I’m not what you would call a vegetable lover.
It’s not that I don’t like veggies. I do. But build my entire diet around them? That’s a stretch. Protein is a centerpiece of so many of my meals, starting with eggs for breakfast. Even when I reduce the size of the meat portion to just a fraction of the full dish, it still gets top billing. Protein is the star of the show.
On the other hand, I am persuaded by the ethics of vegetarianism and veganism, and I find the endless variety a vegan diet can offer truly inspiring. It’s just that I don’t like to eat a good many of the ingredients that constitute that variety. Mushrooms? Blech. Tofu? Hell, no. Kale? Cucumbers? Kelp? Uh-uh, nope, not for me. (I did recently introduce avocado, beets, and walnuts into my diet, so I’m working on it.)
The limits of my culinary playlist prompt concerns about adopting a plant-based diet. With no meat protein I’ll have to rev up everything else--I’d be eating the same old stuff, but more of it. So meatless eating would leave me either starved or bored.
This is an ongoing issue, however, that doesn’t have to be settled today. So, stop eating meat? Not now. Eat less meat? That I can definitely do. The individual, local, and global benefits of veganism-including easing the strain that meat production places on the environment-are powerful incentives that compel me to go meatless more often.
In other words, it’s time to expand my plant-based recipe repertoire. As a recovering finicky eater, I look for dishes with ingredients I like that include perhaps one or two things I’ve never tried, or that combine or prepare ingredients in a way that’s new to me.
“Raising the Salad Bar” by Catherine Walthers, published by Lake Isle Press, is helping me to up my veggie game. It is full of recipes that offer inventive twists, like unexpected ingredients or intriguing flavor accents. Many of its recipes are meatless, and for the most part, those that include animal protein relegate it to a supporting role.
When a friend who is vegan came to dinner recently, I decided to try Catherine’s recipe for Israeli couscous salad with roasted vegetables. It fit my parameters of having lots of stuff I liked-zucchini, peppers, garlic, and onion-mixed with something I’d never tried before — Israeli couscous (which I learned is a pasta and not a grain).
It’s presented as a side dish in the book, so I figured the recipe would need some ramping up to serve as a main course. I thought of adding chickpeas and cauliflower, but decided to go with the recipe as written and serve it alongside a simple green salad with vinaigrette (Julia Child’s recipe). Hummus with apple slices, carrots, and green beans served as a first course.
The couscous salad was delicious, and super delicate in taste and texture. It had a smooth, pleasing mouthfeel, and the roasted veggies, dressed with olive oil and lemon, delivered flavor that didn’t overpower. The contrast of the salad greens with their mustardy dressing was a welcome contrast.
As Catherine states in the recipe, the couscous is best eaten on the day it’s prepared. I tried it the next day and indeed she was right; so I took the leftover veggies and scrambled them with eggs. Perfect.
Thus my vegan meal was assembled and leftovers enjoyed. There was plenty to eat, and none of it was repetitive or boring.
One footnote on the dinner though: the first and second courses were vegan, but I finished the meal with a non-vegan carrot cake. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.
COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES
Click here for printable recipe.
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and diced
½ red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise (do not peel)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
½ pound Italian or Israeli couscous
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 375 ̊. Divide the zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, red onion and garlic cloves between two baking sheets (don’t crowd the vegetables or they will steam instead of roast) and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Mix well. Season with salt, and bake until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook the large couscous in a large pot of boiling salted water, according to package instructions. Drain well and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Shake strainer to incorporate oil and let couscous cool.
3. Remove the roasted garlic cloves from the baking sheet and remove their skins. In a small bowl, mash the garlic with a fork. Add the dressing ingredients: lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon oil, and salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl or platter and mix with the dressing. Stir in the vegetables and parsley, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
VARIATIONS For eggplant lovers, add a small eggplant, peeled and diced the same size as the other vegetables, and use a bit more olive oil for roasting. Other good additions include chickpeas, cubed feta cheese, baby spinach, and pine nuts.
Recipe from “ Raising the Salad Bar “ by Catherine Walthers, Lake Isle Press, 2007
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on November 12, 2020.