Tahini-Dressed Zucchini and Green Bean Salad

Tahini-Dressed Zucchini and Green Bean Salad

A plate of veg

In some ways, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall might seem an unlikely candidate to provide a vegetarian with inspiration. The British chef and farmer who founded River Cottage in 1998 has written tomes on meat (2004) and fish (2007), both of them award-winners. But for someone like me who is a relatively recent convert to a plant-focused diet, perhaps there’s no one better. That’s partly because Fearnley-Whittingstall’s work has always had an environmental bent, and he has been turning his attention to produce for many of the same reasons I have.

In some ways, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall might seem an unlikely candidate to provide a vegetarian with inspiration. The British chef and farmer who founded River Cottage in 1998 has written tomes on meat (2004) and fish (2007), both of them award-winners. But for someone like me who is a relatively recent convert to a plant-focused diet, perhaps there’s no one better. That’s partly because Fearnley-Whittingstall’s work has always had an environmental bent, and he has been turning his attention to produce for many of the same reasons I have.

“The object of the exercise is, unambiguously, to persuade you to eat more vegetables,” he writes in the introduction of his new River Cottage Veg (Ten Speed Press). “Many more vegetables. Perhaps even to make veg the mainstay of your daily cooking. And therefore, by implication, to eat less meat, maybe a lot less meat, and maybe a bit less fish, too. Why? We need to eat more vegetables and less flesh because vegetables are the foods that do us the most good and our planet the least harm.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. But in case you’re worried about any preachiness, let me assure you that the author confines his proselytizing to the introduction. After that, it becomes clear why I’ve been finding River Cottage Veg so useful as I’ve been cooking through it (and marking page after page with sticky notes): Fearnley-Whittingstall delivers enticing recipes that make everyday vegetables jump off the pages.

It’s not as encyclopedic, or even as deep, as The River Cottage Meat Book or The River Cottage Fish Book. There is no guide to selecting and storing different varieties of vegetables, nor meditations on, say, the challenges faced by modern farmers. But there are other books for that. What I’ve been loving are the inventive flavor combinations, the global aesthetic, the streamlined approaches.

Perhaps most important, River Cottage Veg prompts me to come up with my own ideas. Take the carrot hummus, which the author whimsically calls “another delicious member of the ever-expanding family of River Cottage hummi.”

With coriander-and-cumin-spiced oil for depth, a little orange juice for brightness and the requisite tahini for creamy nuttiness, this dip barely made it from food processor to serving bowl intact; I scarfed down a good quarter-cup of it on the way. Since then, I’ve made it twice more — and can’t stop imagining what other dense vegetables might take well to a similar treatment, perhaps with a change in spices: beets, of course (and there’s a recipe for such in “River Cottage Veg”), but what about parsnips? Turnips? Radishes? Maybe even asparagus! Perhaps one day soon, thanks to Fearnley-Whittingstall, I might treat “hummi” the way I do vinaigrettes and pestos: as an intuitive, flexible technique using seasonal vegetables, not a set-in-stone recipe.

His baby beet tarte tatin is another example. I’ve done the classic apple countless times, naturally, and branched out to sweet potato thanks to pastry chef David Guas. But this latest idea has me looking at beets (the recipe doesn’t even require you to peel them, a revelation) and the tart (what other high-sugar vegetables might take to it?) in a whole new light.

The headnote for the tart recipe, by the way, demonstrates another appealing thing about “River Cottage Veg,” and that’s the charming Britspeak sprinkled throughout the book: “The shallot/green onion vinaigrette finishes off the tart a treat,” he writes, “but if you fancy ringing the changes, it’s also very good topped with crumbled feta and coarsely chopped parsley.”

You might not discern his meaning, but no matter: The tart, like the other recipes I’ve made — a tahini-drizzled salad and a mushroom-orzo take on risotto — speaks for itself. I’ve made it twice, and I do think I fancy making it again.

Carrot Hummus

Makes 1 3/4 cups (6 to 8 servings)

Ingredients

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 teaspoon coriander seed

6 tablespoons olive or canola oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon honey

1 pound carrots, trimmed and well scrubbed

3 large unpeeled cloves garlic, smashed

Flaky sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1 orange

3 tablespoons tahini (may substitute smooth peanut butter)

Steps

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have a medium roasting pan at hand.

Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small dry skillet for about a minute, until just fragrant. Use a mortar and pestle to grind them to a fine-ish powder. Transfer to a large bowl; whisk in 4 tablespoons of the oil and all of the honey.

Cut the carrots into 1/4-inch chunks, then add to the spiced oil along with the garlic. Toss to coat, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Scrape the dressed carrots into the roasting pan and spread in an even layer; roast, turning once, until the carrots are tender and just starting to char slightly around the edges, 25 to 35 minutes.

Cool slightly, then transfer the roasting pan’s contents to a food processor, slipping the garlic cloves out of their skins as you do so and scraping as much of the crusty brown bits, spices and oil as possible into the food processor. Add the lemon and orange juices, tahini and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Puree until smooth. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Transfer to a serving dish and lightly drizzle with more oil.

Baby Beet Tarte Tatin

6 side-dish servings; 2 or 3 main-dish servings

Ingredients

For the tart

8 ounces frozen/defrosted homemade or store-bought puff pastry

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

10 to 14 ounces unpeeled baby beets (no larger than golf ball size), scrubbed well, then cut in half

For the vinaigrette

1 or 2 shallots, finely chopped (may substitute 2 or 3 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped)

1 teaspoon mustard, preferably English, such as Colman’s

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/4 cup canola oil

Pinch sugar

Handful parsley leaves, finely chopped

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Steps

For the tart: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have an 8-inch tart pan or ovenproof skillet at hand.

Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Invert the tart pan or skillet on the pastry and use a knife to trace/cut around it. Wrap the pastry disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Melt the butter with the oil in the skillet or tarte tatin dish over medium heat. Add the vinegar, sugar and some salt and pepper, stir well, then add the halved beets and toss to coat. You want the beets to fill the pan snugly, so add a few more as needed. Cover tightly with aluminum foil; bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beets are tender.

Uncover and rearrange the beet halves neatly, cut sides up. Lay the chilled pastry disk over the beets, patting it down and tucking in the edges down the side of the pan. Bake (at 375 degrees) for 20 minutes, until the pastry is fully puffed and golden brown.

Cool in the pan or skillet for about 15 minutes, then put a serving plate over the top and invert to turn out the tart. Pour any pan juices over the beets.

For the vinaigrette: Combine the shallots, mustard, vinegar, oil, sugar and parsley in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Seal and shake to form an emulsified vinaigrette.

Drizzle over the tart and serve.

Tahini-Dressed Zucchini and Green Bean Salad

4 servings

Ingredients

For the dressing

1/2 clove garlic, crushed with a little coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons tahini (stir the jar well first)

Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1/2 orange

1/2 teaspoon honey

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium zucchini (about 14 ounces total), sliced into 1/8-inch rounds

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 fresh small red chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

About 4 ounces green beans, trimmed

4 good handfuls of salad greens

12 to 18 oven-dried tomatoes (optional)

Handful mint, finely shredded (optional)

Steps

For the dressing: Combine the crushed garlic in a medium bowl with the tahini, lemon zest and juice, orange juice and honey; season lightly with salt and a grind of black pepper; stir to form a dressing. If it seems too thick, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time to achieve a creamy, trickling consistency. Then gently stir in the oil. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

For the salad: Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the zucchini slices and cook, tossing them occasionally, for a few minutes, until tender and browned on both sides, transferring them to a mixing bowl.

Once the zucchini is all cooked, season it generously with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and chili pepper, and toss to incorporate.

Fill a bowl with cool water and a few ice cubes.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans; once the water returns to a boil, cook for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to ice-water bath. Drain after a few minutes; if the beans aren’t cool, rinse under cool running water. Drain again, pat dry with a clean kitchen towel, then toss the beans with the zucchini.

When ready to serve, spread the salad greens in a large, shallow serving bowl. Scatter the dressed zucchini and beans over them, then the oven-dried tomatoes and shredded mint, if using. Drizzle the dressing.