There are lots of new vegan cookbooks coming out! That is such great news for vegans and the rest of the culinary world. Veganism is no longer on the fringe. With tons of new titles, the bookshelves are getting crowded with lots of easy, creative, healthy, delicious and smart vegan food.
Today I’m talking about The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright which is coming out on Tuesday, March 7th. It is packed with 125 “produce-forward” recipes that are actually much simpler than they look like they would be at first glance. Although the book has “seasons” in the title, leading me to believe it would be organized that way, it is actually set up by meals – breakfast, soups and stews, salads and dressings, mains and big plates, vegetables and grains, drinks and small bites (a confusing group if you ask me!), and desserts and treats.
As I sat and skimmed the book the day I got it, I actually made two recipes. The first is called Hemp and Vanilla “Bircher” Breakfast (I don’t know why) but it is essentially overnight oats with hemp and chia seeds sweetened with maple syrup. I made it with my homemade cashew milk and topped it off with homemade almond butter and bananas.
And then for dinner, I made Harissa Lentils with Cauliflower Rice. Even though I didn’t exactly follow the recipe because I happened to have all of the components in my refrigerator – a jar of my homemade harissa, cooked lentils, cauliflower, scallions and parsley – I was inspired to make it anyway. It came together in mere minutes and was delicious.
I like the flavor profile of this book – lots of fresh herbs, scallions, mustard, and easy to identify ingredients, nothing too fancy. In fact, I made a few more of the recipes without going to the store! I love that about this book. It’s right up my alley. I have already made the Meyer Lemon Romanesco Glow Salad (pictured below, with recipe!), the Chickpea Scramble, which if you make it, be sure to either use canned beans or remove the skins of home cooked beans (which I ended up doing.) I also made the Mustard Roasted Broccoli Pâté, which is delicious and could be eaten as is before being turned into a dip. I have earmarked more to try including French Onion Lentil Pots with Onion Cream Toasts, Red Peppers with Herby Breadcrumbs, and Eggplant Bolognese (also reprinted below.)
Consider getting this book if you are looking for easy, light, refreshing, herbacious recipes and join me on Instagram for the March vegan cook along!
My version (note, I used golden raisins because I couldn’t find organic green grapes)
Meyer Lemon Romanesco Glow Salad
Serves 4 to 6
Meyer lemons have a fragrant and slightly sweeter quality that tastes incredibly clean and fresh with this salad, but you could absolutely use regular lemons. I love the optical and textural illusion of Romanesco broccoli or cauliflower broken up into small bits to emulate couscous or rice. I make this salad when we’ve been on an indulgent streak or right after the holidays when our taste buds and stomachs need a break.
½ teaspoon (2 mL) Meyer lemon zest
1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh Meyer lemon juice
½ teaspoon (2 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons (30 mL) grapeseed or other neutral-flavored oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium head Romanesco broccoli (or cauliflower), broken up into florets
1 medium sweet apple, cored and chopped
1 stalk celery, small dice
1 cup (250 mL) seedless grapes, halved
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons (10 mL) minced fresh sage (about 1 sprig)
⅓ cup (75 mL) walnut halves, toasted and chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
- Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, grapeseed oil, salt, and pepper until combined. Set aside.
- Make the salad: In batches, use a food processor to blitz the Romanesco florets until you have a couscous-like size and texture. Place the processed Romanesco in a large bowl.
- To the large bowl, add the apples, celery, grapes, green onions, sage, and walnuts. Season everything with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Serve the salad immediately or store in a container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Eggplant “Bolognese” Pasta
I came up with this recipe when I had too many eggplants in my garden at the end of one really hot summer, just when the nights were starting to get cool enough to enjoy a pasta dish with substance. I love that this one is weeknight-simple, but lovely enough for guests, without question. Sometimes I toss a cup or so of cooked lentils into the sauce at the end for a hit of protein. I salt and rinse the eggplant to get rid of any bitterness, and to greatly improve the texture as well. The addition of some chopped olives really brings out the meaty nature of eggplant. I don’t particularly aim for meat-like results when I cook, but this dish goes in that direction in a very organic way.
1 large eggplant, diced into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (50 mL + 15 mL) virgin olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon (2 mL) chili flakes
¼ teaspoon (1 mL) dried oregano
1 can (28 ounces/796 mL) crushed tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) vegetable stock OR water
¾ pound (341 g) whole-grain or gluten-free long pasta of your choice, such as spaghetti or linguini
6 whole fresh basil leaves, plus extra chopped, for garnish
½ cup (125 mL) pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a large bowl, toss the diced eggplant with a generous sprinkle of sea salt. Let the eggplant sit for 10 minutes to release some of its water. Pour the salted eggplant into a colander and rinse with fresh water. Dry the eggplant pieces as thoroughly as you can with a kitchen towel, and then lay them on the prepared baking sheet.
- Toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the olive oil and the salt and pepper. Spread the eggplant out into a single layer. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and roast until the eggplant is tender and has browned slightly, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
- In a large, deep skillet (or braiser), heat the remaining ¼ cup (50 mL) of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir, and sauté for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the chili flakes and oregano, and stir. Add the tomatoes and vegetable stock to the skillet, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Drop the basil leaves into the tomato sauce and submerge the leaves. Cover the sauce and let it continue to cook for 10 more minutes.
- Remove the basil leaves from the sauce, and season it with salt and pepper. Add the roasted eggplant and chopped olives to the sauce, and stir to distribute. Carefully toss the cooked pasta in the sauce. After the noodles are coated in sauce, sprinkle the chopped basil on top. Serve the pasta hot.
Reprinted from The First Mess Cookbook by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2017, Laura Wright