In the culinary world, vegans tend to get a bad rap. They're stereotyped as anemic zealots, ready to crash our dinner parties wielding stalks of celery as they try to force us to espouse the virtues of shunning meat. In reality, vegan food can be a goldmine of adventurous flavors for even the most carnivorous amongst us.
Armed with this knowledge and a dose of healthy curiosity, we challenged ourselves to come up with an complete plant-based feast that celebrates seasonal vegetables in an entirely indulgent way.
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This soup might seem plain, but trust us. Paul Bertolli, who was at the helm of Chez Panisse and Oliveto for over 20 years, knows exactly how to make a vegetable become the best it can be. This recipe comes from Cooking by Hand, Bertolli's IACP award-winning book of recipes and essays, and makes for a soup that's delicate, sweet, and smooth as a flannel scarf. - Kristen
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion (6 ounces), sliced thin
1 head very fresh cauliflower (about 1-1/2 pounds), broken into florets
Salt, to taste
5 1/2 cups water, divided
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat without letting it brown for 15 minutes.
2. Add the cauliflower, salt to taste, and 1/2 cup water. Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot tightly and stew the cauliflower for 15 to 18 minutes, or until tender. Then add another 4 1/2 cups hot water, bring to a low simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes uncovered.
3. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender to a very smooth, creamy consistency. Let the soup stand for 20 minutes. In this time it will thicken slightly.
4. Thin the soup with 1/2 cup hot water. Reheat the soup. Serve hot, drizzled with a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.
The dough was fantastic to work with -- simple to knead and gather, both by hand and with the stand mixer/dough hook. (I made the recipe twice. I added 1 more teaspoon of salt on the second round.) Loved the toasted wheat germ and the texture and scent it provided the bread. This is a nice recipe for a soft crusted loaf, perfect for paninis or bahn mi. - MrsWheelbarrow
This is our new throw-together-10-minutes-before-the-guests-show-up appetizer. The figs and olives strike a lovely balance of savory and sweet, with the balsamic vinegar adding twang and the rosemary anchoring the spread with its woodsy scent. We made ours in a food processor and loved the fine texture, but chop it all rustic-like if you prefer. - Amanda & Merrill
Meg should be proud of her namesake mushrooms. Earthy and bright, hardlikearmour's homage to her sister is as versatile a mushroom dish as you'll find. We spooned it up warm straight from the bowl, piled it atop crisp crostini, and then wished for more so we could crown a bed of vibrant greens with it. We love the mix of shiitake and cremini, as well as the clever technique of cooking the mushrooms in a dry pan (we used a cast iron skillet with great success) so they really caramelize -- we may just be converts for life on this one. - Amanda & Merrill
Fregola lends a hearty feel to this dish and we loved how the rich flavors of caramelized butternut squash and toasted pine nuts were balanced by the musky charmoula (made with cilantro, cumin, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, sweet and spicy smoked paprika and cayenne). There's a lot going on in this dish and all of it is good. Add the lemon juice to taste, and if pine nuts are expensive, feel free to substitute toasted walnuts or almonds. Roast a chicken, grilled some shoulder lamb chops or just make a nice big salad with some goat cheese, and a fine dinner will be yours. - Amanda & Merrill
This may be the most thoughtful sauteed greens recipe we've ever encountered. Beet greens (which we think deserve more attention in the kitchen) are usually wilted in hot olive oil with a little garlic, and they're delicious this way, but Marissa Grace Desmond plotted out ways to amplify the greens' sweetness while tempering it with chilies. She has you brown garlic with shallot and red pepper flakes, then layer in sugar, black pepper and salt, before adding the greens and wilting them. Just before serving you splash the beet greens with sherry vinegar, which electrifies the whole dish. - Amanda & Merrill
This has all the makings of a great holiday side -- you can prepare its parts ahead of time. None of them are taxing. And the resulting dish is like nothing you've had before. The squash rings are richly caramelized, the relish zingy, and the lime juice and zest brighten it all, keeping a sweet dish in check. We'll be making this one for years to come. - Amanda & Merrill
True to her goal of making global cuisine accessible, onetribegourmet's inventive and delicious recipe introduces za'atar, a traditional Middle Eastern spice blend to crisp, oven-roasted potatoes. We're especially thrilled to have a blueprint for mixing our own za'atar, which would perk up just about anything, from roast chicken to scrambled eggs to a nice slab of grilled steak. Onetribegourmet notes that the spices can be ground, but we love the extra-crispy bites of potato that result from leaving them coarse. - Amanda & Merrill
We loved the idea of fondue made with chocolate and cajeta (a close cousin of dulce de leche), and when we saw that hardlikearmour used coconut milk to make her cajeta, well -- there was no holding us back. Her fondue is silken and almost custardy, punctuated with rum and vanilla and generously salted, the way we like caramel to be. Not surprisingly, it is quite rich and sweet, and we found our favorite dipping instrument ended up being salty, extra-dark pretzels. We highly recommend you try the combination. - Amanda & Merrill