When I got the opportunity to test recipes for Joe Yonan's newest book, Eat Your Vegetables, I jumped right into the pool. Testing recipes is done with a methodical approach with deadlines and all of that. I got to try out secret recipes and try them on others (namely husband Peter and family and a few friends). I love adventure so last summer the challenge was on to meet Joe's deadlines.
[WIN an autographed copy of Eat Your Vegetables in my GIVEAWAY later in this post...read on for details.
Respond to this post by sharing your favorite and least favorite vegetable and why.]
A confirmed omnivore for years, Joe's Texas roots, endless restaurant reviews where rich foods often feature foie gras, beef, pork and related cousins and maybe most importantly his age made Joe take another look at lifestyle choices that have led to the writing of this book. He took a year long sabbatical up in Maine to live with his sister and her husband, both of whom are vegetarian. I truly felt spoken to and saw a parallel with his experience and mine with respect to making lifestyle food changes for better health.
Growing vegetables from seed, nurturing them to survive, harvesting them then bringing them to the table is a horse of a different color to so many people. What I appreciated was Joe's approach to experiential learning by living the experience. This book speaks just to that person, who may contemplate coming closer to where food comes from. This book has a plant based-focus, though with inclusion of dairy here and there.
As a long time reader and real time user of cookbooks I really like those that tell stories about where inspiration comes from and a little philosophy sprinkled in. These are the books I return to for inspiration. A hand full of essays in Eat Your Vegetables cover topics that range from the farmer's absolute LOVE of growing local food in spite of the plight of obvious day to day hardships, using recipes as guidelines and using common sense when cooking, to food politics of growing food for the poor as well as those who can afford it, creating a sense of community, and finally to processed fake meats. Hoorah for less processed fake meats! I have never been a fan either. I was truly intrigued. If you are going to eat vegetables, then cook them to taste like vegetables and celebrate that!
It is hard for me to say what has been my favorite recipe here except to say that all recipes were easy to understand and to prepare. I consider myself to be a moderate level home cook who cooks daily. I am a self taught cook and I tend to favor savory cooking to baking and desserts.
My first surprise LIKE was a sandwich (we loved all the sandwich recipes we tested). The zucchini, ricotta, and raddichio sandwich was one of those surprises. It was the finely sliced shallots that made the sandwich. I have never been a raw onion fan, but as my taste buds have matured and I have opened my mind to the world of taste combos, this one was a winner. Another favorite was the grilled greens (base recipe), chickpea (base recipe) and peppadew sandwich. Those peppadew peppers are tasty and fun in this sandwich. Taste contrasts and variety are a goal of any well composed meal.
Get the raddichio and don't forget the shallots.
Cooking for yourself or even two people presents its challenges. Recipes in this book are made for smaller portions but can be easily doubled for four people. There are a number of recipes that are meant to be made so they are readily so you can easily make numerous entrees. The tomato-braised green beans with new potatoes is one of those dishes that you make in five minutes, then the time is spent simmering on the stove. I made the base recipe "tomato sauce with a kick" and put a portion in the freezer for another time. I brought it out to make these green beans. So full of flavor with garlic and a warmth from a touch of heat make this one I have made a few times since last summer. Speaking of the tomato sauce, I am out of it and need to make another batch! I loved the garlicky flavor of the tomato sauce and hint of heat making it a versatile tomato base for many applications.
The base recipes in one of the later chapters are great to make and have on hand. Each base recipe lists the recipes where it can be used in this book. I like to turn to these sections in my cookbooks and get to know these chapters first. It gives you an idea of how the author cooks.
A Yonan testing night: Refreshing cold celery soup with apple and blue cheese and tofu, grilled cabbage with poblano tapenade. (The tapenade makes this sandwich!) The bread is only toasted on one side and the toasted side is on the inside of the sandwich! Our favorite nights are smorgasbord nights or fridge cleanout nights.
Joe introduced me to kimchi. This is not an ingredient I have made friends with just yet but in several recipes offered here, this is a condiment to have in your fridge. He puts kimchi in guacamole, deviled eggs, sweet potato hash, and a grilled kimcheese sandwich!
It has always been my mission to take any vegetable and find at least three outstanding ways to prepare them. My litmus test is always my family. I know that if the leftovers go away, then it is good. If they are in the fridge beyond a week then I know.
Here is a bit of veggie creativity that will surprise you. As late summer rolls around here in August, take a look at this recipe for inspiration. All these items can be found in the farmer's markets: kale, shitake or oyster mushrooms, onions, gruyere cheese, sweet potatoes, green onions. There are satifying elements of this recipe give you satisfaction that a meat lover looks for in food. Shitake mushrooms give a meaty texture to the layered dish. Take time to seek out ingredients of vegetables you haven't tried before and commit to trying them. Add new ones one by one.
Use a cast iron skillet for this recipe. With its french origins, this sweet potato galette is rustic in form and full of textures and flavors.
Back to adding variety to how you cook vegetables, Joe's book gives you ways to prepare sweet potatoes (for example) with several flavor variations, such as Japanese, Southwestern, Spanish, and Southeast Asian. With the diverse populations especially in larger metropolitarian areas, ethnic cuisines are providing greater opportunities to expand your own culinary veggie palate.
We live in a world where nearly any food ingredient we want can be delivered to your doorstep. But at what cost? You never think about the cost to get that coconut from the beaches where it grew below the equator to your hands...via cart and truck and airplane to train to truck to your grocery store. Finding vegetables locally benefits us all and gives us a closer connection to the real source of our food.
I recommend Eat Your Vegetables to anyone who is looking to put more vegetables into their diets, reducing the meat they eat or even letting go of it completely. Wherever you see yourself with food, think about changes you might make to become more plant-based in your thinking. Eating vegetables demands maybe more preparation than meat-based diets when you think of all the chopping and early prep involved in eating vegetables. As you find a groove in eating this way you will find yourself craving vegetables more as your health improves, you reduce your dependence on processed foods.
GIVEAWAY: One signed copy of Joe Yonan's Eat Your Vegetables be chosen by lottery. To enter the giveaway please respond to this post by answering the following question and why you would like a copy of Joe's book:
1. What is your favorite vegetable and your least favorite vegetable and why?
2. Why would you like a copy of Eat Your Vegetables?
Response entrees must be received by September 8, 2013 by 5PM for inclusion in the drawing.
Give vegetables a nod. Is it time to make a change? Are you looking for veggie inspiration?
Pick a vegetable and find two new ways to to prepare one of your favorites.
Happy veggie cooking! Eat your veggies!