When I first put The Homesick Texan cookbook on hold at the Madison Public Library, I was expecting it to fit with one of my favorite habits: every once in a while, I like to pop a bowl of popcorn in the afternoon and sit down and read a cookbook all the way through. When I was little, this cookbook was most often a reread of Food that Really Schmecks, a very readable and cozily written collection of recipes from Mennonite families and other cooks in Southwestern Ontario. The tone of the book is nicely captured in the passage in which the author cheerfully admits in the first few pages that she included many recipes taken from her mother’s little black notebook without testing them (and, in fact, I once, in frustration, wrote “These just don’t work!” in red pencil next to the recipe for Sugar Cookies in Schmecks to avoid further frustrating attempts at the recipe.
What I mean to say is, I very much expected to enjoy reading the book, based on Lisa Fain’s blog of the same name, and so, obviously, did many library users before me: I waited for three months on the holds list. I wasn’t however, expecting to want to cook many of the recipes. Not because I dislike Tex-Mex: I love it, and we’re loving the availability of good Mexican/Tex-Mex food in Madison (Taqueria Guadalajara!) and in Chicago since our move. But I thought there would be a significant barrier to my use of this cookbook: we eat only vegetarian at home.
But, this post is to tell you, readers who prefer to eat vegetarian, that there’s lots for you to enjoy in The Homesick Texan , especially if you’re looking for filling vegetarian dishes for eaters with big appetites, and/or you’re looking for new combinations of flavors and ingredients, having exhausted the curry with pulses/tofu stir fry and veg/eggs, cheese and veg trifecta. After a first read-through (accompanied, of course, by a large bowl of popcorn), I want to try the following vegetarian recipes:
Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas with Tomatillo Salsa (top of the list! these look SO AMAZING)
Huevos Rancheros (with yummy-looking homemade salsa!)
Green Chile Posole with Black Beans
Cheese Enchiladas (served with Chile con Carne in the book, but easily adaptable to be vegetarian)
Tamales with Rajas (cheese and chile filling – AND I just discovered a source in Madison for cornhusks, which you need to wrap the tamales)
Tex-Mex Squash Casserole
Tomatillo Cheese Grits (my husband insists he doesn’t like grits – I lived in North Florida for three years, eating a lot of cheese grits at my vegetarian alternative school, and I intend to change his mind)
These are just the vegetarian recipes that I thought could be easily used for main dishes. There are many other vegetable/vegetarian side dishes, as well as a whole chapter on seafood, if you only avoid chicken and red meat.
I think, however, that the most useful aspect of this book, for both vegetarians and meat-eaters, is that it effectively introduces the reader to the methods, ingredients and flavor combinations necessary to create appealing and convenient Texas-style food. It does this, I think, in two ways: by including fairly in-depth explanations of unfamiliar foods and techniques and, more importantly, I think, by presenting quite a large number of recipes for a wide variety of foods, so that the reader can see how Fain’s approach to cooking can be applied in many different combinations and in many different situations. Fain sometimes includes notes as to how she modified the recipe, or explains how the recipe fits into larger patterns of food production and consumption, based on seasonal eating, the various immigrant populations in the state, or family traditions. These notes are fun to read, and even though they are “folksy” (in way, by the way, that sometimes reminded me of Food that Really Schmecks, actually), the comments don’t feel forced.
Even when the comments don’t explain why a recipe is the way it is, it becomes clear, as you read through the book, how the techniques and flavor combinations might be applied in different situations and to different foods. For example, I had the ingredients in the house to make chicken enchiladas last night (my husband, who’s the vegetarian one, is out of town – when the cat’s away . . .). Although I didn’t specifically follow a recipe in this book, I used an unfamiliar technique – stacking the tortillas in the casserole between layers of filling, rather than the more labor-intensive stuffing and rolling – and an unfamiliar ingredient Rotel canned tomatoes with chiles – which made the making of my own enchilada sauce very speedy.
I’ve only been cooking exclusively vegetarian at home since we moved to Madison, and I have to say I was becoming frustrated, even though I am an experienced cook, because I just couldn’t figure out what foods and flavors to put together so that it didn’t feel like I was eating the same thing all the time. I’m excited to add some more Texas vegetarian savor to our evenings!