In the last year, multiple vegetarian cookbooks were published worldwide as more and more of us flirted with flexitarianism*. Quebec followed suit with at least 5 cookbooks that I can think of, 3 of which I bought.
It’s not surprising. Truth is, I was a vegetarian for 7 years before I met a hardened carnivore (AKA Monsieur) who I blame for my relapse. I would love to return to vegetarianism, if only part time. 1) I felt physically better; 2) I lost weight; 3) I had boundless energy; and 4) a foodie in the making, I enjoyed the challenge to my creativity. Let’s face it, you don’t replace such a food staple as meat without the need to reinvent yourself somewhat.
With two picky eaters at home like my passionately carnivorous spouse and our still-vegetable-hating 5-year-old, vegetarianism is not an option for now. However, introducing more vegetarian dishes on the menu seems doable if thankless. You just need a really thick skin to put in all that effort and watch your two boys examine some of your offerings with dismay. I often feel like a cheerleader waving my pompoms to distract their attention. Or incite their enthusiasm, darn if I know the difference.
Page 64 Showdown
My “Quebec is cooking” series centers around my review of Quebec cookbooks (in the English section of the blog, I usually limit myself to a short intro about the book and the recipes I cooked as part of my review).
But for this segment featuring my three new Quebec vegetarian cookbooks, foregoing the review format, I decided to innovate with a “Page 64 Chef Showdown”. That is to say I will be cooking whatever recipe is to be found on page 64 to find out which one our family liked best. Granted, this method is probably as fair as a lottery, but then shouldn’t books withstand the test from cover to cover? It’s also plain fun.
With 60 vegetarian recipes to cheat your butcher, Les Carnivores Infidèles (or The Unfaithful Carnivores) is a cookbook that takes full advantage of crowd-sourcing by bringing together the expertise of nutritionist Catherine Lefebvre with the recipes of 50 or so social media movers, the whole served by distinctively fresh artwork from Écorce Atelier créatif. In keeping with the times, Lefebvre created a French-only website, Facebook page and Twitter avatar for her book.
Why Page 64, you may ask? Because I happen to be the author of the Page 64 recipe in Carnivores infidèles, my Tahini Pasta Salad retitled Spaghetahini for the purpose of this book. This vegetarian recipe usually finds favour with my men. It’s noodles. It’s nut butter. ‘Nough said.
A collection recipe from 35 of Quebec’s top chefs, Pas besoin d’être végé pour aimer ce livre (No need to be a vegetarian to like this book) plays the fine cuisine card all the way. The artwork is elaborate, as are most of the recipes. Celebrated sommelier Élyse Lambert suggests wine or beer pairings for each recipe. Spectacular in every respect, this is more of a Saturday night extravaganza than an everyday vegetarian cookbook. It seems to have suffered (?) from limited distribution and unlike the other two, is not available through Amazon.ca.
For this Showdown, my Spaghetahini is set to take on the Yaki Yasai with Yuzu-Miso Sauce, a marinated vegetable appetizer from Japanese chef Junichi Ikematsi of Montreal’s Jun I restaurant (excerpted from Pas besoin d’être végé pour aimer ce livre) and the Crispy Hazelnut and Honey Nems from chef Jérôme Ferrer of Montreal’s Europea (excerpted from Végétarien parfois, souvent ou passionnément).
A celebrated Montreal chef, a nutritionist with a wide TV following, and a likeable actor who is passionate by nature, Végétarien parfois souvent ou passionnément offers a lot of star power for one book. Whole sections are devoted to nutrition that readers who know nothing about the goodness of ancient grains, for example, may find helpful. I skip most in favour of the truly appealing recipes.
Two famous chefs, one humble blogger: I guess that’s what’s called putting your ego on the line. Or having none. May the best cook win!
Serves 2-3 as an entree
Let’s start with a confession: For this battle and in the book, I used hardcore Japanese buckwheat soba noodles that rock. But when cooking this recipe every day, I often substitute Wing’s Yet Ca Mein, a generic white pasta that my guys love. So although they appreciated the taste, I got comments. You decide according to your intended audience.
For the vegetables, I used carrots and cucumbers, although the book specifies beansprouts. Again, you decide: raw beansprouts and my stomach are not on talking terms these days after an unpleasant bout fighting e-coli style bacteria. Finally, since tahini is unsweetened, it provides a harsher taste than peanut butter would. To please kiddo, I added a pinch of sugar to the sauce. In other words, I cheated three times (!) but, hey, this is my recipe after all. Call it a work in progress?
For my part, this pasta salad makes the perfect vegetarian entrée with sesame butter and pasta providing the needed protein. Monsieur enjoyed it as a side with his… BBQ steak. As in, no comment.
• 1 package (around 230-260 g) soba noodles, cooked and cooled/chilled
• 250 ml (1 cup) carrots, cut into sticks
• 125 ml (1/2 cup) cucumber, cut into sticks
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) minced green onions
• 60 ml (1/4 cup) tahini (sesame butter)
• 45 ml (3 tbsp) mirin
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) sesame oil
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) soy sauce
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) rice vinegar
• 10 ml (2 tsp) fresh grated ginger
• pinch of salt (optional)
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) each: freshly minced mint and cilantro, fine chopped green onions and toasted white sesame seeds.
1. In a bowl, combine sauce ingredients, adding water if needed to obtain a smooth flowing consistency. (Add water 1 tbsp or so at a time, mixing well, to avoid drowning the sauce.)
2. In a small bowl, combine gremolata ingredients.
3. In a large salad bowl, combine pasta, vegetables and sauce.
4. Sprinkle generously with gremolata and serve right away.
Also: You can cook the pasta and prepare the sauce in advance, combining with vegetables and “gremolata” when serving only. For the lunchbox, bring the gremolata separately and add at the last moment, otherwise the fresh herbs will wilt.
* A flexitarian is a part-time carnivore (or vegetarian). There are as many flexitarians as there are reasons to espouse this lifestyle: eating healthier, protecting the environment, encouraging better breeding practices by reducing the demand for industrial meats, etc.