The Millennium Cookbook
by Eric Tucker and John Westerdahl

1998. 258 pages, 300 + recipes

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"To the uninitiated, cooking vegan may sound like it means following a lot of restrictions, but within those boundaries there is an infinite world of flavors and influences. Our food is exciting because we pay as much attention to flavor, texture, and visual appeal as we do to the food's healthful qualities."

Peach Sorbet

Tofu, Mint, and Cilantro Raita

•Asian Noodles with Millennium Ponzu Sauce

•Moroccan Crepes

•Mushroom, Fennel, and Dill Cream Penne


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I am not a vegan nor do I have no plans of ever becoming a vegan. I would hate to think of life stretching before me bereft of small succulent pleasures like shaved parmagian-regiano on tossed greens; or warm, homemade tapioca pudding; or big, sloppy egg-salad sandwiches. For me, a commitment to a vegan diet would be a life sentence of drab, virtuous eating. Or that's what I thought before I had dinner at San Francisco's Millennium restaurant whose chefs make amazing dishes without so much as a pat of butter or a single egg or a grating of parmesan. Dishes that even a card-carrying carnivore would love. How do they do it? I found out when I got my hands on The Millennium Cookbook. Like its namesake restaurant The Millennium Cookbook takes the oxymoronic out of the phrase "fine vegan cuisine". Or in the words of the restaurant's owners, "This is not your mother's old bean-sprout-filled vegetarian cookbook."

Millenium's chef and the book's co-author Eric Tucker works the cuisines of the world and employs an encyclopedic vocabulary of seasonings to achieve dishes which won't leave you wondering, where's the beef?…or the crème fraiche or the aioli. This works particularly well when Tucker interprets dishes from cuisines, which are not meat/dairy reliant. When I made the Asian Noodles with Ponzu Sauce, it turned out to be a subtle, complex mix of Japan-esque flavors. And the Moroccan Crepes (it was definitely worth the effort to track down chickpea flour) made my kitchen smell like a really good Middle-Eastern restaurant.

Quite a few of the recipes exhibit what I think of as Russian-nesting-doll syndrome. What appears to be a single recipe at first glance reveals multiple recipes within it once you take a closer look. A charming trait in dolls, frustrating when it comes to recipes. You can pretty much forget about meals in minutes. No, wait…that's not entirely true. I found that these time-consuming recipes-within-recipes often resulted in leftover bits of sauces and salsas which then became the defining element for quick meals for days to come. The left over Ponzu Sauce from Monday night's Asian Noodles became the base of an impromptu soup on Tuesday night and a fish marinade for Thursday's dinner.

Intriguing. Inspiring. Those are two words I'd use to characterize The Millenium Cookbook's recipes. Often Tucker adds an unexpected twist that catapults a dish out of the ordinary and onto a higher plane. What would the Wild Rice and Barley Salad with Mushrooms and Persimmons without that astringent zing of persimmons? And his gazpacho would not be so memorable if it weren't punctuated by the surprise fillip: a scoop of Avocado-Cilantro Sorbet.

With the book's sophisticated fare, it's easy to forget that this is vegan cooking. But then you run into ingredients like seitan and soy milk and sucanant, and are reminded that you are deep in vegan country. I was particularly skeptical about non-dairy adaptations of dairy dishes. Before I made the Tofu, Mint and Cilantro Raita, I was convinced that it would be an embarrassingly pathetic copy of the authentic yogurt-based raitas. As it turns out, I was shocked at how good it was. It was cool and creamy and even better than "real" thing. On the other hand, I was far less thrilled with the Cashew Cream, an oddly bland concoction that was about as "creamy" as non-fat milk.

Tucker writes, "…we don't go out of our way to make 'health food', but it naturally seems to end up that way". I think he's being a bit disingenuous here. The book, after all, is co-authored by a nutritionist, the restaurant sponsors healthy-eating classes, and Dr. Dean Orish lauds Millennium for its heart-healthy, low fat fare. This is not to take away from Tucker's feat of merging two merge-resistant concepts: healthy vegan food and good vegan food. There's no doubt this book offers eloquent proof that vegan cooking does not have to be hairshirt cuisine. Alas, there's also no doubt that it takes more time and effort to achieve vegan greatness. When I am in an un-hurried frame of mind and I'm in the mood for a little culinary adventure, The Millennium Cookbook is there on the shelf waiting for me.