Wildman." Here's an updated version that includes wild vegetables. Instead of using curry powder, this recipe follows the traditional Indian practice of using whole spices.

3 cups Vegetable Stock (page 40) or water
1 cup drained silken tofu
1 tablespoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chickpea flour or any whole-grain flour
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 cloves
1 1 1/2-inch cinnamon stick
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons Vege-Sal or 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 ripe plantain or large green banana, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced common evening primrose roots
1/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 cup field garlic leaves (page 57) or scallions, sliced
1/2 cup drained firm tofu, diced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 small bell pepper (green, red, or yellow), seeded and chopped
1/4 cup cauliflower florets

l. In a blender, combine the stock, silken tofu, ginger, lime juice, and chickpea flour and process until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a medium-size saucepan and bring the pot to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, heat the peanut oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick, and coriander seeds and cook, stirring constantly, until the mustard seeds pop. 3. Add the simmering stock mixture, Vege-Sal, turmeric, cayenne, and plantains and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the primrose roots, carrot, and field garlic and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the firm tofu, celery, bell pepper, and cauliflower and simmer until all the vegetables are fairly soft, about another 10 minutes.
4. Serve hot With brown rice, other grains, or Indian bread.

Photo of "Wildman" Steve Brill and Adam Brandt are from the "Wildman" web site as well as the text describing the Brandt photo.