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Anna Thomas wrote her first cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure, while she was a film student at UCLA, and followed it a few years later with The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two. When she is not cooking, she writes screenplays and produces films. Her screen credits include My Family, Mi Familia and El Norte, both of which were nominated for an Academy Award. She lives in Ojai, California, with her husband, Gregory Nava, and their two sons.
A voice from the bellbottom years returns, sounding as fresh and fun now as she did then. In The Vegetarian Epicure, published in 1972 and followed a few years later by Volume II, Thomas was a wacky, workable combination of Adele Davis and Julia Child. Offering one of the first more sophisticated approaches to vegetarian cooking, Thomas's cookbooks gave rise to elegant vegetarian dinner parties as well as solid, meat-free family fare. That tradition is carried forward here, 20 years later, with menu-based recipes arranged by season, beginning with An Early Spring Dinner featuring Risotto de Zucca through a New Year's Eve dinner ("a meal for an occasion") co-starring Wild Mushroom Soup and Cream Cheese Pierogi with Timbales of Tahitian Squash and Pears. There are menus for picnics, for brunches, suppers or for celebrations that few fine home cooks will scorn to follow. That this is the '90s is evident in numerous elements: lowered fat (Revised Caesar Salad replaces the egg with a tablespoon or two of reduced-fat mayonnaise and calls for "a lighter hand with the olive oil"); a marked Southwest slant (lots of salsas and dried chiles, and recipes for nopalitos, the new shoots of the nopal cactus); the use of once exotic ingredients like Kabocha and Tahitian squash; roasting as a favored cooking method for vegetables; and plentiful recipes for the likes of polenta, sorbet and biscotti. Soups figure prominently, among them Raspberry Borscht and a Wild Mushroom and Charred Tomato Soup. There are crepes (Buckwheat Crepes with Onions, Apples and Cheese), numerous salads (Roasted Beet, Asparagus and Garlic Salad, with red and golden beets), breads and some pasta dishes. Dessert is invariably important, e.g., Warm Chocolate Cakes with Crème Anglaise and Boysenberry Sauce. Thomas's menu approach serves vegetarian cooking, where texture and flavoring are crucial to variety, eminently well; an index guides cooks searching for recipes by ingredient. From a simple roasted squash, garnished only with olive oil and salt and pepper, to the elaborate multi-stepped construction of a centerpiece Tamale Pie, Thomas proves once more that meatless meals can be fashionable, fun and satisfying. (May)