Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.

A Book Review:  Sunlight Cafe by Mollie Katzen

by Sandra Bowens


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Every now and then I come across a book that makes me want to shout about it from the rooftops. Today while eating my Scrambled Ricotta for breakfast, I realized that Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café (Hyperion 2002) is one of those.


That's right, scrambled ricotta. It is just one example of the "outside the box" sort of recipes that this all-breakfast vegetarian cookbook has to offer. One glance down the table of contents tells you this is no ordinary book about eggs and muffins. Chapter Six, for instance, covers Potatoes, Beans, Tempeh and Hashes. Chapter Nine is devoted to Yogurt and Cheese while number ten is all about Puddings and Custards.


For the most part, the recipes are easy to put together and high on flavor. Herbs and spices are used frequently and well. One of my favorite recipes from the book is the Green Chile-Tortilla Scramble. Fresh green chiles, onion and garlic combined with pure ground chile provide a savory backdrop for scrambled eggs and corn tortilla strips. I often serve this to our guests who have stayed the night with the preface, "This isn't pretty but it sure tastes good." One fellow enjoyed three servings so I assume he agreed.


The emphasis on fresh ingredients helps you work in some vegetables that are so often neglected on the breakfast menu. The Summer Frittata with scallions, roasted garlic, zucchini and crumbly cheese is a good example. It is full of flavor yet easy enough to prepare that I was able to take all the ingredients along to create a special breakfast in the kitchen of a rented beach house. The Classic Creamed Spinach, enriched with dry mustard, grated nutmeg and milk rather than heavy cream or cream cheese, is a delightful omelet filling.


Don't shy away from Sunlight Café just because of its vegetarian bent. You can always round out your meal with a side of bacon if you want. Katzen concentrates on foods that will take you through the morning by avoiding sugar/carbohydrate spikes. A section at the beginning called "Breakfast for Metabolic Health" discusses the matter in a way that is sympathetic to our current habits.


She is also sympathetic to the fact that we don't always have time for a big sit-down breakfast with the family. Another part of the front matter, "Make Room in Your Life for Breakfast," addresses the time factor. Many of the recipes offer ideas for making them ahead or freezing portions for later.


These make-ahead tips work too. Mollie's Basic Buttermilk Pancakes, with the added benefit and un-noticeable addition of protein powder and wheat bran, can start from a dry mix that you prepare in bulk and use just like one from a box. Or, she suggests, mix up the batter and keep it in the refrigerator. This is the option I tried with excellent results.


I was a bit skeptical about freezing a whole, unbaked frangipane-filled babka so that I could bake it directly from the freezer later. It worked, no problem.


Perhaps worth the price of the entire book is the recipe for Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Protein Bread. This homey moist loaf is laced with vanilla and just enough chocolate to feel a bit decadent while also providing a small punch of energy from the addition of pumpkin, soy protein powder and eggs. An alternate variation calls for banana and almond extract to replace the pumpkin and vanilla. I always have slices of one or the other in the freezer for a grab and go breakfast or afternoon snack.


You may need to shop outside your usual realm to prepare some recipes. The soy protein powder was new to me and a little hard to find although I did finally locate it at my health food store. I was inspired to try barley flakes in order to make the Toasted Barely Flakes with figs. Chances are, however, you will find new ways to use the ingredients you already on your shelf. Tahini, cornmeal, goat cheese, tomatoes; these are not typical breakfast foods but armed with a few new ideas, they can be.


As a cookbook, in general, this one is a joy to use. Most of the recipes are on a single page thus avoiding the annoyance of turning back and forth between the instructions and the ingredient list as so often happens with other books. Each recipe begins with notes about how the idea was developed, serving suggestions or facts about the ingredients. The little story is followed by storage hints or acceptable substitutions along with yields and preparation times. Recipes are written in a simple step-by-step format and often followed with variations.


Whether you are cooking for a family or just looking for morning meal inspiration you can't go wrong with Sunlight Café. You might even find yourself reaching for the book at lunch or dinnertime. There's nothing wrong with that. As the cover says, "Breakfast served all day."



Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.


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