Cookbook review written by
I first committed to Meatless Mondays as part of last year’s culinary resolutions, a concept which I have again added to my list for 2011. Honestly, my pledge came from a place of obligation rather than passion and while our family did manage to go most weeks with at least one day free of meat it felt like a chore. As a cook (and lover of meat) I just wasn’t feeling ‘it’, and I must admit that as a result the meals I threw together on Mondays were far from spectacular. And I like to be spectacular in my kitchen.
I’d have to say that my biggest challenge with Meatless Mondays has always been around recipe inspiration, and I typically rely on easy solutions such as pastas or salads unless I have a specific recipe in mind. So when I first heard of Kim O’Donnel’s new book – The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook – I was interested to find out if the concept of designing vegetarian recipes for meat eaters would successfully satisfy my family’s appetite. The idea seemed like a good one, as there are countless vegetarian cookbooks but not many geared towards those looking to reduce their consumption of meat rather than abstain from it completely.
Kim O’Donnel is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, and has written for the Washington Post, Real Simple, and Huffington Post. After committing to the concept of going meatless one day a week, Kim asked her readers at the Washington Post what they would need in order to integrate this concept into their lives. Their response? Recipes!
Written specifically for carnivores looking to integrate more plant-based meals into their diets, this book celebrates dietary diversity and meat in moderation. The overall tone is warm and not in the least intimidating, the author guiding you through each recipe in an encouraging manner. The recipes are substantial enough to satisfy meat eaters, the book designed as a collection of 52 menus (one for each week of the year) based on seasonal eating.
The ‘Make it a Meal’ sidebars are great for suggested side dishes with mix-and-match versatility, and each recipe includes icons denoting whether the dish is gluten-free, vegan, kid friendly or perfect for leftovers. There is a pantry lexicon, and kitchen tricks and tips scattered throughout the book which are all nice additions.
In my opinion the lack of photographs is unfortunate, as I prefer visual inspiration when tackling new frontiers with my palate. It’s a comfort thing; wanting photographic reassurances that I’m doing it ‘right’.
Meatless Mondays have now become an exciting culinary adventure in our household. A huge part of the reason for our renewed passion is this book which has definitely earned a place on my VIP Kitchen shelf. I know each week I’ll be reaching for inspiration from within its pages.
The whole concept of Meatless Mondays is to promote a decreased consumption of meat in order to improve personal health and the health of the planet. Becoming a once-a-week vegetarian is a trend that we are now seeing extended into restaurants, businesses, and even schools. To find out more about the Meatless Monday campaign, please visit www.meatlessmonday.com
Braised Winter Squash with Black Bean Sauce, Bok Choy & Coconut Rice
RATING: 4 out of 5 (inspiring dish full of great flavours)
THE TEST: The concept of steaming squash in a skillet is one that we have been enjoying of late. I love the extent to which this method speeds up the cooking time! While the squash was simmering I cooked the coconut rice, everything achieving a state of readiness at the same time…gotta love when that happens.
THE RESULTS: Kim O’Donnel describes this dish as having “gusto” and I couldn’t agree more. The flavour impact of the squash was a pleasant surprise, the brother of ginger, garlic and black bean sauce bringing a level of saltiness that paired well with the natural sweetness of the squash and enhanced the overall depth of the dish.
The crunch of the bok choy was the perfect accompaniment, and combined with the creamy coconut rice we had no choice but to chalk this meal up as a strong success. We’ve made the rice a few times since testing this recipe, and plan on making the entire meal again. Soon.
Jig-Inducing Falafel Burgers
RATING: 5 out of 5 (worth buying the book just for this recipe!)
THE TEST: So my test for this recipe ended up turning into a bit of a saga (all my fault!) First off I had to scour the city for dried chickpeas which proved more difficult than I had anticipated. Then each day I planned on making these falafels time seemed to speed up until I was left without enough hours in the day to soak the chickpeas. Then I ended up soaking them for several days until they became fermented and I had to toss them out. So in the end I must confess I used canned chickpeas, knowing that the texture would probably not work well as the recipe specifically says that canned chickpeas are too soft.
This recipe is straightforward and comes together easily, the only thing is that you need to manage your time accordingly (soak chickpeas for at least eight hours, pulverize the chickpeas and refrigerate for one hour, shape into patties and refrigerate for another 15 minutes, fry and finish in oven).
Everything made my kitchen smell exotic and fabulous, and the tahini sauce can be made ahead with leftovers used on roasted cauliflower (yum!)
THE RESULTS: These were hands down some of the best falafel we’ve ever had! Opting to make smaller patties and stuff them into fresh pita with the tahini sauce along with cucumber, red onion and tomatoes, this recipe will be making frequent reappearances on our dinner table. The seasoning was authentic and tasty, although because I used canned chickpeas less salt is needed than called for in the recipe.
The falafels were golden and crisp on the outside but moist and tender on the inside, and not overly greasy as has been the case with our past falafel attempts. Oh and in case you were wondering, canned chickpeas are definitely too soft in texture. Lesson learned.
Sheppard’s Pie with Chard-Lentil Filling
RATING: 4 out of 5 (hearty, healthy comfort food)
THE TEST: There are quite a few steps involved in making this recipe, including the mashed potato element, lentil mixture, swiss chard filling, and onion gravy. However all of the individual recipes are clearly laid out so as not to confuse or overwhelm the cook, and a helpful guideline is also included that tells you when to make each separate component.
Overall everything came together nicely, but I must admit to being a tad confused when it came to the lentils. The recipe calls for onions, carrots and thyme to be simmered in two tablespoons of wine until reduced. Considering only two tablespoons (meant to be two cups?) of liquid was called for it was a very dry mixture and I ended up quickly adding vegetable stock to liquefy the mixture. Instead of water I opted to use stock which imparted more flavour. I also added a lot more than the ¾ cup called for in the recipe.
THE RESULTS: This was the first recipe I tested and I must admit to being skeptical as to the flavour impact of the dish as well as its ability to stand up to our usual meat-filled version. Boy was I wrong! Not only did we leave the table completely satisfied (and not in that fake satisfied way that has you scrounging in the fridge an hour later) but the flavour was terrific as well. Each layer held its own distinct taste that paired well with the others. The creamy garlic infused mashed potatoes were topped by a golden crust of parmesan, the swiss chard was hearty in texture and tasted great with the sprinkle of fresh nutmeg, while the lentils were earthy and rich.
I could have kicked myself when I realized I had completely forgotten about the onion gravy, a component to the dish that originally had me so excited. Ugh. Next time I will definitely be sure to make the gravy as I can only imagine how delicious the pie tastes with heaps of it spooned over top.
Mr. Spock’s reaction to this recipe was rather interesting, as he really enjoyed the taste and heartily supports us making it again in the near future. His only qualm was that it was called ‘Shepherd’s Pie’ which in his meat-eating mind immediately conjured up comparisons with ground beef. He’d rather it be called something simple like ‘chard-lentil pie’ as he takes issue with vegetarian dishes trying to substitute meat instead of standing on their own. His point? This is a standout dish and deserves to be considered by itself rather than vying for support in comparison to traditional meat-filled shepherd’s pie. Ya it’s nitpicky. That’s why he is called Mr. Spock and not Mr. T, Mr. Darcy, or Mr Bean for that matter.
Food for thought from my hubby…