OFM's classic cookbook: The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (2024)

Deborah Madison is one of the most prolific food writers, beloved by vegetarians and omnivores alike for more than 30 years. We have known each other for at least that long, shared meals and worked together. I’m one of her most ardent fans.

Though claiming not to be a strict vegetarian herself, she has spent a lifetime attending to the flowering of modern vegetarian cuisine. (And every meal I ever had at her table has been vegetarian except once.) Deborah’s very first cookery book, the Greens Cookbook, co-written with Edward Espe Brown and published in 1987, established her as an expert in her field.

A few years earlier, the San Francisco Zen Center had opened a restaurant, simply called Greens. A “fine dining” restaurant with a meatless menu was quite a revolutionary concept at the time. Featuring hand-hewn details overseen by master Zen carpenter Paul Discoe, with views of the marina and brilliant Pacific light streaming through the windows, Greens was an immediate hit. Madison, having demonstrated her cooking chops at the centre over the years, was installed as chef, and she made the food sing.

At the beginning, her crew were all earnest Zen students, many of whom didn’t know how to peel an onion, or possess the knife skills to chop one. But she managed to produce a menu that was clearly in the mode of the just-emerging so-called Californian cuisine, featuring seasonal and local produce from the Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm just north of the city. Her dishes were colourful, elegant and savoury, as opposed to the stodgy American brown-rice-and-lentil-loaf vegetarian fare many were accustomed to; clearly the antithesis of the stir-fried hippie cooking of the day.

For one thing, Deborah’s cooking was meatless but not vegan, so eggs, butter, cream and cheese made frequent appearances, supplying richness, flavour and texture. There were pastries, both savoury and sweet, and souffle vegetable roulades. Braised or roasted vegetables and hearty soups were showered with freshly snipped herbs. Gorgeous salads, some leafy, some leguminous, were carefully dressed affairs. Whether taking a Mediterranean spin, leaning a little in a Japanese direction, or inspired by Mexican spices, Deborah’s food, despite its simplicity, was deeply layered, satisfying and thoughtfully considered.

Time spent in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, across the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley, also influenced Deborah’s style, but her approach is imbued with a subtle delicacy that is completely her own. After leaving Greens, she embarked on a path that would result in the championing of farmer’s markets across the US, acquiring new insights and boosting vegetable knowledge.

Having written well over a dozen impressive cookbooks, she is currently at work on what she says will be her last book, a memoir. But The Greens Cookbook is still a joy.

David Tanis was a chef at Chez Panisse and is the author of several cookbooks including A Platter of Figs

Provençal potato gratin with olives and lemon thyme

OFM's classic cookbook: The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (1)

Based on a recipe from the Salvador Dalí cookbook, Les Dîners de Gala, this gratin can be eaten either hot or at room temperature, which makes it a fine dish for a summer meal outside. Though made with potatoes, it is neither heavy nor rich, giving it a place in a menu where other dishes include cream, eggs or cheese. The lemon thyme is bright and refreshing, and if the gratin is to be eaten cold, a garnish of fresh lovage leaves would also be good.

Serves 4-6
potatoes 675g
tomatoes 3-4 large ripe
virgin olive oil 4-6 tbsp
red onions 2 medium, sliced 5mm thick
dried thyme ¼ tsp
fennel seeds ¼ tsp, lightly crushed
3 cloves, thinly sliced
green or black niçoise olives 75g, pitted and roughly chopped
lemon thyme 12 stalks, or 8 stalks of thyme, the leaves plucked from the stems
small capers 1 tbsp (optional)

Bring 3-4 litres of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Peel the potatoes, slice them ½-1cm thick, add them to the water, and boil for 3 minutes. Scoop them out with a sieve, and set them aside in a colander to drain.

Using the same water, drop in the tomatoes, count 10 seconds, then plunge them into cold water. Remove the cores, peel and halve the tomatoes crosswise. Gently squeeze out the juice and seeds. Roughly chop half of one tomato and set aside, and cut the rest into slices about 5mm thick.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan, and when it is hot add the onions with the dried thyme, the fennel seeds and a grinding of black pepper. Saute briskly over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the onions brown slightly and soften, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Assemble the gratin in a shallow 1.75 litre baking dish, preferably earthenware. Cover the bottom with a thin film of olive oil; then add half the onions and garlic, the chopped tomato, the olives and halfthe thyme leaves. Layer the potatoes and the tomatoes over the onions, tuck the remaining slivers of garlic in among them, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. (If you are planning to serve the gratin at room temperature, add the capers.) Cover the potatoes with the rest of the onions and spoon olive oil over the top. Bake the gratin for 20 minutes loosely covered with foil; than bake uncovered for another 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are done. Scatter the remaining thyme leaves over the gratin when it comes out of the oven.

A Californian vin gris (or a Provençal rosé) would go well with these Provençal flavours.

Variation: layer the potatoes and the tomatoes with cheese: smoked or fresh mozzarella, gouda, or fontina, or dot with pieces of goat’s cheese. Bake at 170C fan/gas mark 5, covered with foil the first 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are done. Serve warm.

Wilted spinach salad

OFM's classic cookbook: The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (2)

This salad has been on the menu since the restaurant opened and is still a favourite we make every day. The spinach is tossed with very hot olive oil, which cooks it slightly, sweetening and softening the leaves. As the feta cheese and the olives are both salty, no additional salt is needed.

Makes 2 large or 4-6 small salads
red onion 1 small, quartered and thinly sliced
baguette 3 to 4 slices per person, for croutons
olive oil 6 tbsp
kalamata olives 8 to 12
spinach 450g
garlic 1 clove, finely chopped
mint leaves 1 tbsp, finely chopped
sherry vinegar 2 tbsp
feta cheese 175g

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Cover the onion slices with cold water and refrigerate until needed. Brush the bread with some of the olive oil and toast it in the oven until it is crisp and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Press the olives to split them open, take out the stones, and cut or tear the olives in two.

Remove the spinach stems (or not, as you prefer) and discard any bruised or yellow leaves. Cut the large leaves into halves or thirds; small leaves can be left whole. Wash the spinach, using two changes of water if the spinach is very sandy, and spin dry.

When you are ready to make the salad, drain the onions. Put the spinach in a large metal bowl and toss it with the onions, garlic, mint, olives and vinegar. Break up the cheese and crumble it over the spinach. Heat the rest of the olive oil until it is very hot but just short of smoking. Immediately pour it over the salad, turning the leaves with a pair of metal tongs so that the hot oil coats and wilts as many leaves as possible. Taste, and season with more vinegar if needed. Serve the salad with the croutons tucked in and around the leaves.

This salad could be accompanied with a moderately dry riesling, or perhaps a zinfandel or beaujolais.

Variations: instead of using only spinach, combine it with curly endive, escarole or thinly sliced red cabbage – all leaves that respond well to being prepared in this way.

Mexican vegetable soup with lime and avocado

OFM's classic cookbook: The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (3)

This soup was inspired by Diana Kennedy’s recipe for caldo tlalpeño, which caught our attention partly because it was subtitled “vegetable broth from Tlalpán”. In fact, a closer look revealed both shredded chicken and chicken broth, which this version omits. A light and spicy soup with a smoky flavour, this is one of our favourites. It is an ideal accompaniment to the potato frittata and any of the fritters.

Serves 4-6
For the stock (makes 1.5 litres)

butter 15g
olive oil 1 tbsp
onion 1, chopped into 1cm squares
parsley 8 stalks
bay leaves 2
basil several large leaves or 1 tsp dried basil
marjoram several stalks or 1 tsp dried marjoram
other fresh summer herbs such as savory, lovage, borage leaves
nutritional yeast 1 tsp (optional)
carrots 2 medium, peeled and diced
tomatoes 4, coarsely chopped
summer courgettes 4, sliced
green beans 1 handful, roughly chopped
chard 4 leaves and their stems, chopped
aubergine 1 small, diced
mushrooms 115g, chopped
salt 1 tsp
cold water 1.75l

For the soup
light olive oil or vegetable oil 1 tbsp
red onion 1 medium, finely diced or sliced
garlic 1 clove, finely chopped
dried oregano ½ tsp
salt ½ tsp
carrots 2, cut into 5mm-thick rounds
green beans 225g, tipped and cut into 4cm pieces
tomatoes 1 large or 2 medium, peeled, seeded and chopped
stock 1.5 litres, heated (see above)
cooked chickpeas 130g
chipotle chillies 1 or 2 tsp, finely chopped
avocado 1, peeled and sliced, for garnish
coriander leaves for garnish
lime 6 wedges

To make the stock, heat the butter and oil in a soup pot; add the onion, herbs and nutritional yeast, if using. Cook briskly over medium-high heat for several minutes to lightly colour the onion, stirring as needed, then add the other vegetables. Cook them for 12-15 minutes; then add the water, bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the stock.

To make the soup, warm the oil in a soup pot, add the onion, garlic, oregano and salt, and cook over medium-low heat until the onion softens. Add the carrots, beans and tomatoes; pour in the heated stock and simmer. After 20 minutes add the chickpeas and then gradually stir in the chipotle chillies to taste. Cook another 5 minutes; then taste for salt. Ladle the soup into bowls; garnish with the avocado and the coriander leaves. Serve the lime on the side.

Black bean chilli

OFM's classic cookbook: The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (4)

Black bean chilli has been served every day since Greens opened in 1979. It has a woodsy campfire quality and a complexity of tastes from the various smoked and roasted chillies. In addition to serving these beans as chilli, we also use them as an ingredient in the black bean enchiladas and the black bean chilaquiles. It is worth making double the amount and freezing half to have it available to use in other recipes.

Makes 2 litres
black beans 185g, soaked overnight
bay leaf 1
cumin seeds 4 tsp
dried oregano leaves 4 tsp
paprika 4 tsp
cayenne pepper ½ tsp
pasilla chilli or ancho chilli 1, for chilli powder, or 2 to 3 tbsp chilli powder
corn or groundnut oil 3 tbsp
yellow onions 3 medium, diced into 5mm squares
garlic 4 cloves, coarsely chopped
salt ½ tsp
tomatoes 675g fresh or tinned, peeled, seeded and chopped; juice reserved
chipotle chilli1-2 tsp, chopped
rice wine vinegar about 1 tbsp
coriander 4 tbsp, chopped

To garnish
monterey jack cheese 50-75g, grated
poblano or anaheim chillies 2, roasted, peeled and diced, or 50g tinned green chillies, rinsed well and diced
creme fraiche or sour cream 120ml
coriander 6 sprigs

Sort through the beans and remove any small stones. Rinse them well, cover them generously with water, and let them soak overnight. Next day, drain the beans, cover them with fresh water by 5cm, and bring them to a boil with the bay leaf. Lower the heat and let the beans simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat a small heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and when they begin to colour, add the oregano leaves, shaking the pan frequently so the herbs don’t scorch. As soon as the fragrance is strong and robust, remove the pan from the heat and add the paprika and the cayenne. Give everything a quick stir; then remove from the pan – the paprika and the cayenne only need a few seconds to toast. Grind in a mortar or a spice mill to make a coarse powder.

Preheat the oven to 170C fan/gas mark 5. To make the chilli powder, put the dried chilli in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes to dry it out. Cool it briefly; then remove the stem, seeds, and veins. Tear the pod into small pieces and grind it into a powder in a blender or spice mill.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and saute the onions over medium heat until they soften. Add the garlic, salt and the ground herbs and chilli powder, and cook another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice, and about 1 teaspoon of the chipotle chilli.Simmer everything together for 15 minutes; then add this mixture to the beans, and, if necessary, enough water so the beans are covered by at least 2.5cm. Continue cooking the beans slowly until they are soft, an hour or longer, or pressure cook them for 30 minutes at 15 pounds’ pressure. Keep an eye on the water level and add more, if needed, to keep the beans amply covered.

When the beans are cooked, taste them, and add more chipotle chilli if desired. Season to taste with the vinegar, additional salt if needed and the chopped coriander.

Prepare the garnishes. If you are using fresh green chillies, roast them over a flame until they are evenly charred. Let them steam for 10 minutes in a bowl covered with a dish; then scrape off the skins, discard the seeds and dice.

Serve the chilli ladled over a large spoonful of grated cheese, and garnish it with the creme fraiche or sour cream, the green chillies and a sprig of fresh coriander.

Though served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, this chilli is a great deal thicker than most soups – thick enough in fact to be served on a plate right alongside fritters or cornbread. It also, however, can be thinned considerably with stock, water or tomato juice to make a much thinner but still very flavourful black bean soup. When thinned to make a soup, it can be served as part of a meal rather than a meal in itself.

Corn bread

Corn bread is quick to prepare, and a good accompaniment to stews. It is best eaten warm, as it soon dries out.

Makes one 20cm x 20cm loaf
white flour 115g
corn flour or fine cornmeal 115g
sugar 2 tbsp
baking powder 2½ tsp
salt ½ tsp
milk 250ml
butter 25g, melted

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Combine the white flour, corn flour or cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs; then stir in the milk and butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones, and stir just enough to combine, in about 15 or 16 strokes. Over-mixing causes the corn bread to be tough. Pour into a buttered baking tin and bake until the corn bread is firm and a skewer comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Peach and blueberry cobbler

OFM's classic cookbook: The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (5)

The peaches are first heated on the hob to bring out the juices, then baked with the blueberries under a rich scone dough. Let the cobbler settle and cool a short while before serving with cold double cream, or ice cream.

Serves 6
For the fruit filling
ripe, fragrant peaches 900g
blueberries 175g
sugar 50-90g, depending on the sweetness of the fruit
nutmeg ¼ tsp
lemon juice 1 tbsp
tapioca 2 tbsp

For the topping
unbleached white flour 115g
baking powder 1 tsp
sugar 1 tbsp
salt ⅛ tsp
vanilla pod 1, or ½ tsp vanilla extract
unsalted butter 50g
egg 1
single cream 3 tbsp
additional cream

Peel and slice the peaches. If the skins cling, place the peaches in boiling water for 10-15 seconds to loosen them. Remove the stems and leaves from the blueberries, rinse them and set them aside. Combine the peaches with the sugar, spices, lemon juice and tapioca. Set them aside in a saucepan while you make the biscuit.

Combine the dry ingredients and sift them together. If you are using whole vanilla, halve the pod lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife and add them to the flour, lightly rubbing the seeds between your fingers to distribute them, but don’t worry if they clump together somewhat.

Cut the butter into small pieces; then cut it into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Beat the egg with a fork and add the cream. If you are using vanilla extract, add it to the cream. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, and bring everything together with a few light, quick strokes of a fork.

Flour your work surface, and turn out the dough. Shape or roll it into a circle or rectangle about 1cm thick. Cut out six 6cm circles, and make a seventh circle out of the scraps.

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Use a glass or earthenware baking dish with a 1.75 litre capacity – the top of the sides should be 2.5cm above the fruit. Heat the peaches on the hob until the juices boil; then pour them into the baking dish and stir in the blueberries. Lay the scone rounds over the surface and brush their tops with cream. If desired, sprinkle them with sugar to make them sparkle. Bake the cobbler until the scones are browned, about 25 minutes.

Recipes from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (Grub Street, £12.99)To order a copy for £11.43 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3837. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99

OFM's classic cookbook: The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison (2024)
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