When I first flipped through Margaret Wittenberg’s The Essential Good Food Guide, I thought it was just another book that would sit on my bookshelf and collect dust. I was dead wrong. The subtitle of this book says it all – “The Complete Resource for Buying and Using Whole Grains and Specialty Flours, Heirloom Fruits and Vegetables, Meat and Poultry, Seafood, and More.”
The Essential Good Food Guide is exceptionally comprehensive in the foods and ingredients that are covered. Whether you want to know the difference between light miso and dark miso, how to prepare beans so they’re more digestible, how to make nut and seed milks, or want learn more about 30+ varieties of rice or 70+ beans and peas, The Essential Good Food Guide covers all the bases.
As a foodie and an experienced cook, I was pleasantly surprised to find so many foods in the book that I’d never heard of (e.g., Arikara yellow beans, Hutterite beans, Kalinga Unoy rice, Ulikan Red rice).
It’s a great reference guide whether you’re new to cooking, just curious about ingredients, or an experienced cook who wants to learn about new ingredients and how best to utilize them in recipes.
Here are some of the topics discussed in the book to give you a feel for the expansiveness and depth of topics covered:
- Comprehensive ingredient profiles for fruits & vegetables, grains/flour/bread, pasta & noodles, beans/peas/lentils/soy products, nuts & seeds, meat & poultry, seafood, dairy products & eggs, culinary oils, essential seasonings, and sweeteners
- Clarification of current produce and food labeling (e.g., omega-3 eggs versus organic eggs and pastured-raised eggs)
- Food purchasing, storage and food safety tips (e.g., how to buy the best quality grains and store them properly to avoid grain pests, how to grow bean and grain sprouts safely)
- Explanations of how different cooking methods can enhance flavors and textures, e.g., cooking whole grains using each of five different methods can yield unique results
- Charts to help the reader understand the application of whole ingredients in cooking (e.g., Rocotillo peppers are suggested for ceviche and salsas versus Poblano peppers which are best roasted or cooked in sauces, moles and stews)
- An explanation of the difference between Italian pastas and Asian noodles, and how to prepare Asian noodles (e.g., some Asian noodles require pre-soaking before cooking)
- Nutritional overview of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and sea vegetables
- An explanation of the role that gluten plays in baking, and how to bake with nonwheat flours, including a chart of gluten-free flours that includes descriptions of flavor, baked texture, and baked goods that work best with each one
- Guidelines for substituting alternative sweeteners (e.g,. honey, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum syrup, amasake) for conventional white or brown sugar
As a former member of the USDA National Organic Standards Board, and having served on many other boards focused on organic agriculature, seafood sustainability, agricultural environmental standards, and farm animal welfare, Margaret Wittenberg capably educates consumers on where their food comes from, how to store food properly, and how to best prepare food to make them shine in everyday cooking.
I know I’ll be referring to The Essential Good Food Guide when I get my hands on some tepary beans or Mountain Violet sticky rice, and when I try cooking whole sorghum for the first time.
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All photographs reprinted with permission from The Essential Good Food Guide by Margaret Wittenberg, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Photographs (c) 2013 Jennifer Martine
Disclosure: I was provided a copy of The Essential Good Food Guide for review; my opinions are expressly my own.