"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.
Nutrition information per serving: 526 calories, 31 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 48 g carbohydrates, 10 g sugar, 17 g protein, 1,148 mg sodium, 11 g fiber
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.
Nutrition information per serving: 131 calories, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 4 g protein, 208 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Garlic cloud soup
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
From "Naturally Nourished" by Sarah Britton (Clarkson Potter, $30)
40 garlic cloves (3 to 4 whole heads)
3 medium yellow onions
1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee, melted
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups plant-based milk of your choice
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cold-pressed olive oil
1 Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the garlic cloves and quarter the onions, and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Cut up the cauliflower into bite-size chunks and add it to the garlic and onions. Drizzle with the melted coconut oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Roast until everything has golden edges and is nicely caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes.
2 Let the veggies cool slightly and then add to a blender along with the vegetable broth, milk, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and lemon juice. (Process in batches if you have a small blender.) Blend on high until as smooth as possible. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
3 If the soup is not hot enough after blending, transfer it to a large pot and warm until steaming. If the soup is too thick, simply add water to thin to your desired consistency. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil.
Nutrition information per serving: 249 calories, 10 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrates, 13 g sugar, 10 g protein, 884 mg sodium, 6 g fiber
Barbecue mushroom toast
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
From "The First Mess Cookbook" by Laura Wright (Avery, $30)
3 teaspoons virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, peeled
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 cups jarred marinara or crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon tamari
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms (like shiitake and cremini)
Salt and pepper
4 thick slices whole-grain bread (gluten free if required)
1 Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Grate the onion on the coarse side of a box grater.
2 Scrape the grated onion into the saucepan, trying to get as much of the liquid in the pan as possible. Add the garlic to the pan. Saute the onions and garlic until the onion shreds appear translucent and soft, about 45 seconds.
3 Add the paprika, mustard powder and chili powder, and stir. Add the marinara sauce or tomatoes, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and tamari to the saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce has slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Keep the sauce warm.
4 Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Remove the stems from the mushrooms, and slice the caps into thin strips. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan, and season them with pepper.
5 Let the mushrooms sit for about 1 minute before stirring them. The oil should be fully absorbed. Stir the mushrooms frequently. Once the volume of the mushrooms has reduced by half and the slices are glistening, season them with salt. Saute for another minute or until the mushrooms are completely soft.
6 Scrape the barbecue sauce into the saucepan with the mushrooms and stir to combine. Keep the saucy mushroom mixture warm while you toast the bread.
7 To serve, set a slice of toast on a plate, and spoon a quarter of the saucy mushrooms on top. Repeat with the remaining toast and mushrooms.
Nutrition information per serving: 293 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 47 g carbohydrates, 24 g sugar, 13 g protein, 704 mg sodium, 7 g fiber...Read more