The vegetarian food flip

"The plant-food road to deliciousness allows you to be an artist as well as a cook".

vegetables 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
vegetables 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘When I cook, I want as much space on the plate as possible for my beloved garden vegetables,” wrote celebrated vegetarian cookbook author Mollie Katzen in her just-published book, The Heart of the Plate.
For the cook who wants to make vegetable-centered meals appealing for his or her family, the key is to use vegetables in as many ways as possible. For example, Katzen makes green matza balls by adding finely minced broccoli to the batter. She serves the bright green kneidlach in homemade vegetable stock; they would be delicious in chicken soup as well.
Over the years, Katzen’s vegetarian menus have evolved. “My early recipes were packed with rich ingredients like butter, cheese, sour cream, eggs – in large part to appease those who might be worried that the lack of meat would leave everyone hungry,” wrote Katzen. Now she uses much less of these ingredients. “My food is sharper, livelier, spicier, lighter and more relaxed than it used to be.”
Katzen likes to design dishes using a principle she calls “the great food flip.”
“Reversing the ratio of vegetables (and sometimes fruit) to carbohydrates (aka “starch”) is one of my favorite techniques for delivering more garden items to the plate in delicious ways.”
The idea came to Katzen when she was working with the Culinary Institute of America on ways to help chefs create healthier desserts. She told me they developed a formula called “the pastry flip,” where the fruit that was formerly the garnish for a rich dessert becomes the main element, and a small slice of the rich dessert becomes the garnish. Katzen applies this concept to comfort foods like rice or pasta, flipping the ratio, so there are more vegetables and less “starch” in a portion. In her seasonal lasagnas, for example, there are fewer noodles than in classic recipes but they are still there, so people still have the satisfaction of eating pasta.
An artist known for illustrating her own cookbooks, Katzen encourages cooks to plan their dinners with beauty in mind. “The plant-food road to deliciousness allows you to be an artist as well as a cook, showcasing the beauty of the ingredients as you mix things up in creative yet taste-logical ways. Prepare for your kitchen spirit to be freed up as you embrace color contrasts in bean and rice combinations, pairing orange rice with black beans, yellow rice with red beans, and red rice with fresh green beans.”
Katzen’s “Cozy Mashes” reminds us of the vegetable purées we loved in France.
She uses cooked beets to make beet crush, flavored with wine vinegar and with garlic heated in olive oil, and she told me she likes it piled on yogurt and topped with crisp, fried lentils. Her smoky mashed eggplant is made from grilled whole eggplants puréed with golden sautéed onions and garlic, and is seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Cashews and fresh ginger flavor her curried mashed carrots (see recipe).
Mashed vegetables can be nests for fried or poached eggs, platforms for pilafs or spreads for toast or crispy polenta triangles. They can also be used like any pesto, noted Katzen, “stirred into or heaped on top of freshly cooked pasta, or nestled under it.”
“Consider using a Cozy Mash as the base of a layered plate,” wrote Katzen. “Begin by making a lovely mound or wide circle in the center. Expand it with simple, contrasting items, such as grilled vegetables, some slaw or a few spoonfuls of a salad, and a garnish of sliced fruits or homemade pickled red onions... Crown the whole arrangement with... plain toasted nuts... a touch of shaved cheese... This is a loose template.”
Indeed, a similar template could be used for non-vegetarian meals as well. A modest amount of fish or meat would simply be a garnish for a generous amount of vegetables.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning books, Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations and Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.

Curried Mashed Carrots and Cashews
This recipe is from The Heart of the Plate. Author Katzen wrote: “Moderately spicy from the ginger and with just the right degree of richness from the cashews, this mash is intensely satisfying... You can eat it plain for lunch, stacked [used as a bed for other cooked vegetables, grains or beans] for dinner, or simply as a bolstering afternoon snack, reheated in a microwave.” You can also heap it onto toast and top it with a few shelled, lightly steamed edamame (green soy beans) or fava beans.
If you put a few slices of ginger, some onion and a clove or two of garlic into the carrot cooking water, you’ll end up with a lovely broth. You can heat it and serve it straight as a very light appetizer or a nourishing snack – or add it to soups. You can also use the broth to thin this mash into a soup.
This will keep for 4 to 5 days in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. It also freezes beautifully and reheats well, covered, in a 120C (250F) oven or in a microwave.
Makes 4 or 5 servings
❖ 900 grams (2 pounds) carrots
❖ 2 tablespoons oil, such as olive or grapeseed oil, or a mixture of both
❖ 1 cup chopped red onion
❖ 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
❖ 1 teaspoon curry powder
❖ ½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
❖ 1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
❖ ½ cup unsalted cashews, lightly toasted
❖ Up to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
❖ 1 teaspoon light-colored honey (optional, depending on the sweetness of the carrots)
Peel the carrots and cut them into 2.5-cm (1-inch) chunks, then place them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the carrots become fork-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a medium skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the onion and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes, then sprinkle in the curry powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Sauté for another minute or so, then reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, and cook, stirring often, for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until everything is very soft.
(You can add up to a few tablespoons of the carrot-cooking water to the mix.) Drain the carrots in a strainer or colander over a bowl in the sink, saving the water. Transfer the carrots (it’s fine if they’re still hot or warm; just be careful) to a food processor, along with the onion mixture, scraping in every last drop of flavor – plus any and all liquid – from the pan. Add the cashews.
Purée to your desired consistency, adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cooking water as needed, to move things along and keep the mixture spoon-soft.
Transfer to a bowl and season to taste with lemon juice and a little more salt as desired, adding a touch of honey if you’d like it sweeter.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Spaghetti with Cauliflower in Olive-Caper Sauce
This recipe is from my book Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home. It is based on pasta puttanesca, a famous southern Italian specialty. The tomato sauce is boldly flavored with black olives, capers and sautéed garlic and is easy to whip up from foods in the pantry.
When we prepare pasta dishes, we try to enhance their nutrition by slipping some vegetables into the water while the pasta cooks.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
❖ 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
❖ A 400-gram (14-ounce) can tomatoes, drained and chopped
❖ ⅓ to ½ cup pitted good quality black olives, such as Kalamata, halved
❖ 1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed
❖ 225 grams (8 ounces) whole wheat, durum wheat or soy spaghetti
❖ 2 cups medium cauliflower florets
❖ 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper
❖ Cayenne pepper to taste
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add garlic and sauté over medium heat for 15 seconds.
Add tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens. Add olives and capers and heat a few seconds.
Cook spaghetti uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water uncovered over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add cauliflower, return to a boil and continue cooking for 6 minutes or until pasta is tender but firm to the bite.
Drain pasta and cauliflower and transfer to a serving bowl. Toss with 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil and with tomato mixture and parsley. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.