Too many vegetarian cookbooks these days are vegan cookbooks. I can sympathize with the animal rights concerns of vegans, but I am not that convinced of the enhanced health benefits of this diet (Bill Clinton aside). My problem with vegan food is that it just does not taste as good as egg and cheese vegetarian food, so much so that sometimes I suspect that many vegans just don’t like food very much. Perhaps it is because of this taste deficit that so many vegan cookbooks exist; cooking good vegan food is a skill that must be learned. But as a non-vegan vegetarian cook, I am very happy when non-vegan vegetarian cookbooks appear. Featured in this post are two recent non-vegan vegetarian cookbooks. I enjoyed cooking from both of these books, and even more enjoyed eating the food I cooked, in part because we shared this food with such good company.
Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite is a perfectly lovely vegetarian cookbook by Sarah Copeland, a woman who knows her way around the food world. Sarah has cooked in three star restaurants and developed recipes for Food Network. She is a frequent contributor to food magazines, and has written a previous cookbook, The Newlywed Cookbook. Her first cookbook was based on her own experience as a newlywed, but now, with Feast, we get the real story: Sarah’s husband is a vegetarian, but not Sarah. And I say hooray for Sarah’s husband, not because I approve of vegetarianism (which I do), but because his vegetarianism has resulted in this cookbook! I found so many inviting recipes in this cookbook. Some were strictly routine (as, for example the hummus and the Greek salad, discussed below), but no less good for being routine, and some recipes had interesting twists, or introduced major new ideas. And all of this food tasted good, some of it really good. This book does, however, have one flaw: either the copy editor was drunk when copy editing, or knows nothing about food. For example, in the bibimbop recipe which makes 4 servings, we are supposed to use six cups of rice cooked in 3 cups of water!
Kale makes the perfect green salad. It does not wilt in dressing after a few hours; even better, it not wilt after a few days, but becomes supple and subtle. “Kale and Kimchi Salad” (page 101) is really just a standard kale salad, the kimchi aside. We start by massaging the kale with salt and olive oil, and then add a couple of tablespoons of kimchee liquid. The kale is finished off with sunflower seeds (which I toasted, although Sarah does not say to do this) and salty white cheese, ricotta salata or feta. I actually did not notice the kimchee liquid; maybe my kimchee was not that strong. I think apple cider vinegar would have worked just as well. But with the sunflower seeds and cheese, this kale was great.
There are no surprises in “Greek Salad” (page 98), but that doesn’t matter, because when it comes to salads, the combination described as “Greek Salad,” with or without lettuce, is one of my favorites. Here we have a lettuce-less salad with a green bell pepper, a cucumber, tomatoes (for which I used cherry tomatoes, the best salad tomato choice until it is tomato season), feta cheese, oregano, and olives. Sarah’s dressing consists of “finishing oil for drizzling” and “red wine vinegar for sprinkling”. I used olive oil and lemon juice, thinking that lemon juice was more appropriate, both for taste and color.
Likewise, Sarah’s hummus is completely standard: chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. She does, quite helpfully, tell us to process the ingredients together “until smooth,” with a suggested time of 5 minutes, a much longer time than I have seen in other recipes, but really necessary if you want smooth hummus. She tells us only to add a little bit of cooking water, “as needed”. Here she could have been more helpful by reminding us that hummus will stiffen up quite a bit after it is first made. But I just thinned out the hummus later. I kept half of the hummus plain, and to the other half added some of the extra dressing for the zucchini noodles (below) to get red hummus. Both varieties were quite good.
I’m not quite sure why I made “Garlicky Green Sauce” (page 255). I had marked this recipe when I was going through the book, probably because I had also marked some recipe that was to be served with green sauce. But by the time I made my final recipe selection, I must have discarded that recipe, since none of the recipes that I ended up cooking had green sauce as a suggested accompaniment. But this sauce was easy enough to make: it’s just mayonnaise, garlic, cilantro, scallions, and lime juice all blended together. The sauce was a nice alternative to the spicy sauces that, more often than not, I find myself making. And, we even had something to spread this sauce on: lentil-chickpea burgers.
“Sweet Potato and Kale Tortilla Soup” (page 181) is the sort of soup that I want to like but all too often don’t. This soup, however, was an exception. Somehow or other, the combination of ingredients worked, with the good tastes of kale and sweet potatoes in the forefront; their not so good tastes receding. There is some tomato in this soup, which helped. There are also jalapeños, which I did not have and so I used pickled jalapeños. This also, I think, added to the taste. We are supposed to top this soup with fried corn tortilla strips, avocados, and radishes. I did not do this the first time I served the soup as the soup was tasty enough on its own, but I will try avocados the next time in order to cut the heat from the pickled jalapeños.
I knew that I would like “Celery Root Soup with Apple Butter” (page 90) before I made it, for creamy root vegetable soups are some of my favorite soups. But this soup was one of the best of this type of soup, even without the apple butter (which I could not find in the store and did not want to try to make). In addition to standard ingredients such as celery root, parsnips, and cream, this soup has a apple, is colored with tumeric, and flavored with ginger and the tiniest bit of cinnamon (an eighth of a teaspoon; any more would have been too much). This soup had a beautiful color and a tantalizing taste.
Korean food can be visually and gastronomically stunning, although it is not a particularly vegetarian-friendly cuisine. Sarah performs a real service for vegetarians with her recipe for “Bottomless Pot of Bibimbop” (page 175). This is a recipe with several simple components: rice, topped with carrots, zucchini, and spinach, then kimchee, then a hot pepper sauce, and all topped with a fried egg. I felt so healthy and invigorated after eating this. [Go to the recipe.]
There is not much going on in “Southern-Style Barbecue Spaghetti with Tempeh” (page 188). This is pasta, with tempeh, fried in a little oil, bottled barbecue sauce, and kale. Sarah suggests whole wheat pasta, but the health advantages of the whole wheat, the tempeh, and the kale are kind of nullified by all the sugar in barbecue sauces. Nevertheless, non-tempeh enthusiasts, such as myself, can actually enjoy this dish. Tempeh needs something like sugary barbecue sauce to make it palatable.
The closest I came to a recipe failure from this cookbook was with “Barley Risotto with Radishes, Swiss Chard, and Preserved Lemon” (page 174), but Sarah deserves absolutely no blame. The problem was that I had no barley. Barley is an ingredient that, when I do not need any, fills several half-used bags in my cabinet, but whenever I want to use some, it all disappears. So I was getting ready to make this recipe, and could not find any of the barley that I was convinced I had. Instead of going to the store and getting some, I decided to use sorghum, a bag of which I had bought several months ago, yet never used. But there is a problem: pearl barley and sorghum are very different grains, and cook and absorb water very differently. In short, sorghum, or at least the kind that I had, never absorbed any water, and never really softened up. The bag did say that sorghum has a “hearty, chewy texture” but it took several hours of cooking until I could even consider calling my sorghum “chewy” instead of just “uncooked”. I ended up throwing in some farro just to absorb some water. The long cooking caused the radishes to disintegrate, which was bad, but caused the chard to cook to death, which was good. The preserved lemon added an intriguing taste, which was what saved this dish (at least for those at the table who decided that the “chewy” sorghum had an interesting texture).
The recipe for “Artichoke Enchiladas” (page 196) is inspired. The enchilada sauce is a delicious but non-ground breaking blend of tomatillos, red onion, and serrano peppers, but the filling strikes me as very unusual: artichokes, quinoa, and Monterey jack cheese. You wrap corn tortillas around the filling, put in a baking dish, then top with the sauce and some more cheese. Everything went together perfectly in this dish!
“Lentil-Chickpea Burgers with Harissa Yogurt” (page 138) served, as mentioned above, as a vehicle for green sauce, and so I omitted the harissa yogurt (just harissa and yogurt mixed together). These are basic bean burgers, with lentils, chickpeas, eggs, and oats. There is also a grated carrot and small amounts of assertive flavorings: garlic, chili powder, paprika, and harissa. This all made up into a good enough bean burger. My only complaint was that the burger mix was a little too lose, and so the burgers had a tendency to fall apart while cooking.
I did not quite as much to delight me in Vegetarian Everyday: Healthy Recipes from Our Green Kitchen by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl, much praised Scandinavian bloggers, but this was still a very interesting cookbook. Inspired by David and Luise, I tried Jerusalem artichokes again, after giving up on them, and for the first time brought rhubarb into my kitchen. Almost all of their recipes are off the beaten track; this usually works, but not always. The book is very nicely put together; their publisher Rizzoli understands good book design. One particularly nice feature of this cookbook is that every recipe is complete on one page (if there are exceptions, I have not found them). David and Luise seem to be a perfect couple in perfect health with a perfect child making perfect decisions. I hope it stays that way.
“Zucchini Noodles with Marinated Mushrooms” (page 131) was a big hit. When it was time to clear the table, there was none of this salad left! This is a very simple salad and is not only vegan, but almost raw. There are three components: marinated portobello mushrooms, spiralized zucchini, and a dressing of cashews and sun-dried tomatoes. For the mushrooms, I marinated thinly sliced mushrooms in olive oil and vinegar. I spiralized the zucchini with my spiralizer, which was great fun. I showed off one particularly long piece of zucchini to Danny, at least ten, maybe fifteen feet long. The dressing is composed of cashews soaked in water, then blended with sun-dried tomatoes. My one complaint about this recipe is that the amount of dressing is way too much; this would not have been a problem had the recipe had stated that there would be extra dressing. As it was, I dumped most of the dressing on the zucchini and mushrooms before I realized that there was too much of it. [Go to the recipe.]
I cooked with Jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes) once before and was not impressed. Then, after I read about them and learned that many people regard them as merely gas producing fodder, I decided to ignore this vegetable. But I don’t mind changing my mind, as when I contemplate a recipe such as “Wild Rice, Sunchoke & Grape Salad” (page 76). The Jerusalem artichokes are sliced, brushed with oil, sprinkled with salt and thyme, and baked until soft and crisp on the edges. This seemed to me to be as good a treatment as possible for Jerusalem artichokes. These choke chips are then mixed with wild rice, red grapes, arugula, and red cabbage with a dressing of olive oil and vinegar. This salad was not bad; the bites that had grape in them were the best.
The cover photo on this book is of “Rhubarb, Apple & Yellow Split Pea Stew” (page 116). This was the first time I had ever cooked with rhubarb, but will not be the last. My previous rhubarb experiences were with rhubarb desserts, but I think that I prefer rhubarb as a savory ingredient. In this dish it seemed to dissolve, but left a very intriguing tart taste. I did not tell my guests of this mystery ingredient, but challenged them to guess it. They ignored this challenge, no one being interested in my guess-the-ingredient game. But that’s okay, since several guests singled out this dish to praise. In addition to the rhubarb, the ingredients include an apple and yellow split peas, for which I used toovar dal, all flavored with Indian type spices.
I had hoped that “Orange-Kissed Seed Crackers” (page 164) would be a healthy crunchy snack. These cookies were indeed filled with healthy ingredients: lots of seeds and quinoa flour, but alas, they were not that crunchy. To make these crackers, you thinly spread a pasty batter on a baking sheet and bake, Towards the end of the baking, you brush on an orange juice and honey blend, and top with more seeds. These crackers had a nice enough taste, but they failed to crack.
I had much more success with the recipe for “Swedish Crispbread” (page 48). This is a yeasted flat bread made with rye flour, spelt flour, and buttermilk. I was not able to roll the dough rounds as thinly as David and Luise tell us to, but my crispbreads were still quite flat and thin with a delightful burnt shmura matzoh taste. These worked well as a healthy crunchy snack. The only problem was that the crunch dissipated somewhat after a few days.
I was disappointed with “Frozen Strawberry Cheesecake on a Sunflower Crust” (page 218), but then I was expecting too much from this dessert. I wanted to make a healthier dessert than the type I usually make, and this recipe looked relatively healthy (for a dessert, anyway) and seemed to have real taste possibilities. The crust consisted of sunflower seeds and dates; the filling was mascarpone cheese, strawberries, and a reasonably small amount of agave syrup. I think the problem with this cheesecake was that it would have been better not frozen, but with the filling firmed up some other way (agar, perhaps?). With freezing, this cake was not quite sweet enough, and the frozen texture was not ideal, with too many ice crystals. But still, for a healthy type dessert, this cake was good.
Adapted from Sarah Copeland, Feast
¼ cup sriracha
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon less refined sugar
5 ounces spinach
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup short grain rice
1 tablespoon peanut oil
To make the sauce, combine all the sauce ingredients.
For the vegetables, cut the carrots and zucchini into julienne slices. If necessary, clean the spinach. Heat the oils in a large frying pan and add the carrots. Cook and stir, and after a few minutes add the zucchini. When the carrots and zucchini have softened (but still have a little integrity) add the spinach and cook just until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.
Cook the rice using your favorite rice cooking method; this is best done before preparing the vegetables. After the rice has cooked, heat the peanut oil in a large skillet. Add the cooked rice, and cook without stirring until the bottom of the rice gets crispy.
To assemble, prepare individual plates: put rice on a plate, top with vegetables, kimchee, and sauce, then fry the eggs and top each serving with a fried egg.
Mushrooms and Spiralized Zucchini
Adapted from David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl, Vegetarian Everyday
3 small portobello mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup cashews
Grated zest and juice from ½ lemon
1 clove garlic
½ cup marinated sun dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon oil from the sun dried tomatoes
Remove the mushroom stems, and scrape out the mushroom gills. Thinly slice the mushrooms. Mix together the oil and vinegar, then toss with the mushrooms. Let the mushrooms marinate for several hours, tossing occasionally. Eventually the mushrooms will become limp.
Soak the cashews in water for at least 4 hours. Drain, then blend the nuts with the lemon zest and juice, the garlic, the tomatoes and their oil, and enough water to make these ingredients blendable and to achieve a mayonnaise-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
If you have a spiralizer, spiralize the zucchini. If you don’t, use a vegetable peeler to make thin long slices of zucchini. Combine the zucchini and mushrooms, then add as much of the dressing as you want to.