Book Report: Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine + Bonus Recipe!

COVER. Crossroads very hi res

Tis the season of vegan cookbooks! Today on the blog, it is Los Angeles based chef Tal Ronnen’s new book Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine which will be released next Tuesday, October 6th.

From the cover to the photos to the recipes, this is one spectacular book. They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover but…just look at those ravioli! And the top half – the white part where the title is written – has a kind of texture to it that says, “This is no ordinary cookbook. I am fancy and upscale.” I am a big fan of Chef Tal’s Kite Hill cheese (how many posts have I raved about it on here?!) and, since Crossroads is in LA and I am in NYC, I was really excited to get my copy to see what the buzz is all about.

The recipes in this book are super creative – masterfully turning vegetables into gorgeous, rich, cutting-edge dishes. Chef Tal is quick to point out that this book is not about vegan cooking, just cooking that happens to be vegan – elevating the vegetables, using fancy cooking techniques and ditching tofu and tempeh. Personally, I don’t understand why it is so important to make that point but let’s chalk it up to whatever it takes to bring people over to our side.

The recipes are a bit more involved and complex than how I typically cook. There are dishes with three or four separate recipes, but because there are no crazy ingredients – except for maybe black garlic – they are not that intimidating. And I am inspired to work with ingredients that I usually pass right by like cipollini onions.

But a few are super simple like Papas Arrugadas (Spanish wrinkled potatoes) and leek pâté. I made them both – they are easy and delicious. The potatoes are a Spanish tapas dish – potatoes boiled in a cup of Kosher salt and as Chef Tal promises, they come out tender and with a dusty coating that is amazingly not salty. They are really cute, too. They reminded of zeppoles! And the leek pâté is rich, decadent and delicious on crusty bread.

There are nine chapters in the book starting with snacks and spreads, salads and dressings, which can all be mixed, matched and adapted based on seasonal ingredients or whatever is on hand.

How about a whole chapter on flatbreads with innovative toppings like sweet corn puree and tomato pepper jam? And a chapter on small plates including one of the restaurant’s signature dishes Hearts of Palm Calamari. See recipe below!

And then there is a whole chapter on homemade pasta recipes – my fave food group – complete with a pasta tutorial. I have only made pasta once and so with this book, I plan to spend the winter perfecting it in my kitchen. And the book wraps with desserts, cocktails and basics, all of which have great ideas.

Overall, I will say that regardless of your kitchen skills or where you are at in your vegan journey, this is a great book to have on hand. It is creative, inventive and perfectly vegan.

116_Hearts of Palm Calamari with Cocktail Sauce and Lemon-Caper Aioli

Excerpted from Crossroads by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lisa Romerein.

Hearts of Palm Calamari with Cocktail Sauce and Lemon-Caper Aïoli
Serves 4

Much of the Crossroads philosophy is about taking classic, familiar dishes and giving them new soul as plant-based renditions. Here hearts of palm are sliced into rounds that look like rings of calamari. They are lightly coated in a batter seasoned with Old Bay and nori seaweed and fried to golden perfection. The cooked palm rings look like calamari and taste like calamari, and if you tell your guests the dish is fried calamari, they’ll likely believe you.

The cashew cream for the batter needs to be prepared a day in advance, but all of the components can be made ahead of time, so frying and serving happen quickly. The cocktail sauce and lemon-caper aïoli are dipping sauces typically served with calamari. For an Italian spin, you could also serve Scoty’s Marinara Sauce.

After hollowing out the hearts of palm, you can cut up the unused centers and toss into a salad, such as the Melon Salad with Watercress and Oroblanco Vinaigrette.

1 cup Cashew Cream (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons filtered water
1 tablespoon toasted nori flakes, finely ground
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Two 14-ounce cans hearts of palm (12), drained and rinsed
1 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal or polenta
1 cup rice flour
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Expeller-pressed canola oil, for frying
Cocktail Sauce (recipe follows)
Lemon-Caper Aïoli (recipe follows)

1. To prepare the batter: Put the cashew cream in a bowl and add the water, ground nori, salt, and pepper. Stir the batter to combine; it should be smooth and not gloppy in the slightest. Set aside at room temperature to let the flavors meld while you prepare the hearts of palm.

2. To prepare the hearts of palm calamari: Trim both ends of each heart of palm to expose the center; this will make it easier to see and remove. Working from the narrow end, gently push out the insides of each cylinder, using your pinkie or a chopstick. Some pieces will be easier to gut than others—don’t worry if a few split. (Reserve the insides for another use—see the headnote.)

3. Using a paring knife, carefully cut each hollow spear into four 1-inch-wide rings. You should end up with about 48 pieces.

4. Add the hearts of palm to the cashew cream batter, gently turning the pieces over with your hands until thoroughly coated. Set aside.

5. Put the cornmeal in a food processor and process to a fine powder. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, add the rice flour, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper, and toss to distribute the ingredients evenly.

6. Using a slotted spoon, working in batches, scoop the hearts of palm from the batter, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, add to the cornmeal mixture, and toss with your hands until evenly coated on all sides. Transfer the breaded hearts of palm to a strainer set over a bowl, or work over the sink, and shake off the excess cornmeal. This is a key step to ensure that the cornmeal crust is light and not clumpy whatsoever. (All of this can be prepared up to 2 hours in advance. Arrange the breaded hearts of palm in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered. Allow the hearts of palm to come to room temperature before frying.)

7. To deep-fry the hearts of palm calamari: Heat 2 inches of oil to 325°F in a cast-iron skillet or heavy saucepan. Working in batches, add the hearts of palm to the hot oil and fry, carefully turning with tongs, until golden brown and crispy on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the cooked pieces to a paper towel–lined platter to drain. Season the hearts lightly with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning while still hot.

8. Pile the hearts of palm on a large platter and serve with the cocktail sauce and lemon-caper aïoli for dipping.

Cashew Cream
Makes 3 cups

Cashew cream, made from soaking raw cashews and blending them with water, is an indispensable part of my vegan cooking. It stands in for heavy cream in a variety of ways—in the batter for Hearts of Palm Calamari and as a base for Spinach Cream Sauce among others. The cream is at its best when used for cooking; it thickens up even faster than heavy cream and adds richness. You will never miss dairy if you use cashew cream.

It’s essential to use raw cashews to make the cream; the raw nuts have little flavor of their own but provide a fatty creaminess. Roasted cashews taste too strong and won’t blend as well.

Making cashew cream requires planning ahead, since you have to soak the cashews for at least 12 hours. Use only filtered water; the impurities in tap water will add a grayish tinge to the final product. The cream keeps for up to 4 days in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator, at room temperature, or in a large bowl of warm water. The cream will separate upon defrosting, so give it a whirl in a blender to re-emulsify.

2 cups whole raw cashews, rinsed
Filtered water

1. Put the cashews in a bowl and pour in enough cold filtered water to cover. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 1 day.

2. Drain the cashews in a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer the cashews to a blender, preferably a Vitamix, and pour in enough cold filtered water to cover them by 1 inch, about 3 cups. Blend on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until very smooth and creamy without any trace of graininess. The cashew cream should be smooth on the palate; add more water if necessary. If you’re not using a heavy-duty blender, you may need to strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve to get rid of any grittiness.

3. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. It will thicken as it sits, so blend with ½ cup or so filtered water if needed to reach the desired consistency. It can also be frozen; see the headnote.

Makes 2 cups

1. To make thick cashew cream, reduce the amount of water in the blender so that it just covers the cashews, about 2 cups.

Cocktail Sauce
Makes 1 cup

This couldn’t-be-simpler cocktail sauce is so much better than store-bought, you will never buy bottled again.

1 cup organic ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, or more if you like it hot
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce, such as Wizard

1. Combine the ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, and Worcestershire in a small bowl. Gently whisk until well combined. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

The flavor of the cocktail sauce gets better as it sits, and it keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Lemon-Caper Aïoli
Makes 1 1/2 cups

Aïoli is chef code for souped-up mayo. Try this as a dip with grilled artichokes or as a savory sandwich spread.

1 cup vegan mayonnaise, such as Vegenaise
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the vegan mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, capers, and garlic in a small bowl and gently whisk until combined. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil until the aïoli is thickened and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

2. The flavor of the aïoli gets better as it sits, and it keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Stir in 1 tablespoon water or lemon juice to thin it if needed.

Excerpted from Crossroads by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones. (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lisa Romerein.

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