There are lots of new reasons to eat a little closer to the earth, and local author Robin Asbell's new book serves them up with flavor and style.
"New Vegetarian: More Than 75 Fresh Contemporary Recipes for Pasta, Tagines, Curries, Soups & Stews, and Desserts" (Chronicle Books, $19.95, 137 pages) is a lively collection of light, healthy dishes offering lessons in eating sustainably and eating well. The recipes will delight the most voracious omnivore and pickiest vegan alike.
Asbell also wrote "The New Whole Grains Cookbook." Her work has appeared in Better Homes & Gardens, Fine Cooking, Real Food, Mother Earth News and Vegetarian Times, and she teaches classes throughout the Twin Cities area and nationwide.
Weaving practical information with exciting new flavors, from "A Prosecco Brunch" to "Dim Sum" and "Vegetarian Main Course Holiday Meals," her approach is approachable, focused on whole foods and big flavors.
Q What's new in vegetarian cooking?
A Vegetarian cooking isn't new, but the interest in a plant-based diet is. People are interested in flavor and variety, health, the environment and budget. Cooking vegetarian satisfies them all. When I serve omnivorous friends a selection of dishes, including ones with meat, the vegetarian options are the first to disappear.
Q How about cooking vegan?
A I've been surprised by how delicious vegan cooking can be. Cooking without animal products is a creative challenge. Take those desserts based mostly on fruit; they're fresher and cleaner tasting. The Little Mango Upside-Down Cakes are pure mango with a little lime, and a hint of Chinese five-spice powder. They are light and sweet, and just spicy enough.
Q What did you learn as you researched the book?
A I became really interested in some of the foods that have been on the sidelines and are now entering our collective cuisine. Seaweed, for example. It's very nutritious and the flavors are nuanced, adding interest and intrigue. People were first introduced to it through sushi. Now we're seeing it used in salads, soups and stews. Farro is a delicious Italian grain that cooks as quickly as pasta, but is loaded with flavor and is a whole food, much better for you. Asian flavors, such as umami, are adding depth to our broths. I have to thank my friend Yukari Sakamoto for guiding me in this.
Q How do your recipes evolve?
A Many were created for my cooking classes. I always learn from the students' questions, insights and comments. I also work with several private clients. Their tastes and desires are not always mine, but that kind of work stretches me and keeps me sharp.
Q Is it hard to get all the nutrients we need in a vegetarian diet?
A The biggest question I get is about getting enough protein. The fact is protein is easy to find. As long as you're eating adequate calories of natural, healthful foods, the fabled protein problem takes care of itself.
Q What surprised and delighted you as you wrote this book?
A Finding new twists for old favorites. Take the Thai Red Curry Deviled Eggs. These old-fashioned picnic items, given a fresh take, become the hit of the party. The flavors echo Thai food, so they're familiar yet surprising at the same time.
Here is a holiday party menu from Asbell's book that even omnivores can enjoy.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking instructor.