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The Cooking Chemist's Laboratory Manual

Experiments in Plant-Based Gastronomy


In addition to writing science fiction, I have also been working on a cookbook. My first research experiences were in the kitchen, and cooking has many parallels to chemistry. The cookbook is designed to mimic an undergraduate student’s chemistry lab manual and consists of 50 “experiments” (i.e., recipes) that can easily be modified by doing your own “research”. The introduction compares cooking to the scientific method, followed by an overview of the vegan lifestyle. The end of the book consists of five advanced “research projects” that introduce chemical concepts such as retrosynthesis or reaction optimization. 

Sample Recipe - Mouliné de Légumes


Puréed vegetable soup

Experiment: Mouliné de légumes (moo-lee-nay)


Group A:
2-3 cups shredded (white or green) cabbage (I use the pre-shredded mix from Publix)
2-3 cups of chopped spinach or baby spinach
4 large carrots, roughly chopped
1-2 large Russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 large leek, roughly sliced
1 large onion (red or yellow), roughly chopped
3-4 gloves of garlic, roughly minced
3 small turnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup or so of fresh chopped parsely
4 stalks of celery, finely chopped
16 oz sweet peas
8 oz green beans
1-2 tablespoons of salt

Group B:
Margarine (I use Smart Balance (original)) - ~1/2 cup or so, to taste.
Salt and pepper to taste. 

Experimental Protocols

1.Prepare all the reagents in group A and place in a large pot. Fill with water to just the top of the reagents (~8 cups, give or take). The reagents will reduce as the mixture reacts, so resist the urge to add too much water. 

2.Add the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once a steady boil has been achieved, reduce heat to a low setting to maintain a steady simmer.

3.Cover and cook 25-45 minutes, or until all reagents have been cooked through until soft. You may wish to stir the mixture occasionally, especially in the beginning as it is coming to a boil.

4.After the reaction is complete, remove the mixture from the heat. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes until it is still hot, but not too steaming and easier to handle. 

5.Use an immersion blender or a stand-alone blender to puree the mixture. You want a smooth texture with no large chunks. I do this in a stand-alone blender in small batches, combining all the batches into a large bowl for mixture homogeneity at the end. 

6.Once blending is finished, add the margarine (Reagent Group B) and stir it into the hot mixture. Salt, pepper, and add more margarine to taste. It is recommended to under-salt the soup slightly and salt to taste when ready to consume. 

7. Serve with a side salad and crackers or fresh (French) bread.


1.The ingredients can vary to some degree; it’s a very forgiving recipe. You’ll notice that many of the reagents indicate a broad range of quantities (e.g., 2-3 cups of chopped spinach). You can experiment and adjust these to suit your precise taste. 

2.You can also add/subtract a couple of the vegetables as desired for taste preference or to use what you have at hand. Instead of onion, you could add shallots for example. Have a red pepper sitting in the fridge, throw it in. If you only have 1 turnip and 3 potatoes, that should work just fine. If you don’t have any garlic, don’t sweat it. Etc. 

3. Word of caution about the salt. This is a bland recipe without it. But, you also don’t want to over salt. This is something I do frequently with this recipe. If you’re not opposed to salt, or have a need to restrict it, you will need more than you think just to highlight the flavor profile. After a batch or two, you’ll likely find the right amount for you to use when conducting this experiment.