Rich and weighty Moosewood makes way for The Heart of the Plate.
Photos Courtesy of Mollie Katzen
Mollie Katzen has loved salad bars since she was a child. “It’s not the food,” says America’s most famous vegetarian. “It’s the freedom. It’s the piecing together of a meal on your own tray.”
That’s why this Kensington author’s latest cookbook, The Heart of the Plate, champions shared meals composed of several simple small-plate dishes: It allows everyone to customize his or her own plate. This is quite a contrast to the heavy veggie casseroles in Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, which made Katzen a household name more than three decades ago.
When she was 27 years old, Katzen did for vegetarian cooking what Julia Child did for French cuisine. But their cookbooks shared a shadow side: butter and cream weighed the tomes down.
When asked to pick one element that distinguishes her new recipes from the old, Katzen says, “Two words: olive oil.” The title of her new cookbook reflects that philosophy: It’s written from the heart and for the heart, with lightly dressed veggies and grains at the center of the plate.
If you remember the ’70s, when Moosewood burst on the scene, vegetables were either pulled from the freezer (lima beans, yech!) or pushed on guests in the form of party crudités platters (ugh). Kids and adults alike had reason to steer clear.
The Heart of the Plate, on the other hand, devotes an entire chapter to comforting mashed vegetables. “It’s the opposite of huge broccoli stalks and clubs of zucchini with onion dip,” she says.
Katzen becomes most animated when talking about kids and vegetables. “I wouldn’t put spinach in brownies,” she says. “I want to make it fun but not sneaky.” The cookbook has recipes for orange rice and black beans (for Halloween), and red rice with green beans (designed for Christmas).
The brilliant thing about The Heart is that many of the recipes are nearly as convenient as those mushy or clunky veggies of the past. Her section on “saladitas” offers many two-ingredient dishes. Who doesn’t have time for sliced apples with flat leaf parsley or cantaloupe with basil?
“I hope my legacy is to encourage people to fall in love with cooking at home,” says Katzen.
WEB EXTRA: Recipes from Mollie Katzen
Curried Mashed Carrots
2 pounds carrots
2 tablespoons oil (I use half olive oil and half grapeseed)
1 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
½ cup unsalted cashews, lightly toasted
Up to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon light-colored honey (optional, depending on the sweetness of the carrots)
1. Peel the carrots and cut them into 1-inch chunks, then place them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the carrots become fork-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, place a medium skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the onion and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes, then sprinkle in the curry powder and the ½ teaspoon salt. Sauté for another minute or so, then reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, and cook, stirring often, for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until everything is very soft. (You can add up to a few tablespoons of the carrot-cooking water to the mix, to augment the process.)
3. Drain the carrots in a strainer or colander over a bowl in the sink, saving the water. Transfer the carrots (it’s fine if they’re still hot or warm; just be careful) to a food processor, along with the onion mixture, scraping in every last drop of flavor—plus any and all liquid—from the pan. Add the cashews.
4. Puree to your desired consistency, adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cooking water, as needed, to move things along and to keep the mixture spoon-soft.
5. Transfer to a bowl and season to taste with lemon juice and a little more salt as desired, and adding a touch of honey, if you’d like it sweeter. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Black-Eyed Pea, Squash, and Shiitake Stew
1 cup (½ pound) dried black-eyed peas, soaked in cold water for at least 4 hours
3 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil or a combination
1 medium butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch dice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups chopped red onion (1 large)
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
20 medium (2-inch cap) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, wiped clean, and thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons minced or crushed garlic
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1. Drain and rinse the soaked black-eyed peas, then transfer them to a medium saucepan and cover with water by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil, turn the heat way down, and simmer, partially covered, until pleasantly tender but not too soft, about 30 minutes. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water, and set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and slick it all over with 1 tablespoon of the oil. (You can use a piece of cut squash to do this.)
3. Spread out the squash in a single layer and roast for about 30 minutes, or until fork-tender and nicely browned around the edges. (Check on the roasting squash every 10 minutes or so; shake the baking sheet from time to time and/or use tongs or a spatula to loosen and move the pieces around during roasting. You don’t want the bottom surfaces to burn.) When the squash is done, sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Let it sit and soak this up as it cools.
4. Meanwhile, place a soup pot, large saucepan, or Dutch oven over medium heat for about a minute. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, mustard, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onion becomes very soft.
5. Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, and another ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.
6. Add the beans to the vegetable mixture, along with the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice and the vinegar. Taste to adjust the salt and grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Stir from the bottom of the pot gently, so as not to break the beans, but thoroughly enough to mix everything. If it seems dry, add 1 cup or more of the reserved bean-cooking water. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes or so, just long enough to heat through.
7. Carefully fold in the squash shortly before serving and heat gently without cooking the stew further, so the texture remains varied and interesting. Serve hot.
Root Vegetable Stew with Ginger and Pears
This recipe is particularly good with buttermilk biscuits. (Katzen offers a version with rosemary and walnuts in The Heart of the Plate.)
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
2 cups minced red onion (1 large)
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
1½ teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1 pound rutabaga (1 large or 2 small), peeled, cored, and diced (about 2 cups)
1 pound parsnips (about 3 medium), peeled, cored, and diced (about 2 cups)
1¼ cups pear nectar
2 pounds sweet potatoes (2–3 medium), peeled and diced (6 cups)
½ cup water
2 firm but ripe pears, any kind of pear other than Asian or Bosc, cored and sliced (peeling optional)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Cayenne or crushed red pepper
Lemon wedges (optional but recommended)
1. Place a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat for about a minute. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion and ginger, plus ¾ teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent.
2. Stir in the rutabaga and parsnips, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mostly tender but not yet soft.
3. Stir in 1 cup of the pear nectar and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and the remaining ½ cup pear nectar. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the water and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are done to your liking.
4. Gently stir in the pear slices, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Turn the heat to low and simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes, just long enough to slightly cook the pears and let everything meld. Taste to adjust the lemon juice and salt, if necessary, and add cayenne or crushed red pepper to taste. Serve hot, in bowls, with lemon wedges, if desired.