When Mollie Katzen wrote the original Moosewood Cookbook 20 years ago, I doubt she ever imagined that her collection of vegetarian recipes would become one of the ten best selling cookbooks of all time. Well-known amongst vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, Katzen has developed quite a name for herself. Sunlight Café is Katzen’s latest vegetarian tome, providing over 350 breakfast recipes for those looking for some bright morningtime tastes without the use of meat.
Sunlight Café is organized into 12 sections, including beverages, fruit, grains, eggs, vegetables, and “breakfast bars, coffee cakes, and sweet somethings.” Each section offers a good number of recipes and numerous variations on many. Most of the ingredients are readily available from the grocery store or a health food market and should appeal to everyone, not just vegetarians. Though there is a section dedicated to tofu and other soy products (I’d imagine that tempeh makes a great breakfast accompaniment), there’s not a heavy emphasis on them like in many vegetarian cookbooks.
The recipes are all appropriate for lacto-ovo vegetarians, as many use butter, eggs, or milk. However, in most cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to do the magic vegan ingredient replacer trick and swap in some soy milk, non-dairy spread, or Ener-G egg replacer. There are no fish recipes, as in many of the Moosewood cookbooks (and you’d be surprised how many cultures include fish as part of their breakfast).
The recipes and ingredient lists are presented in a visually appealing, easy-to-follow way, most peppered with great little tidbits of information about specific ingredients or the history of certain dishes. It was through one of these sidebars that I learned about the best way to extract pomegranate seeds (hint: it involves a bowl of cold water), usually a very messy job. And did you know you can freeze pomegranates for months? Or that egg whites will keep in the freezer for up to a year? These introductory sections and sidenotes are what really make Sunlight Café a joy: this is one of those rare cookbooks that you can sit down with, open to a section, and just read it without any intention of cooking. The ingredient information is useful and well researched, and the anecdotes provide good context for a recipe before you try it.
Though no pictures of the dishes are included, the chapters are headed with attractive illustrations by Katzen herself. You may not get a good visual idea of how a dish should be presented, but the illustrations give the book a pleasing aura.
Now, let’s get to the good part: the food.
I’ve eaten oatmeal perhaps five times in my whole life, and I never really liked it. But I decided that if there was ever a time to give it a shot, now was it. For dinner one evening, I opted for Chai Oatmeal, a warm, simple, blend of oatmeal and chai spices (cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, and turmeric) with some optional saffron and vanilla. I swapped in soy milk for cow milk with no adverse affects. The optional minced pistachios and (soy) yogurt were a great touch. One bowl was quite filling and this is the type of meal that’s easy enough to make with a few extra minutes in the morning (total preparation and cooking time was about 20 minutes).
Masfouf worked great as a dinner one night and, indeed, seems more like a dinner recipe than something you’d have for breakfast. This dish combines couscous with pine nuts and pistachios with dates (something else I never thought I’d like), a bit of lemon, olive oil, and yogurt. The dish is simple enough to prepare, but the end result is surprisingly complex, with a nice blend of flavors and textures from the nuts, yogurt, and couscous grains.
As a diner lover, I tried the Basic Home Fries recipe with great anticipation. Though they’re not the healthiest thing on the menu, some hardcore home fries with ketchup are the perfect accompaniment to any greasy diner breakfast dish. The preparation time was a bit long, but I’m happy to say that with Katzen’s recipe, diner home fries have truly come home. They were just salty enough and the nice, crispy, browned potatoes had the proper texture. And using an oil like high oleic safflower oil—Katzen’s oil of choice for frying like this because, unlike olive oil, it’s not damaged by high temperatures—it’s not quite as unhealthy a choice as if you ordered a batch at a greasy spoon.
One recipe that didn’t come out quite as expected was a batch of Amazing Amaranth Wafers. I was pretty psyched to try these out, as amaranth is one of those grains that’s not very common, but is quite distinctive in its taste and texture. Though they were easy to make, the cooking time listed varied widely from what was appropriate for my gas stove. I cooked mine in a high oleic safflower oil (as suggested) for 6 or 7 minutes at a slightly lower temperature than the recipe called for. Katzen recommended at least 10 minutes, but after 7, the wafers were more like solid bricks of charcoal. I plan to give this one another shot, keeping a closer eye on the wafers in the final minutes. I think it has potential, with some adaptation. I have high hopes for getting this one right, though, as the side note about amaranth points out its many health benefits: it has more protein than beans, more fiber than wheat or soybeans, and more iron than brown rice! Not to mention that it’s an affordable grain.
Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café may be one of the most appropriately named cookbooks this year; the recipes will lift your spirits and bring some light into those dreary winter mornings and add a splash of fresh flavor to a Sunday in the spring. The range runs from quick and basic dishes to creative recipes that encourage experimentation. Katzen’s friendly, conversational style makes the stories and recipes feel like they were shared over a light brunch. If you really enjoy breakfast (at any time of day), you’ll certainly want to consider Sunlight Café for your collection.
Find out more about Mollie Katzen at MollieKatzen.com and keep an eye out for an upcoming Veg Blog interview.