[I've decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly, or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required. Here's today's "Flash in the Pan."]
I was seduced by Mark Bittman last week.
Now, hold on a minute–before you go and call the authorities, I should clarify: I’ve never even met the man. I was speaking in the Platonic sense; it was more the ideal of Mark Bittman that seduced me.
Truth be told, I was already harboring a little crush. You see, a while back when Bittman’s new tome, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian first hit the cookbook scene, the entire blogosphere (and pretty much any place else people consume food) was abuzz about it. That book was the latest, greatest thing to hit our kitchens! I had previously whiled away about an hour leafing through Bittman’s earlier oeuvre, How to Cook Everything, during one of my Sunday-morning bookstore browses with the HH. That day, I lingered between “Cookbooks: General” and “Cookbooks: Heart Healthy” for ages, slowly caressing the pages and batting my eyelashes longingly at every enchanting chapter. I really couldn’t take my eyes off it.
In the end, I gave myself over to the enticing reviews and alluring recommendations, dove right in and ordered the darn thing straightaway, sight unseen, from amazon.ca. I mean, how could I not be seduced?
As I discovered during our first meeting (once the book arrived in the mail), it is a very attractive volume (well, more like the entire encyclopedia, actually, at 996 pages long). The fresh lollipop-lime cover conveys a light, whimsical feel, while the choice to forgo photos (there are detailed line drawings) and expanses of text lend more a of a Joy of Cooking vibe. As many reviewers have remarked, it is a terrific, all-encompassing introduction to the basics of vegetarian cooking: with lengthy lists and detailed instructions, it covers a huge array of basic ingredients, basic methods and basic recipes. But would this be sufficient to sustain a relationship? Would the recipes have enduring appeal? And were they recipes I would actually use and enjoy over the long term?
Well, almost immediately, I started having mixed feelings. Because I’m already familiar with vegetarian basics and techniques, I wasn’t much interested in the generic versions of dishes (leek and potato soup, caramelized onions, refried beans, or scrambled tofu.) However, it was the seemingly endless variaitions on each theme ( eleven rubs and 17 sauces for grilled tofu; or 15 toppings for baked potatoes), as well as some of the more unusual or ingenious combinations, that intrigued me. Recipes such as Green Tea Broth with Udon Noodles, Nori Chips, Beets with Pistachio Butter, Quinoa and Parsnip Rösti or Chickpea Fondue each scored sticky-note bookmarks, denoting plans for a future kitchen rendezvous.
One major beef (if I may use the term) I had about the book, however, was its treatment of desserts: there isn’t a single vegan baked good in all 996 pages. The more indulgent, original dessert recipes (such as Chewy Almond Cherry Cookies, Caramel Walnut Bars, or Boozy Apple Cake) all contain eggs, cream or butter; the vegan desserts, on the other hand, are entirely uninspired offerings like No-Bake Granola Bars (hmm, bet they’re crunchy, too); jellies, or rice pudding. Maybe I’ll need to hold out for How to Cook Everything Vegan for those treats.
The first tête-à-tête with my new beau was a heated encounter in which I cooked Millet Mash, a combination of millet simmered with cauliflower florets, then puréed with roasted garlic to mimic mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, the resultant side dish, while fairly tasty, was a wee bit watery, slightly bland, and almost airy (you can see what it looked like as a side dish to a recent BBQ tempeh I made, at left–tempeh recipe to follow in the near future). It wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong; but sparks didn’t fly.
When this first date didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I decided to seek my own satisfaction in the kitchen (hey, I’m an independent feminist) and created an original version of mock mashed potatoes. As I was still following the Grain Drain (grain-free detox diet) at the time, I opted for a slightly different blend of ingredients.
I suspected that boiling the cauliflower with the millet had produced those waterlogged florets, so I roasted them this time. I also discovered one forlorn parsnip in the crisper and roasted it as well, along with 2 cloves of garlic. Finally, I puréed the resultant mash with some cooked white beans, and ended up with a mixture that was thick, creamy, and richer both in color and flavor than the original combo. Topped with a sprinkling of gomashio, this was truly an irresistible dish.
Call me fickle, but I fell in love with that cauliflower-parsnip mash on the spot. I scooped up two servings the first night, then returned for more mash passion the next. And then I cooked it up once more three days after that.
Another reason to love this dish: it’s actually good for you. Cauliflower is a little-known source of vitamin C (one cup provides 91.5% of the daily requirement!) and parsnips kick in the remainder. In addition, the white beans I used (Great Northern Beans) are an excellent source of calcium, a mineral I’m seeking these days. All in all, this was a fabulous dish–and incredibly easy.
As for Bittman, I haven’t broken it off entirely, though I’ll admit the infatuation for my acid-green beau may have abated just a little. Our short-lived fling wasn’t quite as disappointing as the one with Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants), but for me, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian was a bit of a tease in the recipe department; it just didn’t provide enough exciting, novel, or foolproof recipes to snag my eternal devotion.
Despite our rocky beginning, I’m sure we’ll remain good friends. This is still the kind of book I can rely on as a solid kitchen companion, full of serious instructions, reliable tips and honest information. At the same time, I’m keeping one eye open for the next recipe-filled rake that will really take my breath away.
Oh, and speaking of true loves. . . Happy Father’s Day to all the loving dads out there (“Yes, we second that, Dad!“)
Cauliflower, Parsnip and Bean Mash with Gomashio
This recipe is easy to throw together and produces a smooth, comforting and delicious side dish. While it does need take time to roast, you can use the extra half hour to attend to other matters, like reading some of the 996 pages in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.
1/2 large head cauliflower, washed, trimmed, and cut in florets
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into french-fry sized wedges
2 large garlic cloves, still in papery skins
3/4 cup cooked white beans (Great Northern or navy)
2-3 Tbsp. (30-45 ml.) extra virgin olive oil, divided
freshly ground pepper, if desired
2-3 Tbsp. (30-45 ml.) gomashio, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). In a large rectangular pan (a lasagna pan works nicely for this), toss the cauliflower and parsnip with the olive oil (no need to add salt, as the mixture will be covered in gomashio later). Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, keeping it in a single layer as much as possible. Place the garlic cloves in the pan.
Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until all the vegetables are very soft and are golden brown in spots. Remove from pan and allow to cool for about 10 minutes (enough to handle without burning your fingers).
Peel the garlic cloves and place the soft, roasted garlic in a food processor with the other vegetables and any oil that’s pooled in the pan (there may not be any; that’s fine) along with the beans. Process (in batches, if necessary), until you have a thick, smooth mixture (if the mixture is too dry, add the extra olive oil at this point).
Scrape the mixture into a bowl and sprinkle with gomashio and freshly ground pepper, if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.
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