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Cookbook review: 'The First Mess Cookbook' offers an exciting take on the plant-based diet

The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons
By Laura Wright
Avery, 296 pages, $30

The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons By Laura Wright Avery, 296 pages, $30

Growing up in Ontario, Laura Wright was eating well before she even realized it.

Her father gardened and sold vegetables from a market stand, and Wright and her brother spent summers picking raspberries to sell to neighbors. Later in life, Wright got a culinary education both in school and restaurants, and eventually started a blog to share her recipes for things like dinner party kale salads. Her first cookbook, The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons, contains almost all new recipes, with tempting photos for each one.

Wright is vegan, in a way that is approachable and enticing for both vegans and omnivores who sometimes observe Meatless Mondays.

I went vegetarian in college and vegan for part of it, and like Wright, I never got into faux meats. Instead, I looked for ways to highlight the flavors and textures of beans and vegetables. Wright does that often in this book. There are spiced curry tempeh patties and quinoa and white bean risotto; roasted Brussels sprouts, now a classic on many dinner spreads, are dressed in lime, miso and sunflower seeds. Cashew butter is a staple in The First Mess kitchen, and it's clear she loves Earl Grey tea, which shows up both in a cozy latte and a tiramisu.

The book contains 125 recipes organized into various sections like Hearty Mains and Big Plates, Vegetables and A Couple of Grains, and Energizing Drinks and Small Bites. Anyone with dietary restrictions will appreciate icons noting gluten-free, sugar-free and other recipes that fall into those categories.

Wright's Smoky Saffron Chickpea, Chard and Rice Soup proved to be a hearty weeknight meal, with leftovers welcome even in Florida summer. The vegetable broth is rich thanks to smoked paprika and saffron, two spices that pair naturally with chickpeas. Her lentil dip made smooth with cashew butter and warm with chipotles in adobo sauce is a fantastic spiced-up interpretation of classic hummus. Cauliflower and pine nuts are cleverly combined to make a vegan ricotta to spread on toast.

Millet, a grain with a cornlike flavor, is smartly paired with fresh corn tossed in chili powder and lime in Creamy and Spicy Corn and Millet Toss. With roasted peppers and juicy cherry tomatoes, it is totally irresistible. To stretch it further, I added chickpeas, and next time I'll probably use jarred roasted red peppers for an even quicker meal. Creamy Garlic Dressing drizzled over the millet and corn dish is a super easy boost for weeknight cooking. Even with almond butter instead of the cashew butter called for in the recipe, it works.

From my first flip through The First Mess Cookbook, so many pages were dog-eared. I'll be eating as well as Wright for a while.

Ileana Morales Valentine can be reached at [email protected]

>>MODERATE

Creamy and Spicy Corn and Millet Toss

½ cup millet, rinsed (see note)

4 corn cobs

1 teaspoon virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon chili powder, plus extra

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 red bell pepper

1 poblano pepper

½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved

⅓ cup packed roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

2 green onions, sliced, for garnish

Creamy Garlic Dressing (recipe follows)

Chili powder, optional for garnish

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the millet with 1 cup filtered water. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the millet cook until all water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Let the millet cool.

Meanwhile, use a knife to scrape the kernels off the cobs of corn. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Toss the corn into the skillet. Saute until the corn is just starting to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Season the corn with salt, pepper and the chili powder. Stir to combine. Add the lime juice and stir once more. Remove from the heat, arrange the corn on a serving platter and set aside. Wipe out the skillet and return it to the stove over medium-high heat.

Place the red bell pepper and poblano pepper into the wiped skillet. Cook the peppers until you get deep-brown char marks on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes. Place the charred peppers in a small bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the peppers steam for at least 7 to 8 minutes.

After the peppers have steamed, remove their stems, seeds and skins. Cut the peppers into strips and add them to the platter with the corn. Add the cooked and cooled millet to the platter.

Lightly toss everything on the platter together. Arrange the tomatoes on top. Garnish the salad with the chopped cilantro and green onions. Drizzle some of the Creamy Garlic Dressing over the top. Lightly sprinkle the salad with chili powder if you like.

Serves 4 to 5.

Note: Millet is a gluten-free grain that can be found at most health food stores.

Source: The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright

>>EASY

Creamy Garlic Dressing

¼ cup raw cashew butter (see note)

¼ cup filtered water

2 cloves garlic, finely grated with a microplaner or grater

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the cashew butter and water. Stir with a spoon or small spatula until the cashew butter is broken up and slightly incorporated. Press the chunks of cashew butter up against the sides of the jar to get it as integrated as possible.

Add the garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Tightly secure the lid and shake the jar vigorously until the dressing has a smooth and creamy consistency. Store the dressing in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Makes 1 cup.

Note: If you can't find cashew butter, almond butter or a natural peanut butter can be used as a substitute.

Source: The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright

Cookbook review: 'The First Mess Cookbook' offers an exciting take on the plant-based diet 08/15/17 [Last modified: Sunday, August 13, 2017 9:39pm]
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