- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

CONCORD, N.H. - No knife needed? The claim certainly got my attention. Especially when it was followed by the declaration that you wouldn’t need graters, mixers, blenders or food processors, either.

It’s at the heart of Donna Klein’s recent cookbook, “The PDQ Vegetarian Cookbook” (HP Books). Her “PDQ” stands for “pretty darn quick.”

Pretty darn quirky was what came to mind.

There has been a slew of cookbooks in recent years with promises to help home cooks cut corners, but this was the first I’d seen that claimed that none of its recipes required so much as a knife.

If the author were anyone else, “PDQ” would have landed on my discard pile.

I have nothing against shortcuts, and many nights, quick tricks are what make the difference between a meal at home and a meal brought home. I certainly rely on my fair share of convenience products, especially canned beans.

But in cookbooks, cutting corners has become a gimmick gone too far, and the no-knife claim made me roll my eyes.

Still, I wanted to give Miss Klein the benefit of the doubt. I loved her last book, “The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen” (HP Books), and its approach to vegetarian cooking is spot on.

In that book, Miss Klein’s recipes flow naturally. Every dish is naturally vegan, meaning that there are no attempts to persuade tofu to taste like tenderloin or pretend that pureed almonds make a great whipped cream.

Although Miss Klein called on knives and other common kitchen gadgets throughout that book, I never found any of its recipes daunting or overly time consuming, or at least not for their use of kitchen tools.

Miss Klein intends the lack of knives to be a timesaving measure, but in my experience, time is consumed by fussy and overly complicated recipes, not the use of a knife or food processor.

Because Miss Klein excels at making good, simple recipes, it seemed unnecessary that she contort herself to this rule. But I was willing to give “PDQ” a second look, testing a handful of recipes for ease, speed and taste.

My first thought was that for a book so bent on time, it would have been nice to have included estimated preparation times for the recipes.

The chickpeas with curried mayonnaise in lettuce cups were good, although I preferred Miss Klein’s suggestion to use them as filling for a flatbread wrap rather than an appetizer. The curried pumpkin and peanut soup also was tasty, and as simple as promised.

Everything I tested tasted quite good, but I couldn’t help feeling that things could have been better. The chickpeas would have been perfect with diced cucumber tossed in, but that would break the rule.

Some of the recipes even could have been easier. For the baked-potato soup, Miss Klein mashes the ingredients incessantly with a potato masher. I could have used my food processor or immersion blender more quickly, and with better results.

And while canned tomatoes are fine for many recipes (can openers are one gadget she won’t give up), for salads? I could have diced a fresh one in the time it takes me to get a can from the pantry, open it and drain it.

Criticism aside, I do like Miss Klein’s recipes. Like those in her first book, they are naturally vegetarian (including more than 100 that are vegan), and she does a good job of combining simple, rustic flavors.

I would make many of her dishes but probably would ditch her methods in favor of fresh ingredients. I’d rather use a knife than resort to bagged shredded carrots and frozen chopped onion.

Curried pumpkin and peanut soup

tablespoon canola oil

1 cup frozen chopped onion

1/4 cup cider vinegar

tablespoon mild curry powder, or to taste

14-ounce can low-sodium vegetable broth

15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

cup canned light coconut milk, half-and-half or light cream (optional)

Chopped peanuts (optional)

In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and thawed, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, and add the vinegar. Cook, stirring often, until all the liquid has evaporated.

Add the curry powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Carefully add the broth, then cup water. Stir in the pumpkin, peanut butter, sugar, salt and pepper.

Bring the soup to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally and taking care, as it tends to splatter. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the coconut milk, half-and-half or light cream (if using) during the last few minutes of cooking. Garnish with peanuts, if desired.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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