Plant-based eating catching on — without the dogma

Harissa Swirl ‘Banzo Bake from “YumUniverse: Pantry to Plate” by Heather Crosby sports a flatbread base made with garbanzo (hence ‘banzo) flour, curled zucchini ribbons and a harissa sauce. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Harissa Swirl ‘Banzo Bake from “YumUniverse: Pantry to Plate” by Heather Crosby sports a flatbread base made with garbanzo (hence ‘banzo) flour, curled zucchini ribbons and a harissa sauce. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

“I always aim to inspire rather than preach about the virtues (of a plant-based diet),” writes Laura Wright, author of “The First Mess Cookbook,” just one of a new crop of plant-based cookbooks to hit bookstore shelves in recent months.

Plant-based diets, which are similar to vegetarian and vegan counterparts, have become popular online because of writers like Wright, whose blog inspired the book. Plant-based proponents have perfected the messaging: It’s not about strictly following a diet, or even depriving oneself of food groups. It’s about embracing the positives of vegetables, which the latest cookbooks do by celebrating their versatility with brightly colored photography that feels lived in and inviting, and language that is as much about cooking for well-being versus a number on a scale. These are dishes that celebrate greens and roots — no one is telling you “you won’t miss the meat” because that’s the point: Veggies can stand on their own.

Two other blog-to-book titles, “Naturally Nourished,” by Sarah Britton (who blogs at My New Roots), and “Vegetarian Heartland” by Shelly Westerhausen (Vegetarian ‘Ventures) embody the aesthetic of plant-based eating perfectly. For example, Britton’s half-moon of creamy polenta is covered in verdant green arugula pesto and wispy ribbons of beets, while Westerhausen’s gets up close, showing the texture of a pot of brown, smoky baked beans or seed-studded pumpkin bread. Britton’s recipes are straightforward and can easily be batched for parties or lunch and dinner during the week. Westerhausen taps into her Midwestern roots to offer vibrant, seasonal fare. Dairy and nondairy substitutes abound; as a home cook, you can apply your own spin.

And that approach, applying your own spin, is Heather Crosby’s shtick. Crosby, who writes the blog YumUniverse, takes an improvisational approach to plant-based cooking in her “Pantry to Plate.” Though there are plenty of recipes, she introduces the concept of a “template” from which you can infinitely modify. The templates are difficult to read at first — these pages are overdesigned — but they make a good case for perfecting a dish that can easily be riffed on. Crosby, like Wright and Britton, is not dogmatic about her plant-based recipes.

“I’m not here to judge or tell you how to live your life. I’m here to share what’s possible,” she writes. “Let’s just move veggies from the side of the plate to the center while you’re here.

HARISSA SWIRL ‘BANZO BAKE

Prep: 45 minutes

Cook: 42 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

A bit like the love child of a frittata and a farinata flatbread, this comforting quick-bread-style meal is easily transformed from a variety of veggies, herbs and even leftovers in 30 minutes. From “YumUniverse: Pantry to Plate” by Heather Crosby (The Experiment Publishing, $25)

2-1/2 cups hot water, plus more for cashew cream, if needed

1-1/4 cups cashew cream, see recipe

1 medium yellow squash, sliced into ribbons lengthwise

1 medium zucchini, sliced into ribbons lengthwise

Pinch plus 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

2 cups garbanzo bean flour

1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil, grapeseed oil, or avocado oil, plus more for cooking

1 large shallot, sliced into thin rounds

2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup fresh cilantro

1/4 cup fresh parsley

3 tablespoons harissa

Fresh-cracked black pepper

1. Whisk or blend 1 tablespoon water at a time into the cashew cream if its not already a pourable consistency — you want it like melted ice cream.

2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lay the squash and zucchini ribbons on a kitchen towel; sprinkle with a pinch of salt and let them rest for 10 minutes. Lay another dish towel on top of them and press out water.

3. Whisk together the garbanzo bean flour with the 2-1/2 cups hot water, 1 cup of the cashew cream, 1/4 cup of the oil and 1 teaspoon salt until combined. Set aside. In an 8- to 10-inch skillet heated to medium, add 1 tablespoon oil and saute the shallot for 5 minutes, until it starts to brown. Add the garlic and stir together for another 3 minutes. Drizzle with the lemon juice; transfer to a small bowl.

4. Arrange the squash and zucchini ribbons in a swirl directly in the skillet or in 3- to 6-inch ramekins or an 8- to 10-inch ceramic baking dish with the shallot and garlic. Sprinkle half of the herbs on top and pour the garbanzo base over and between the squash, filling the baking vessels. Drizzle with the harissa and remaining cashew cream. Sprinkle with the remaining herbs, a few grinds of pepper and salt to taste.

5. For a skillet or baking dish, bake for 40 to 60 minutes, until firm. For ramekins, bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until firm. For extra browning, broil for 2 to 3 more minutes after baking. Cool for 10 minutes to set. Serve warm.

CASHEW CREAM

2-1/2 cups raw unsalted cashews, soaked 4 to 6 hours, drained, rinsed

3/4 cup water, plus more if needed

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste

Blend all ingredients together until smooth, and if needed, add more water 1/4 cup at a time to reach the consistency you want.

Makes: about 3 cups

DEVILED PIMIENTO POTATO SKINS

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 50 minutes

Makes: 10 servings

Recipe from “Vegetarian Heartland” by Shelly Westerhausen (Chronicle Books, $25)

5 Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 tablespoon pickle relish

1 tablespoon pimiento peppers, sliced small

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or[1/2 cup nutrional yeast)

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, place in a large bowl, and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the potatoes on the baking sheet, cut-side down. Bake until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

3. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes, leaving 1/4 inch of flesh next to the skin, and transfer to a bowl. Mash the flesh with a potato masher, then fold in the sour cream, mayonnaise, relish, pimientos, garlic powder and cheddar.

4. Scoop the potato mixture into the potato skins, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve immediately.

 

In “The First Mess Cookbook” by Laura Wright, marinara along with maple syrup and a variety of spices become a barbecue sauce for mushrooms. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
In “The First Mess Cookbook” by Laura Wright, marinara along with maple syrup and a variety of spices become a barbecue sauce for mushrooms. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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