Admittedly, I tend to take on too much. As I sit here, at the end of my first week of the second term of graduate school, contemplating whether or not it is appropriate to use a dirty kitchen towel as a snot rag and starting to prepare my first recipe review for Cooking For A Vegan Lover’s Cookbook Club I know: I have a very precarious balance of things going on, and it is possible that this one tiny little added thing (the commitment to carefully follow a set of directions written by someone else and review the outcome) might just be the thing that forces me to fall into the abyss of productivity and never come back.
Alas! I could not resist. I love vegan cookbooks, I can spend hours perusing the culinary isles of a book store thinking of the possibilities. I have the propensity to make substitutions in my ingredients based on what I have on hand, or to add spices based on my tastes (namely, more salt, bragg’s liquid aminos, nutritional yeast, cumin, and sriracha) but to me there is something both scientific and fancy about letting someone else do the dictation. It inspires a leap of trust in the process of creation-something I am not entirely used to but have grown to relish.
The first book on the queue is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Veganomicon. This is perhaps an obvious choice as the sheer size of this behemoth of a cookbook gives it a seminal Joy Of Cooking feel but it is not the size of the book alone that gives it it’s reputation. Isa’s recipes (in my experience) are almost without fail. It is clear that she actually tests each one, and that there is care and attention to detail in the creation. Each recipe is approached with consideration and flair. Despite the fact that I hate to flock with the masses, I must say: Moskowitz is one of the best vegan cookbook authors I have invited into my kitchen. Of course, there are less obvious choices, but this certainly makes sense as a start.
I wanted to approach a recipe that I could produce using primarily local and seasonal ingredients. I tend to love salad at all times of year but sometimes the bite of a cold vegetable chills me to my core and leaves me feeling cold for the duration of the day. For this reason Isa’s Autumn Root Salad with Warm Maple Fig Dressing really caught my eye. It was still a salad packed with greens but also had the added benefits of a starch (sweet potatoes in this case) and a warm dressing. I knew I had to try it.
I had red onions on hand but no shallots, which presented a bit of a challenge. Usually I will say “Feh! What’s the difference?!” and use what I have, but in an attempt to glean some sort of accuracy I acquiesced. I bit the bullet and went to the grocery store. With a new shallot purchase in hand I forged on: this recipe must be made in it’s entirety!
First, the instructions asked to prepare the beets by roasting them whole for an hour or so and then letting them cool to slice. The sweet potatoes were prepared by slicing and boiling. Both the beets and potatoes came out lacking a little something that I think could only be textural. The lack of oil used made the textures all blend together. My advice is to slice the potatoes and beets together, (1/2 inch slices should work), to spray with olive oil, and roast them in the oven. This would take a ton of time off of the recipe (sliced beets roast incredibly quickly, whole beets not so much), reduce dishes, and add some crisp to parts of the potato for more textural variety.
The dressing was a warm amalgamation of dried fig, white wine, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and spices. The result was incredibly rich, and offset the bitterness of the greens well. One caveat: the amounts called for in the recipe produced a relatively insane amount of dressing. I found that putting the leftovers on sandwiches,or boiling the mix in a big pot of lentils made for creative culinary exploration with what was left but one could easily half the recipe and do without the experimentation. The flavors are so strong that a little really does go a long way.
All in all, the premise of the recipe is simple: roast veggies, chill, simmer dressing, blend, mix together and I found myself a bit surprised that I had critiques when it came to the outcome of the taste. A few things I will say: The layout and instructions were very clear and concise, the ingredients were simple to find, the final product was satisfying to snack on. A bit of streamlining in the process of roasting could help exponentially as it would take this recipe from being a delightful seasonal accompaniment to any meal to FAST delightful seasonal accompaniment to any meal. I would certainly make this recipe again but next time I will add my own techniques into the mix. A little Sriracha on top wouldn’t hurt either.