By AMY J. BARRY Special to The Day
In recent years, healthy, plant-based, natural food has really come into its own, and Moosewood Restaurant was at the forefront of the movement when it opened 40 years ago in Ithaca, N.Y.
In celebration of the restaurant's 40th anniversary, the Moosewood Collective has published its biggest cookbook to date, "Moosewood Restaurant Favorites," featuring 250 of its patrons' most requested, easy to prepare, vegetarian comfort food recipes. Mystic's Oyster Club and Bank Square Books will join in the festivities with a Moosewood-themed dinner on Sept. 30.
The Moosewood Collective is made up of 19 members, who share in various jobs. Wynnie Stein has been a member of the collective since 1984. She is also a consulting chef with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Foods and has created Moosewood-adapted recipes that have been included in a recently published USDA cookbook and are also offered by Bill Clinton's Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
The following is an interview with Stein about the Moosewood "movement."
Q. In the 1970s - during the explosion of processed/packaged foods - at least my experience was that only hippies ate vegetarian food and we all had a copy of "The Moosewood Cookbook." Are you surprised that 40 years later there has been such an awakening and enthusiasm for the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet?
A. I don't think it surprises me given how important it was for people to understand the importance of eating this way both for health and the environment. I am surprised about the depth of the change and how it continues to evolve. As a person so involved with this her entire career, it's overwhelmingly delightful, not only that we've had an influence on this but how seriously people are taking it from school food to people working in institutions to grocers to Michelle Obama. Everyone is talking and thinking about this.
Q. Restaurants often come and go in a blink of an eye these days. To what do you attribute the longevity of Moosewood Restaurant?
A. What happened was a grass roots movement for Moosewood, especially people telling other people about this wonderful restaurant making this delicious vegetarian food. I think what has kept us going over all these years, besides lots of hard work, is the pride in what we've done. When you have people coming from New Zealand, Australia, all over the country - we're off the beaten track in Ithaca N.Y. - it feeds your soul and is very rewarding. It doesn't hurt to have won James Beard awards and feel very appreciated.
Q. A dozen Moosewood cookbooks have been published over the years. What makes this new one unique?
A. Younger people or older people may have changed their diets for whatever reasons and ask, 'What book should I buy of all the Moosewood cookbooks?' This would be a wonderful compilation of our recipes. It was not an easy endeavor. There was a lot of arguing choosing 250 of our favorites over our careers, over time. We've published thousands of recipes. We change the menu every single day at Moosewood. It's a small menu with freshly made entrees, soups and desserts, We wanted to not just reprint, but show how the recipes have evolved, how you make them now, and the best versions of some classics.
People love our food because it's comforting, delicious and healthful overall. We're really trying to steer people to whole grains, more fiber, and a lot more variety in their diets in terms of healthful choices.
Q. Is your role as a consulting chef with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Foods a passion of yours?
A. It's totally a passion. It has been a big learning experience for me. The challenges are much bigger than I imagined (such as) what kinds of ingredients could be brought into school budgets that are very slim. It was alarming to me. We've made great headway, even given that. It's truly a collaboration with people who've cooked for decade in school lunchrooms - to produce food they could do on a consistent basis that looks good and is delicious. We let children vote on which items to include. (One of) the most challenging things we need to do as conscious people is make sure this issue isn't ignored. It's really important.
"Moosewood Restaurant Favorites" (St. Martin's Griffin) is $29.99, hardcover, illustrated.
PORTUGUESE WHITE BEAN AND KALE SOUP
This soup is traditionally made with linguica sausage, so it might be hard to convince purists that a vegetarian version could be just as good, but the sun-dried tomatoes and ground fennel add some of the traditional flavor and at the same time enhance the natural sweetness of the kale.
Yields 10 cups.
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground fennel seeds
1 small fennel bulb, diced (about 2 cups)
1 cup diced carrots
11/2 cups diced potatoes
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or one 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups cooked white beans (two 15-ounce cans) drained
4 cups water or vegetable stock
5 or 6 cups loosely packed chopped kale
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
If you don't chop the fennel and carrots beforehand, you will probably have trouble keeping up with this cooking schedule. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to cook a little longer at each stage.
In a small bowl, soak the sun-dried tomatoes in boiling water to cover.
In a covered soup pot on medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add onions, garlic, and salt and cook for about 5 minutes. Add ground fennel and diced fennel bulb and cook for about 3 minutes. Stir in carrots, potatoes, thyme, and black pepper and cook for 3 minutes.
Add tomatoes, beans, and water or stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are just tender. If the soup is too thick, add another cup of water.
Meanwhile, remove sun- dried tomatoes from the soaking liquid and coarsely chop.
Add kale and sun-dried tomatoes to pot. Simmer about 10 minutes, until kale is tender. Stir in lemon juice. Season with more salt and black pepper to taste.