We know that eating less meat is a good thing — it reduces your carbon footprint, lowers your grocery bill, and makes sense for your heart. But does it taste good? Vegetarian diets are often associated with a bland menu of tofu, sprouts, and brown rice day after day. Chef to the stars Tal Ronnen sets out to bust this myth in his new cookbook, The Conscious Cook — Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat ($20).
The cookbook is divided into sections by meal courses that include starters, soups, entrées, and desserts. I'm most excited about the entire section devoted to sandwiches because of all the new lunches I get to try. There's a nice intro that covers Ronnen's must haves in the kitchen — from what items he always has in his pantry (agave nectar) to the chef tools he can't live without (food processor). Ronnen touches on the importance of a vegan diet but does it without making you feel like you're choking on someone else's politics. It's obvious the chef's main focus is making food that tastes exceptional.
To hear more about The Conscious Cook and see a killer quinoa recipe, read more.
Each of the 75 recipes features a protein and ranges from the comforting — free-form ravioli with tofu ricotta and arugula pesto — to the sophisticated — peppercorn-encrusted portobello fillets with yellow tomato bearnaise and mashed potatoes. And every recipe has an inspiring photo accompanying it.
What's great about this cookbook is its range and its approach to meatless cooking. No main dish ever feels like a side dish, which can happen a lot in vegan and vegetarian cooking. Instead, each meal is made to be complete and satisfying. There are recipes for a quick or casual meal, but if you want to pull out all the stops, there are recipes for that too. As an added nice touch, there are seasonally driven dinner menus included at the end.
For the quinoa:
1 cup quinoa, cooked in vegetable stock according to the package directions and cooled to room temperature
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the sweet potatoes:
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
For the dressing:
2 tomatillos in olive oil, skins removed
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon light agave nectar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
For the tortilla strips:
2 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
2 avocados, diced
You'll also need 4 salad plates, a food processor, and a 3-inch ring mold.
1. Make the quinoa: Place all the of the quinoa ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to combine.
2. Make the sweet potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, toss the sweet potatoes with the oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, or until soft in the middle and lightly browned. Be careful not to let the sweet potatoes burn.
3. Make the dressing: Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, toss the tomatillos with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, add vinegar, cilantro, and agave nectar, and pulse to combine. With the motor running, pour in the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a thin stream. Continue blending until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Make the tortilla strips: Pour 2 inches of oil into a small, heavy pot and heat until the oil shimmers. Add the tortilla strips and fry until crisp and browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with the Cajun seasoning.
5. Assemble the salads: Place a 3-inch ring mold in the center of one of the 4 salad plates. Fill with 1/4 of the quinoa mixture and press down with a spoon to pack the mold, smoothing the top. Place 1/4 of the sweet potato pieces on top of the quinoa and press down gently. Top with 1/4 of the avocado and press down gently. Carefully remove the mold. Repeat on the remaining salad plates.
6. Carefully place 2 tortilla strips parallel to each other about 1 inch apart on top of each timbale. Place 2 more tortilla strips perpendicular on top of those. Top the timbales with the microgreens and drizzle the dressing around the timbales.
Makes 4 servings
Prep time: 45 minutes