Reading & Recipes

The First Mess Cookbook

Tracy Turlin
Written by Tracy Turlin

I’m glad I was distracted when I picked up The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright (Penguin Canada; 2017; $35). I saw “Mess,” I saw some great veggie dishes on the cover, and away I went, reading and bookmarking a dozen recipes before it finally occurred to me that these were not vegetarian recipes, but vegan. Vegans probably hate it when omnivores think this is a compliment but it really is meant to be. (I look forward to your emails.)

Author Laura Wright

Sometimes I seek out vegetarian food for its flavour and economy but vegan recipes often seem to be pale imitations of other food. If you’ve gone vegan, why go to such extreme lengths to pretend you’re eating a hamburger? Isn’t there great vegan food? As it happens, there is. Laura Wright knows how to cook it very well, and is willing to share her knowledge with us. Anyone looking for healthier recipes that are still delicious should be extremely happy that she does. These recipes didn’t make me think, “Wow, that would be great if only it had chicken in it.”

Wright is a Niagara-based food writer and photographer with a lifetime of experience in all areas of the food industry. She grew up in a family that emphasized the importance of food and community. After attending culinary school and working at a farm-to-table restaurant, she adopted a vegan lifestyle and started a healthy food blog, firstmess.com. Most of the 125 recipes in The First Mess Cookbook are new, but a handful are favourites from the blog.

Squash Noodle Bowls with Lime Peanut Sauce is the most popular recipe on the blog and it’s easy to see why. It looks like a beautiful Thai-style noodle take-out dish, but tastes far better. The author notes that this is a good dish for using heavier winter produce, but by cooking the spaghetti squash on the BBQ and adding spinach instead of kale, it becomes the perfect summer supper. Now when I go shopping I can almost hear all those fresh vegetables clamouring for Lime Peanut Sauce.

Growing up, we always had a large garden in our backyard. We usually ate most of the peas straight off the vine before they ever made it to the table. Now that I’m a tiny bit more patient, I can make Peaches, Peas and Beans Summer Salad. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy sweet new peas and beans than with this tangy dressing. The addition of peaches is wonderful. I always feel I’ve gotten away with something when I can add sweet fruit to a savoury dish.

For readers with dietary restrictions, recipes have notations indicating if they are free from nuts, oil, cane sugar or gluten. I’m lucky to be able to substitute any ingredient I wish but I know that good options for restricted diets can be difficult to find. I think I could make any of these dishes with ingredients from a well-stocked grocery store.

In The First Mess Cookbook Laura Wright shares recipes for a lot of really amazing food. The fact that most of it is good for us is a delicious bonus. A bit like a beautiful vegan dessert.

Excerpted from The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons. Copyright © 2017 Laura Wright. Published by Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Peaches, Peas and Beans Summer Salad

Serves 4 to 6

Free of gluten and cane sugar

Fresh pea season stretches right into summer where I live, so we get to harvest those sweet shell, snow, and snap pea varieties for a while. This is another colorful and vibrant salad that takes advantage of juicy fruit and a crunchy garnish. The dressing is super simple by design, allowing all of the seasonal flavors to shine through.

Dressing

1 tablespoon (15 mL) balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon (5 mL) gluten-free tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 mL) sunflower oil 
salt and pepper, to taste

Salad

¾ lb (341 g) young green (or yellow or burgundy) string beans, trimmed
2 ripe, but firm, peaches
1 small shallot, peeled and sliced paper thin
large handful of snap peas, trimmed and sliced down the middle
salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup (50 mL) chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ cup (50 mL) whole toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

Make The Dressing 

1 In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, tamari, sunflower oil, salt, and pepper.

2 Tightly secure the lid, and shake the jar vigorously until the dressing has a smooth consistency. Set aside.

Make The Salad

3 Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Salt the water and then throw in the trimmed green beans. Blanch the beans for 3 minutes or until tender and crisp. Drain the beans and place them in a bowl of ice water to cool immediately.

4 Remove the pits from the peaches and cut the fruit into thin slices. In a large bowl, combine the sliced peaches, shallots, and snap peas. Drain the green beans and lightly dry them. Add the beans to the large bowl. Season the salad with salt and pepper.

5 Pour the dressing over the vegetables and peaches, and toss lightly to combine. Scatter the chopped basil and almonds over the top, and serve.

Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowls with Lime Peanut Sauce

Serves 4

Free of gluten and cane sugar

This is far and away the most popular recipe from my blog. I think it appeals to the plant-eating crowd as well as to the low-carb-eating lovers out there, too. I take the natural, noodle-like strands of winter spaghetti squash and tangle them up into a whole meal with hearty greens, herbs, broccoli, and a delicious peanut sauce born out of pantry staples. It’s a vibrant and clever way to enjoy heavier winter produce that looks and eats like a bowl of takeout noodles.

Lime Peanut Sauce

½-inch (1 cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped 
hot sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons (30 mL) natural peanut butter
1 lime, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon (15 mL) unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons (10 mL) raw agave nectar
1 tablespoon (15 mL) gluten-free tamari soy sauce
⅓ cup (75 mL) grapeseed or other neutral-flavored oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Noodle Bowls

1 large spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out
6 curly kale leaves, stems removed
4 cups (1 L) broccoli florets (from 1 small bunch)
salt and pepper, to taste
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup (125 mL) toasted cashews, chopped
2 tablespoons (30 mL) sesame seeds
½ cup (125 mL) chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

2 Make The Lime Peanut Sauce: To a blender, add the ginger, garlic, hot sauce, peanut butter, lime, rice vinegar, agave nectar, tamari, grapeseed oil, salt, and pepper. Whiz on high until fully incorporated. Check the sauce for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and set aside.

3 Prepare the Vegetables: Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the squash halves, cut side down, onto the sheet. Bake for about 1 hour or until the flesh pulls away in easy strands. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

4 While the squash is baking, slice the kale leaves into thin ribbons and place in a large bowl.

5 Set a medium saucepan with about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer. Place the broccoli florets into a steamer basket and set aside.

6 When the squash is cool enough to handle, place the steamer basket of broccoli into the pot with the simmering water. Cover and allow the broccoli to steam until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.

7 Assemble the Noodle Bowl: While the broccoli is steaming, scrape the spaghetti squash strands out of the shell with a fork and into the bowl with the kale. The heat from the squash should wilt the kale slightly. Season the squash and kale with salt and pepper. Pour a big splash of Lime Peanut Sauce into the bowl, and toss to combine.

8 Remove the broccoli from the steamer. Portion the squash and kale into 4 bowls. Top each bowl with the steamed broccoli, sliced red onions, chopped cashews, sesame seeds, chopped cilantro, and extra Lime Peanut Sauce.

About the author

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London.
Reach her at tracyturlin@gmail.com.