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Aug 23, 2007 05:23 AM

Flexitarian Table - cookbook report

The local librarian was kind enough to set this book aside for me. She knows of my slight obsession with testing out cookbooks. She thought I would like this one because of the pretty pictures.

From the beginning, I was completely and utterly entranced with this cookbook. As soon asI flipped it open, I wanted to buy a copy. This rarely happens to me. Other than the (ridiculous) title of the book (which opens itself up to endless mocking), the book is appealling, both for the use of local veggies and for the flexible nature of the recipes themselves. The sub-title is "inspired flexible meals for vegetarians, meat lovers and everyone in between). The premise is that you can please many members of your family without having to make a separate meal for each one. The "base" recipe (rice or other grains) and the sauces are similar, it's just the protein that changes (either meat, fish, tofu or seitan).

The book is organized like Suzanne Goins, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It's organized by season and then by menus. Each menu consists of 2-4 items. The recipes are significantly less labor intensive and at the beginning of each menu, it gives the cook a plan to help organize the cooking. This is a clever idea that more cookbook authors should pick up on.

So far, I have made two partial menus and have been quite pleased with the results. This could be my new favorite cookbook. Part of this could be that I used recipes showcasing the native corn and tomatoes that are in season, but the other seasons' menus look just as appetizing. Posts to follow.

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  1. Grilled Shrimp in Harissa/Fresh Corn Polenta with Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes (pg. 111, menu 3)

    This recipe was fabulous. Admittedly, I chose the recipe because of the polenta with cherry tomatoes. For the veggie eater, the author suggests topping the polenta with fried eggs as the protein. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to check out the harissa shrimp and I did not regret my choice.

    Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical with the shrimp. The recipe states that the shrimp only had to be marinated in the harissa (combo of cumin, fennel, caraway, cayenne, salt, olice oil and lemon juice) for *15* minutes. But, I followed the recipe and 15 minutes were more then enough. I grilled the shrimp but this could also be broiled. The spicy, savory harissa completely penetrated the shrimp and our mouths exploded with flavors.

    And, to complement the spicy shrimp, there was the sweetness of the polenta and the sauteed tomatoes. The polenta was very easy. Mix the corn grits and corn kernals in a small pot with water, butter and salt. Simmer and stir for about 5 minutes. Add a bit of scallion greens to the polenta and transfer to an oven to keep it warm.

    Meanwhile, saute the tomatoes with scallions with scallion whites, garlic and red pepper flakes until the tomatoes release their juices. Stir in a mixture of herbs (I used basil, tarragon and thyme) and add salt and pepper.

    A quick easy meal that showcases the best of summer produce.

    2 Replies
    1. re: beetlebug

      I made this this weekend and it was a huge hit. We also have made a frittata from the spring section and it was wonderful. This is my new favorite cookbook right now! I'm enjoying your reviews of the recipes I haven't tried (and the ones I have!)!

      1. re: beetlebug

        Did the grilled harissa shrimp/polenta/tomatoes and grilled zucchini tonight. Actually I was using up stuff from the freezer, so I used frozen sweet white corn in the polenta instead of fresh. The only other difference is I didn't make the mint oil for the zucchini. I grilled the shrimp and zucchini on my Griddler... the zucchini picked up the flavorings from the harissa, so was flavorful enough. Loved loved loved these recipes! (almost as much as the tofu...). He has the most interesting combinations of flavors. They really work.

      2. Farro with Corn, Red Beans and Bacon/Soy Sauce and Scallops/Avocado (pg. 139, menu 7)

        Note: the "/" is to show the meat v. non-meat aspect of the recipe. I chose the scallops although the soy avocado also sounded tasty.

        I also took the author's suggestion to substitute pearl barley for the farro.

        Another winner and a quick summer supper. I simmered the barley ahead of time. Saute the corn kernals, canned red beans and scallions until the veggies soften. Add the cooked barley and dill.

        Bacon - cut and saute the bacon pieces, reserving the fat to saute the scallops. Add the bacon to the greens and plate the scallops.

        If you were going to go the veggie way, instead of bacon, add soy sauce to the grains. Slice avocados tossed with lime juice to the grains.

        The dill really shines in this dish without overpowering it. The same with the bacon. It was enough for a hint of flavor but it wasn't bacony. The author also has a recipe for gazpacho with feta cheese to accompany it. I didn't have time to make the soup. Instead, I served this with a tomato gratin and it worked well. All in all, a lovely dinner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: beetlebug

          I made this again, but this time, going the vegetarian way with the soy sauce and avocados. This was just as delicious and satisfying. I served this with a corn soup and a salad.

        2. I really like this book. So far I've made Chopped Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette, Zucchini/Rice Soup with Basil and Parmesan, and Tofu with Lemon, Soy, White Wine, and Butter Sauce. All were excellent, especially the tofu.

          3 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            I've had my eye on the tofu recipe but I think the first time out, I will be using the striped bass (it's in season now in NE). Glad to hear that it's delicious. Next time I get zucchini in the CSA box, I'll be making that soup.

            1. re: pikawicca

              Wow, that soup and tofu sound amazing. Putting in my amazon order TODAY.

              1. re: pikawicca

                I got the book late last week and made the zucchini/rice soup on Tuesday. I think mine needed a bit more salt (and I'm not a person who normally finds that to be true), but that probably had something to do with using water instead of stock or broth. The house smelled amazing when it was cooking, and with more salt added, we enjoyed it. I think the tofu with lemon, soy, wine and butter will be next, but I haven't had a chance to go through the whole book yet (I have a 16 month old).

              2. I've been seriously considering this book, but have only seen it online - never had a chance to actually look at the recipes. I don't eat any pork, and very little red meat, so this book would make a lot of sense for me. I just had no idea whether or not it was actually any good. You've cast the deciding vote - I'm buying it. Thanks for the report.

                1 Reply
                1. re: LulusMom

                  It's interesting. The meat tends to be more seafood, lamb or chicken. There are a couple of beef and duck recipes thrown in for good measure. I think the author and his family must really enjoy and/or have access to flavorful lamb and chicken because there is at least one lamb or chicken recipe in each season.

                2. Thanks for the review beetlebug. I have a couple of other Berley books that I really enjoy. I haven't purchased this one yet but was wondering if it would be a good rec for friends who want to cut back on their number of meals with meat.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: debbiel

                    I think it would be an excellent choice as a gift - esp since your friends are cutting back on meat. The recipes are versatile and has a variety of meat (including seafood) and no meat choices. Also, I don't know what kind of meat your friends are giving up, but there are a number of chicken recipes that also look tasty.