Saturday January 16, 2016
Opening Mollie Katzen’s The Heart of the Plate, I scan over the first page, where an illustration scribbles in faux-handwritten text: “What pulls us into the kitchen?” Below, she gives suggestions like Motivation, Access, Attitude, Variety, and Time Management. All are possibilities when one enters this space -- Katzen understands and strives to communicate it in her book by emphasizing a message of inclusion, where everyone is welcome in the kitchen.
Kazen starts the book with a set of Vegetarian and Vegan Menus to ensure that a meatless meal can be satiating and satisfying. You can begin with Grilled Haloumi Cheese on watermelon slices, followed by a Mushroom Popover Pie, Mashed Broccoli on the side, and a Fruit-Studded Madeline Cake to finish. Another option is the Caramelized Onion Frittata with Artichoke Hearts, Zucchini, and Goat Cheese paired with a Grilled Bread and Kale Salad with Red Onions, Walnuts, and Figs. End the evening on a slightly-sweet note with the Brown Sugar-Roasted Rhubarb with Cinnamon-Toast Crumbs.
I, however, would center my perfect meal around the Crispy-Coated Eggplant Parmesan “Burgers”, whose Parmesan exterior evokes memories of the rich and comforting eggplant Parmesan of my youth. Dredged in lightly-beaten eggs and seasoned with thyme, oregano, or sage, these are a step-up on the classic in both flavor and form. Taking on the shape of a burger, the eggplant is given all the excitement appropriate for a simple, but celebratory, backyard barbeque.
The vegan menus are no more challenging to create than their dairy-accepting alternatives. Though the names are slightly more ethnic (Onion Pakoras dipped in Pomegranate-Lime Glaze, Mushroom Wonton Soup, and Muhammara -- a Turkish sauce akin to the Spanish Romesco), they still retain Katzen’s adherence to simplicity and accessibility. The Pan-Grilled Mushroom Slices require just a half-page explanation, cooking them simply in a pan of hot oil until golden, finishing with a sprinkling of salt. She also suggests using them as a bacon substitute, which can be done just by adding a little paprika to the mix. Use as a topping for any savory dish -- I’m thinking the Cajun-Style Tofu Burgers -- and you have a complete, delicious, and vegan meal.
With photos centering in upon the array of colors present in each recipe and illustrations to complement the vegetables’ natural vibrancy, The Heart of the Plate is a book laden with culinary and artistic inspiration. I could spend an afternoon with this on my couch, reading the recipes beginning to end, as easily as I could take this into the kitchen to conjure up a weeknight meal. Katzen ends her introduction beautifully, reminding us that as we use this book, we adapt the recipes, allowing them to become our own: “I hope and trust the food you prepare will reward you and the people around you with all the inspiration, delight, and nourishment you deserve.”