“The Conscious Cook” by Tal Ronnen (with guest chefs Scot Jones, Chad Sarno, Dave Anderson, and Serafina Magnussen) is a fun book if you want to spend a day exploring and trying some novel ingredients and techniques. If you’ve been a committed vegetarian, that may not be too difficult. For the most part, these are beautiful, healthy, and sheik recipes.
I enjoy the approach of this book. There is a lot to explore. This is not for “rice and beans” vegetarians. This is gourmet, healthy, and interesting. This is sophisticated dinner party. Even non-vegetarians will be impressed by these dishes.
The book is conventionally arranged–but that is where convention stops: 1. Starters and Small Plates; 2) Salads; 3) Sandwiches; 4) Soups; 5) Entrees; and 6) Desserts.
There are also chapters on ingredients and Ronnen’s favorite vegan restaurants.
What would I recommend to vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike?
First, summer party: the Shiso Bites. Shiso, also called “Perilla” or “Sesame Leaf” is very easy to grow in temperate climates and hardly ever found in U.S. grocery stores in fresh form. It has a taste like no other herb and so many uses–wrap meatballs in it (sorry Tal). Buy a packet for $1, it self-seeds, and you’ll have a plentiful supply the rest of your life. But back to Tal Ronnen’s recipe: He uses the leaves to wrap grapefruit slices, adding a little olive oil, sesame seeds, horseradish, and cabbage. Frankly, I think this recipe would be delightful with just the Shiso leaves, (good) olive oil, and sesame seeds. A very light and refreshing snack. A perfect hors d’oeuvres.
Second, (back to the summer party): a green bean and potato salad with arugula. What makes Ronnen’s different (besides the addition of arugula) is the miso dressing. Trust me, people will be surprised. It is a simple, yet captivating recipe.
Third: Similarly, the cucumber and mint salad. The surprise? Tahini dressing.
While the book has many complicated recipes with somewhat unfamiliar ingredients, there are a number of these simple recipes–with a twist.
Fourth: I greatly enjoyed the “Hot Italian Banana Peppers Stuffed with Fresh Herb Risotto and Soy Mozzarella with Fresh Basil Lime Sauce,” although I have to admit, I used real mozzarella. Couldn’t help it.
Fifth: The “Celery Root Soup” was also awesome and a great use for the much underutilized celery root.
Sixth: Now, I’ve had portobello mushroom “burgers” before, but Ronnen’s, made by cooking the mushrooms in a cajun-flavored marinade and topped with both avocado and remoulade, really takes the cake.
Seventh: “Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets with Yellow Tomato Bearnaise and Mashes Potatoes.” Keep it coming.
This is very gourmet vegetarian with beautiful photographs by Linda Long to help you present gorgeous and flavorful dishes that will awe your friends.