Food & Drink

3 new cookbooks put vegetables at the center of our plates

We all know fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us. What we don’t always know is how to prepare them. And frankly, some of you (and you know who you are) haven’t wanted to learn. Naughty, naughty.

That’s no longer an excuse, not with three new, opulent cookbooks that reveal produce in all its splendor. Whether you’re clueless in the kitchen, upping your culinary game or looking to channel (or locate) your inner earth goddess, there’s a veg-friendly cookbook for you.

As we transition from the season of gift-giving and overindulgent eating to the season of renewal and resolution, any one of these books is a sure delight and betters the odds you’ll actually eat your vegetables.

▪ Yotam Ottolenghi remade (and rocked) British cuisine when he set up shop in London a dozen years ago. London’s now his empire, with four Ottolenghi restaurants, three cookbooks, including Plenty and the award-winning Jerusalem (his birthplace), plus a weekly vegetarian column in The Guardian.

His secret? He’s banned the bland by lavishing vegetables with the bold Mediterranean flavors, like labneh (thick, tangy yogurt), harissa (Moroccan chile paste), tahini, lemon, garlic and olives. Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Plenty More, serves up a generous helping of the same.

Do not be put off by the idea of cauliflower cake. Essentially a tarted-up version of that humble Brit comfort food, cauliflower cheese, it’s easy to make, mostly with items you’ll have on hand. Here’s what closed the deal for me — cauli-wary tasters had second helpings. Unprecedented.

Ottolenghi arranges his recipes here not by course but by kitchen technique — tossed, steamed, blanched, simmered, braised, grilled, fried, roasted and so on. His creativity is as boundless as his enthusiasm. However, he has a clean-up crew, a ready fleet of purveyors and a team of line cooks. You may not. Dishes like grilled ziti with feta are simple to prepare but require a long list of ingredients. Others involve significant cooking time. Five-hour chickpeas are no doubt sumptuous, but the recipe is unlikely to be the one people grab first.

The recipes and images (by fabulous food photographer Jonathan Lovekin) give vegetables, whole grains and beans the star treatment. That these foods are good for you is never even mentioned.

▪ For the goodness part, look no further than Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen. Chaplin, former executive chef at New York eco-eatery Angelica Kitchen, enriches her dishes with bod-supporting foods like kombu, kale, quinoa, coconut, spelt and spirulina.

Where Ottolenghi is bold, Chaplin is gentle. That’s how she’s made. “I was raised in a remote area of rural South Wales, Australia, by vegetarian parents who grew and cooked everything we ate,” she writes in the introduction. Chaplin’s recipes reflect that ethos. They’re seasonal (spring miso soup and winter miso soup) and wholesome in the true sense of the word. Black-bean stew starts with dried beans, not canned.

Chaplin would have you steam and puree your own pumpkin for her pumpkin bread recipe. It’s not so hard, really, but no harm will be done by going with the canned stuff instead. Either way, the pumpkin bread bakes up tender, tawny, not too sweet and not too spicy. It’s so mild, I miss Ottolenghi’s wild ways with spice. Yet Chaplin’s food is no ways austere (Hello, dark chocolate truffle tart with Brazil nut crust).

If you weren’t raised like Chaplin (and few of us are), At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen means at least you can eat like her. Johnny Miller’s photography casts Chaplin’s dishes in a pearly light, all fitting for food that aims to make you as radiant as Chaplin herself.

▪ The Vegetarian Flavor Bible offers no recipes and not much in the way of food porn. Instead, it’s a solid-gold resource with an out-of-the-box approach. As with her 2008 bestselling predecessor, The Flavor Bible, author Karen Page reverse-engineers food by flavor. A two-time James Beard Award winner and a true flavor geek, she touches on food’s bitter-sour-salty-sweet-umami notes but also equates each food’s flavor with sound level — oats are quiet, lemons are loud.

The book’s subtitle, The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity with Vegetables, Fruit, Grains, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, and More, Based on the Wisdom of Leading American Chefs is long, its contents encyclopedic. Armed with The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, you can demystify any arcane farmers market find, from acai to zucchini, and find the flavors that enhance it best.

Even produce you think you hate presents new possibilities. Take beets. Moderately loud, they can provoke an equally loud antipathy. But would you say no to chocolate beet cake, a standout at New York’s famed Dirt Candy? Beets are in season now in South Florida and in addition to chocolate, love to team with fennel, oranges, nuts and cheeses.

Page offers insights and techniques from the greats, including chef Jose Andres of South Beach’s The Bazaar. “I believe the future is vegetables and fruits,” he says. “They are so much sexier than a piece of chicken.”

By the Book checks out recipes from new cookbooks. Ellen Kanner is the Miami Herald’s Edgy Veggie columnist.

The books

“Plenty More”

Author: Yotam Ottolenghi

Photographer: Jonathan Lovekin

Publisher: Ten Speed

Price: $35

“At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen”

Author: Amy Chaplin

Photographer: Johnny Miller

Publisher: Roost Books

Price: $35

“The Vegetarian Flavor Bible”

Author: Karen Page

Photographer: Andrew Dornenburg

Publisher: Little, Brown

Price: $40

Main dish

Cauliflower Cake

The rings of red onions right on top make this come out very pretty without a lot of fussy chef touches. Served just warmed through, it’s a terrific brunch dish and holds up well for a buffet. Nigella seeds, which go by different names, can be tricky to find and the recipe is perfectly lovely without them. Wrapped and refrigerated, it keeps well, too. And finally, any recipe that gets people to eat cauliflower and ask for seconds has my full support.

1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 1-1/4 inch florets (1 pound)

1 medium red onion, peeled (6 ounces)

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary

7 eggs

1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric

5 ounces coarsely grated Parmesan or another mature cheese

melted, unsalted butter, for brushing

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

1 teaspoon nigella seeds (see note)

Salt and black pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft. They should break when pressed with a spoon. Drain and set aside in a colander to dry.

Cut 4 round slices, each 1/4-inch thick, off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer the onion to a large bowl, add the eggs and basil, whisk well, and then add the flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and plenty of pepper. Whisk until smooth before adding the cauliflower and stirring gently, trying not to break up the florets.

Line the base and sides of a 9 1/2-inch springform cake pan with parchment paper. Brush the sides with melted butter, then mix together the sesame and nigella seeds and toss them around the inside of the pan so that they stick to the sides. Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly, and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set; a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. It needs to be served just warm, rather than hot, or at room temperature.

Note: Nigella seeds also go by the names black onion seeds, black caraway or kalonji.

Source: “Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi“ by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press).

Side dish

Broccoli Rabe with Crispy Socca

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Broccoli rabe isn’t broccoli. It’s the bolder, more bitter relation to, um, turnip. But give this winter green a try. Its slender stems mean you can chop the whole thing and not waste a gram of green goodness, and “The Vegetarian Bible” tells you how to make it wonderful. Broccoli rabe pairs well with equally assertive flavors like garlic and chili as well as with mellow chickpeas. I took that and ran with it. Simply sauteed with garlic, a spark of red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon, broccoli rabe is bright and fabulous in its own right, but to show it off and get that chickpea action going, too, try it with socca, a crispy chickpea pancake from Provence. It’s easy to make and naturally gluten free.

1 cup chickpea flour (see note)

1 cup warm water

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (a small sprig), finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives (about a dozen olives), coarsely chopped

1 sundried tomato, cut into slivers

For the broccoli rabe:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pinch red pepper flakes

2 bunches broccoli rabe, coarsely chopped (about 5 cups)

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)

In a large bowl, whisk together chickpea flour, warm water and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil (the last tablespoon is reserved for cooking) until mixture forms a thick batter. Cover and let sit at room temperature for an hour (or more). Place an oven rack in the top level of your oven. Set oven to broil.

Whisk up chickpea batter again to emulsify. Stir in crushed fennel seeds and chopped rosemary and season generously with salt and pepper. Pour remaining tablespoon of olive oil into a shallow 9-inch ovenproof baking dish or skillet. Pour batter, swirling and spreading gently with a spatula to coat the pan evenly. Scatter chopped olives and sundried tomato on top.

Broil socca for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it’s golden and starting to set. Reduce heat to 400 and move socca to the middle of oven rack. Continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the socca is golden brown and crispy at the edges. Remove from oven, cool slightly.

Meanwhile, for the broccoli rabe, heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes. When pepper flakes start to sizzle, add chopped broccoli rabe. Give it a quick and easy stir, until broccoli rabe starts to soften but is still slightly firm and vibrant green — about 5 minutes max. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon over the greens, toss and season to taste. Slice socca into wedges. Serve with broccoli rabe.

Note: Chickpea flour, also known as besan, is available at Whole Foods, Middle Eastern markets like Daily Bread and in many gourmet stores.

Source: Inspired by “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen Page (Little, Brown).

Side dish

Pumpkin Bread with Toasted Walnut Cinnamon Swirl

Chaplin’s recipe makes for not-too-sweet anytime treat. She suggests steaming and pureeing sweet kabocha or red kuri squash. Don’t tell Chaplin, but using an entire 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree works well, too, and is a real step-saver. If like Chaplin, you prefer mild flavors, make as-is. To get more of pumpkin’s natural sweet earthy flavor, increase spices. I added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. I also made it vegan, easy to do by losing the egg, increasing soy milk to 1/4 cup and mixing in 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds. Wrapped and refrigerated, it keeps well for several days. Makes one 9-inch loaf.

1 cup toasted walnut halves, chopped

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons maple sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

pumpkin batter:

1/2 medium kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1/2-inch dice (about 3 1/2 cups) (or 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree)

2 cups sprouted spelt flour or whole spelt flour

2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons almond milk or plain soy milk

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

Place walnuts, cinnamon, maple sugar, and maple syrup in a bowl; mix to combine and set aside.

Steam squash for 10 to 12 minutes or until soft. Place in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Measure out 1 1/2 cups and set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and line bottom and two longer sides with parchment paper. Set aside. Sift spelt flour and baking powder into a medium bowl and stir to combine. Add olive oil, maple syrup, almond milk, salt, vanilla and egg to the mashed squash; whisk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold flour mixture into squash mixture until just combined. Spread half of batter over bottom of loaf pan. Layer cinnamon-walnut mixture evenly over batter and top with remaining batter. To create a swirl, use a small rubber spatula or butter knife to zigzag back and forth through the batter (across pan) and one stroke straight through the center of the loaf (lengthwise).

Place in oven, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow loaf to sit 5 minutes before turning out and placing on a wire rack. Slice and serve warm.

Source: Recipe from “At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen” by Amy Chaplin (Roost Books).