My Vegetable Story: How Anne Wolf Turned “Hippie Puree” into a Soup You’d Want to Eat

America’s Test Kitchen test cook and former restaurant chef explains how experience with Middle Eastern cuisine helped guide her through vegetarian recipe development.

Published Mar. 28, 2017.

This interview is part of a series celebrating the publication of The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. We've interviewed celebrated chefs and members of the Test Kitchen family, each of whom know a thing or two about how to best prepare vegetables. (Ed's note: This interview originally ran on on March 6th, 2015.) 

Today we chat with America's Test Kitchen books team test cook Anne Wolf. Anne is a former restaurant chef who attributes a lot of her success in developing recipes for our vegetarian cookbook to her experience cooking Middle Eastern food. Our chat is below. 

Can you talk a bit about your role in recipe development for The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook?

The vegetarian book was actually the first book I worked on—I was hired halfway through the book’s development, so it was for the soup chapter that I got my first chance to develop any recipes here. The Super Greens Soup is one of the recipes that stands out to me. We didn’t know exactly what it was going to be, but we knew wanted super greens—antioxidant, vitamin packed. Hippie puree, but hot. It actually developed into something very tasty and elegant that people were really excited about. It has a great vibrant green color. It’s got chard, kale, arugula, herbs, caramelized onions for sweetness, mushrooms for some earthiness, and then we topped it with a lemon-tarragon cream.

You come from the restaurant world—how does it differ from the world of cookbook publishing from a cook’s perspective?

It is a different world. It involves much more analytical thinking and is less adrenaline based. Much more think before you act, and less reaction based. A definite change of pace, but it’s fun and thought provoking.

How time consuming is the testing process for each recipe?

It varies based on the book and the topic. For example, some of the soups took a little more testing—if we were starting from scratch, unsure of what direction we wanted to go in, it took a little time to figure out where we wanted to take a recipe. Some were a little easier, using what we already knew from Test Kitchen recipes. Taking something that’s already established and turning it into a vegetarian recipe wasn’t necessarily a huge challenge, but we had to think outside the box.

A book is a big undertaking—how are recipe ideas selected?

We usually have a TOC (table of contents) brainstorming session—we’ll have a Google doc set up for anyone that’s working on that book—and if you’ve got an idea you want to throw out there, you throw it on [the Google doc], and then we meet and talk about our ideas and figure out what the book means, what there’s going to be space for, if there are any voids, how to round out the chapters. There’s a lot that goes into it, and a lot of people are involved in making executive decisions.

Do you have a favorite recipe from the book?

My favorite recipe that I worked on in The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook is the shakshuka because it plays on the Middle Eastern [cuisine] experience I have. I got to really run with it, and had a good time developing that one . . . When I was in culinary school I gravitated toward Greek food. I’ve just always loved it—clean flavors, great ingredients. Then after culinary school I worked at a place in D.C. that specializes in Lebanese, Turkish, and Israeli cuisines, and then a Middle Eastern restaurant here in Boston, where I really got to delve into it even more.

Did you learn anything about yourself working on The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook?

I am a carnivore, for sure. As I came into this project, a lot of the products—like tempeh, or even tofu—were really unappealing to me. I had never had tempeh, and I had zero interest in even touching it. And by the end of it I was craving it and buying it at the store.

What was the most rewarding part of the process?

When you understand the ingredients—how you can manipulate them, infuse flavors, and get the right textures from them—it’s really exciting. It’s like having a whole new toy to play with. It’s so exciting to discover that you like something that you previously wrote off.

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook

The 700+ recipes in this comprehensive collection show you inventive and uncomplicated techniques for making boldly flavored appetizers, soups and stews, main dishes, pasta, pizzas, and more. Whether you’re a committed vegetarian or simply want to eat more vegetables and grains, this collection of re-imagined, meatless comfort food and all-new recipes inspired by ethnic cuisines will help you cook and eat well.  
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