May 15, 2013

Veggies finally getting star billing on our plates

People are realizing that meat is not the end-all and be-all of a satisfying meal, vegetable fans exult.

By MICHELE KAYAL The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

"When you come from a very meat and potatoes diet, it's hard to imagine adapting those dishes," Dusoulier says. "You just feel like you're removing meat. If you focus on natively vegetarian dishes, those are meant to be meat-free, so they're perfect without a meat component."

And a growing number of "celebrity" vegetables have replaced the tired portobello mushroom that began standing in for burgers on restaurant menus in the 1980s. Once reviled items like Brussels sprouts -- which Katzen says "were almost a punch line" -- are being roasted, grilled and julienned. Kale salad is on trendy menus across the country, and kale chips -- which Katzen says she made in the '90s to great guffaws -- are on grocery store shelves. Ramps, in season right now, are yet another hip, cool plant to munch. Cauliflower may be next.

"Cauliflower is the new kale," says Katzen, noting the prevalence of roasted cauliflower "steaks" in magazines and on restaurant menus. "I'm seeing cauliflower everywhere."

But perhaps the biggest change is that eating vegetables is no longer about avoiding meat. While early chefs tried to reconfigure vegetables and grains to resemble meat in taste and texture as closely as possible, today's vegetable cooking focuses on the best qualities of the produce. And yes, sometimes meat is even involved. This vegetable-forward approach can be seen on cookbook covers, where the word "vegetarian" has either disappeared or been minimized.

"Vegetables Please" by Carolyn Humphries (DK Publishing, 2013) bills itself as "The more vegetables, less meat cookbook." "Eat Your Vegetables" by Arthur Potts Dawson (Octopus Publishing, 2012) extols the virtues of chilled pea soup, but also offers recipes such as lamb tagine with sugar snap peas. Morgan's "Roots" mixes purely vegetarian recipes such as raw beet salad with beef-wrapped burdock root.

"It's safe to come out now and say 'Here's a bunch of vegetarian food,'" says Katzen, author of the forthcoming "The Heart of the Plate" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept. 2013). "It's a mainstream choice. I can confidently put it right at the top of my cover and people won't run away from it. They won't think 'It's a handbook for a club I didn't join.'"

RATATOUILLE TIAN

Start to finish: 2 hours 45 minutes (20 minutes active)

Servings: 6

11/3 pounds small eggplants

Fine sea salt

3 teaspoons herbes de Provence (or a mix of dried thyme, rosemary, basil and/or oregano), divided

11/3 pounds medium zucchini

13/4 pounds plum tomatoes

Olive oil

2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced

8 fresh sage leaves, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

An hour before you plan to cook, cut the eggplants crosswise into rounds about 1/8 inch thick. Set the rounds in a colander, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt. Toss to coat, then let rest in the sink for 1 hour to allow some of the moisture to be drawn out of the slices.

With kitchen or paper towels, pat the eggplant slices dry. Set the slices in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the herbes de Provence.

Cut the zucchini and tomatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch rounds. Place in 2 bowls and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon of the herbes de Provence.

Heat the oven to 350. Use the olive oil to lightly coat an 8-by-10-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Scatter the sliced onions evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a touch of olive oil.

Arrange a row of overlapping tomato slices along one side of the dish. Pack them in tightly so that they are almost upright. Sprinkle with a little sage and garlic. Follow with a row of overlapping eggplant slices alongside it, then a row of zucchini slices, sprinkling each with a little sage and garlic as you go. Repeat the pattern until you've filled the dish and used up all the vegetables, packing the rows of vegetables together very tightly. If you have vegetables remaining at the end, slip them among their peers to flesh out rows that seem to need it.

Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, cover loosely with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Increase the heat to 425 and bake for another 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the vegetables are tender and the tips of the slices are appealingly browned, about another 30 minutes. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

 

Michele Kayal is an editor at americanfoodroots.com. Follow her on Twitter: @hyphenatedchef

 

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