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]