Have you ever been planning a party and realized that one of your guests is a vegetarian? Has your teenager come home and announced that cows are too cute to eat? Then the newest cookbook from Pat Crocker and Nettie Cronish just might save your bacon, so to speak.
Flex Appeal; a Vegetarian Cookbook for Families with Meat-Eaters (Whitecap; May 2014 ;$29.95) is more than a cookbook. It’s a guide through the sometimes treacherous landscape of food choices in the twenty- first century. We’re facing increasing health, environmental and ethical dilemmas regarding the way we raise and process food animals. It can be tough to balance that with a culture that says we should have what we want, when we want it. Flex Appeal shows us that we can please both sides and still have dinner on the table in less than an hour. At the end of a long day, that’s what really matters to most of us.
Nettie Cronish describes her younger self as an evangelical vegetarian (she blames Paul McCartney for this). These days she takes a more laid back approach and calls herself a vegetarian ambassador. She certainly appreciates the challenge of a mixed diet family; her children are non-vegetarians.
Pat Crocker is a home economist and writer who is passionate about health, herbs and food. She’s also the photographer for Flex Appeal. Photos of the dishes are often accompanied by wonderful shots of the ingredients in their raw form.
The book has over 100 recipes, most of which can be made in less than an hour. There are easy to read ingredient lists and make-ahead suggestions as well as time saving tips. The highlight of the book is that most of the recipes have Flex Appeal. These are additional instructions for including a meat or fish option for two portions of the recipe, and means that everyone can enjoy the same dish and that the cook doesn’t have to do double duty.
These recipes are not light, salad-y affairs that are saved by the meat or fish options. They are hearty, comforting foods in their own right. I could easily imagine making them on any weeknight with or without the meat.
Flex Appeal introduces the reader to a number of ingredients that may be new but gives wonderful descriptions, photos and instructions for their use. A chapter on seasonings and sauces was a nice addition and includes instructions for making your own ricotta cheese. There is also a dessert chapter which has some surprisingly decadent chocolate recipes. My favourite, however, was the Balsamic Roasted Strawberries. I was intrigued by this recipe as it looked more like a treatment for fish than fruit but it was delicious.
If you insist on eating dinner before your dessert, try the Lemon Tarragon Linguini. Linguini noodles are tossed with a lemon herb dressing served with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. Pine nuts or sunflower seeds add richness to the dressing. The optional chicken breast is poached in broth with lemongrass for an extra layer of lemon flavour.
Another great option for a weeknight dinner or lunch on the run is Grilled Vegetable Shwarma with Tahini Dressing. I am addicted to shawarma and am always looking for a good homemade version. I was concerned that there didn’t seem to be a lot of spice in the vegetable mixture but the smoky cumin brought out the best flavours of the vegetables while the tahini dressing finished it off beautifully. The lamb was a tasty addition.
Whether you are vegetarian or omnivore, Flex Appeal is the answer. This book is packed full of dishes that swing both ways.
TRACY TURLIN is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at email@example.com
Photos and recipes courtesy of Flex Appeal by Pat Crocker and Nettie Cronish, published by Whitecap Books (2014)
Lemon Tarragon Linguine with Chicken Flex Appeal
The tart lemon and fragrant, licorice-tasting tarragon are a great taste combination, and also perfectly complement the chicken option. Pine nuts add a soft, almost creamy texture, and are also a good match for this dish. —Pat
Makes 4 servings.
1 lb (500 g) linguini noodles
1/2 cup (125 mL) Lemon Tarragon Dressing (recipe follows)
4 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
2 buffalo mozzarella rounds, torn in half (see About Fresh Mozzarella, next page)
4 sprigs fresh tarragon
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and bring back to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or until al dente.
Drain and toss with Lemon Tarragon Dressing.
Divide the tomato slices evenly among 4 plates. Divide the pasta into 4 portions and swirl onto tomatoes. Garnish with mozzarella halves and a sprig of tarragon, if desired.
Makes 2 servings
2 cups (500 mL) chicken broth or water
1 piece (3 inches/7.5 cm) lemongrass (optional)
1 large (1/3 lb/170 g) skinless, boneless chicken breast
In a saucepan, bring the broth and lemongrass, if using, to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 9 to 10 minutes or until the chicken turns opaque and there is no sign of pink on the inside. Chicken is cooked safely when a meat thermometer reads 165F (74C) when inserted into the meatiest part.
Let cool and slice into crosswise strips. Divide in half and add to 2 of the plates in step 3.
Lemon Tarragon Dressing
Makes 1/2 cup (125 mL)
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh tarragon (see Working with Tarragon, below)
1/4 cup (60 mL) sunflower seeds or pine nuts
2 Tbsp (30 mL) grated lemon rind
5 Tbsp (75 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar or to taste
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the tarragon, sunflower seeds, lemon rind, lemon juice and olive oil. Shake to mix well. Taste and add sugar to desired sweetness.
About Fresh Mozzarella
The mozzarella most widely used by North Americans (mostly for pizza) is the low-moisture variety, which is drier and somewhat harder than fresh mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella is high-moisture, soft and delicate. Fresh mozzarella, which is what we recommend for this recipe, is found in specialty food stores and has a shorter shelf life. We love it for this recipe because it can be easily broken or pulled apart and is the perfect texture to eat with the heritage tomatoes and tarragon linguini. Once the linguini is plated, we dredge the mozzarella halves in the Tarragon Dressing at the bottom of the bowl to coat them with the seeds and tarragon.
Our word mozzarella comes from the Italian mozzare, which means to cut, a technique used in the making of mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella may be made from buffalo or cow’s milk, and in Italy raw milk is still used because of its flavour. An Italian specialty, burrata (from the Italian word for buttered) would be a perfect cheese for this dish if you can find it—try Italian specialty or cheese shops. It’s made by forming fresh mozzarella around a lump of sweet cream butter or by mixing mozzarella with cream and wrapping it in fresh mozzarella.
Working with Tarragon
The first rule when working with this aromatic, anise-flavoured herb is to taste it to gauge the intensity of its fragrance and peppery, pine-licorice taste. Start with a small amount in recipes and add more if you like it. Cooking diminishes the aroma, but the flavour is sometimes intensified, especially if teamed with fats such as butter, oils or cream cheeses. In this recipe, you may wish to use less than 1/4 cup (60 mL), or substitute chopped fresh basil if you prefer its milder, nutmeg-spiked taste.
Grilled Vegetable Shawarma with Tahini Dressing with Lamb Flex Appeal
Lamb is the meat of choice for this Middle Eastern dish, but these hefty rolls are definitely good without the meat, so try the veggie version first. We used whole wheat pocketless pitas, but you could stuff this into a pita pocket and make it easier to eat. Either way, the taste is divine. —Pat
Makes 4 servings.
3 Tbsp (45 mL) coconut or avocado oil, divided
1 onion, sliced
2 cups (500 mL) cubed eggplant
1 cup (250 mL) sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin
2 cups (500 mL) spinach leaves
4 pitas, warmed (see Warming Wraps)
1/2 cup (125 mL) Tahini Dressing (recipe follows)
In a tagine or a skillet with a lid, heat 2 Tbsp (30 mL) oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion for 4 minutes. Add the remaining oil and the eggplant and mushrooms and stir to mix well. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes or until the eggplant is soft. Stir in the garlic, cumin and spinach. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes or until the spinach has wilted.
On a work surface, lay out pitas. Spread Tahini Dressing over each pita, leaving a 1-inch (2.5 cm) border around the edges. Spread onion-eggplant mixture down the centre of each pita. Fold sides of the pita around the filling and secure with toothpicks. Serve with tzatziki, if desired.
Makes 2 servings.
1 Tbsp (15 mL) coconut or avocado oil
2 bone-in lamb leg chops (about 6 oz/175 g)
In a skillet or cast iron grill, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Cook the lamb chops for 3 minutes per side. They should show some pink on the inside (145°F/63°C for medium-rare).
Cut into strips and spread over the vegetables on 2 of the pitas in step 2 above. If you have coloured toothpicks, use a different colour to secure the lamb shawarmas.
Makes 1/2 cup (125 mL)
1/4 cup (60 mL) mayonnaise
2 Tbsp (30 mL) tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp (30 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, tahini, garlic and lemon juice.
It is essential that you work out an easy way to warm tortillas, tacos, pita and other wrap breads if you want to fully enjoy them. If you have a flameproof clay tortilla warmer as pictured here, you can heat them over a stovetop flame just before filling and rolling.
To warm wrap breads using an oven, cover them with a dampened tea towel and seal in foil or place in a casserole dish with lid. Heat for up to 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 300°F (175°C). If using a microwave oven, cover with a dampened tea towel and microwave on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Balsamic Roasted Strawberries
As easy as this dessert is, I always get compliments on it, I think because of the complex flavours and the tangy-sweet sauce. This is the kind of recipe that calls for good-quality balsamic vinegar. —Pat
Makes 4 servings
4 cups (1 L) strawberries, hulled (16 oz/500 g)
1/3 cup (80 mL) caster sugar
2 Tbsp (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
zest of 1 orange
1 vanilla bean, cut into 4 pieces
1 cup (250 mL) muesli (optional)
1 cup (250 mL) plain yogurt or ice cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Cut 4 parchment paper rectangles, 12 × 15 inches (30.5 × 38 cm). Fold each rectangle in half, with the fold along the long edge. Starting at the top of the fold, cut out a half heart shape, cutting as close to the edges as possible so that the heart is as big as the rectangle allows.
In a bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, vinegar and zest. Toss to mix well. Divide into 4 portions and spoon each onto one half of each parchment heart, close to the fold. Add a piece of vanilla bean to each.
Crimp and fold the cut edges together so that a sealed half-heart pocket is formed. Set on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes.
Serve sealed pockets to guests in a shallow bowl and let them slit open with a knife. Pass muesli and yogurt or ice cream, if desired.
About Caster Sugar
Sometimes referred to as fruit sugar or superfine sugar, caster sugar is much finer than regular, granulated sugar. Caster sugar is used for sweetening fruit and in making cakes and pastries because it dissolves quickly. Don’t confuse caster sugar with confectioner’s or icing sugar, which is powdered and instantly dissolves, used for making velvety smooth icings and candies.
Using a Zester
When a recipe calls for grated rind or zest, it means that only the bright, aromatic skin of the orange, lemon or other citrus fruit is to be scraped off and added to the ingredients. A paring knife is not recommended for this task because it cuts too deeply into the bitter white pith.
For this recipe, we wanted the small bits of orange to be visible in the roasted strawberries, so we used a tool called a zester, which gives you two options:
1. short, thin strands produced by using the sharpened holes at the top of the tool.
2. longer, wider strips achieved with the blade at the side of the tool.