Our regional (I woud say local but I have to drive to Columbus or Cincinnati) used bookstore chain had a big sale last week. And to make matters more tempting, there were different coupons for each day. And I have 2 locations within an easy drive of me (versus Columbus). OY. Serious damage was done.
I picked up some nifty but predictable finds, some books I had already been looking for, and, the piece de resistance, a total discovery. Those are my favorite used bookstore finds–books I have never heard of by authors I have never heard of. This time it was Passionate Vegetarian, by Crescent Dragonwagon. What made this book really unique–in addition to the fact that I already have a bazillion recipes bookmarked–is that it was written by a woman who was a successful, renowned (at least in the foodie world) cook who was a closet vegetarian for 25 years.
That is just fascinating to me. She and her husband ran a B&B in Arkansas at a time when vegetarianism would not have flown, so to speak, and so she cooked meat and meat products at their inn but only ate vegetarian food herself. Not only do I find this plain interesting, but I think it must give a vegetarian insight into what tastes like it is missing to some of us meat-eaters when we eat vegetarian food. Especially Western vegetarian food, as opposed to, say, Indian food, where nothing tastes like it is missing because in most cases it was never there.
Am I making any sense? At any rate, it is one of the first general vegetarian books I have looked at where I did not immediately want to sub in chicken broth. Where I wanted to make the recipes as written, or pretty darn close. To be fair, I have only made one recipe so far, so I cannot exactly recommend it without reservations or anything, but it is a fascinating read so I do recommend it from that perspective if nothing else. Dragonwagon is clearly a gifted writer.
This salad was the first dish to really pop out at me. Now, despite what I wrote above, I did not make the recipe as written, primarily because the darn store was out of cilantro and her dressing calls for 2 1/2 cups of it! I don’t grow enough to account for 2 1/2 cups! But by then I was married to the idea of it, and so decided to wing my way through it. So, with the caveat that you may see this salad in a slightly different incarnation one day on this website, one with loads of wonderful cilantro flavor, here is the salad as I made it. It would make a great main dish salad for someone with the right mind set–especially if you increased the sweet potato and black beans–but I was serving it to my mom, so I served it with grilled marinated skirt steak.
*This made a lot–you might cut in half for regular family dinner or if using as a side dish.
**Note that you must make the zucchini and vinaigrette in advance (the zucchini marinates in the vinaigrette for at least 2 hours if not overnight), but if you want you can make it all in advance and bring it to room temperature before serving. I recommend reading through the recipe once before starting.
7 slender but grocery store sized zucchini (use more if you are using the tiny baby zucchini), sliced 3 times length-wise to make 1/4-inch (approx.) thin strips
1 sweet red bell pepper
2 large sweet onions, cut into thick slices
3 large sweet potatoes (use 2 if not a main dish), cut into 1-inch pieces (I do not skin)
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained (1 can if using as side dish)
3 ears of corn, shucked
lemon tomato cilantro vinaigrette (see below)
2 large handfuls of sweet, preferably local, cherry tomatoes (sun burst are especially nice)
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Spray a cookie sheet with oil and place in it one layer of zucchini slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and slightly browned. Repeat with remaining zucchini. Set the zucchini aside in a flat container when done.
Wipe the pan if it is full of zucchini water. Replace the zucchini with the bell pepper, cut in half, and the onion slices. Spray with some more oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until softened and slightly charred. Set the veggies aside to cool.
Once again wipe down the pan and replace with the sweet potato chunks (do in 2 batches if necessary to not overcrowd the pan). Spray with some oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until slightly charred and fork tender but still holding their shape. Set aside to cool.
Last roast the sweet corn still attached to the cob. Turn it occasionally–when it is brighter yellow, slightly charred and tender, remove to cool. While you are waiting for the veggies to cool make the vinaigrette.
When the vinaigrette is done, toss the zucchini slices in it and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. If you made the other ingredients in advance–I did–wait for them to cool and place them in individual tupperware containers until ready to serve. The corn should be sliced away from the cob before storing.
When ready to serve, cut the zucchini slices into bite size chunks and place in a large bowl with all of the vinaigrette. Add the corn, peppers and onions and toss. Add the sweet potato and black beans and toss gently again. Last toss with the raw cherry tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste.
Lemon Tomato Cilantro Vinaigrette
Inspired by Crescent Dragonwagon
1 handful, maybe 1/2 cup, cilantro, roughly chopped
1 handful, maybe 1/2 cup, flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
juice of 2 juicy lemons, about 1/2-2/3 cup
2 fat cloves garlic, chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, preferably local and fresh
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Place the first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend smooth. Add oil to taste, blending, and emulsify. I say to taste because I always want less oil than recipes call for. In this case I used maybe 1/3-1/2 cup oil. But maybe you want more. Salt and pepper to taste. Use as directed above.