Blog - Plant-Based Proteins
Most professional cooks will probably tell you it is extremely important to create balance in a final dish…and that balance is achieved by artfully combining flavors, texture and appearance. Unfortunately, most professional cooks have also learned the standard techniques in a classical kitchen which rely heavily on the use of fats, salt and sugars. And if you don’t believe this statement, then simply tune into any cooking show on television and watch how the professionals cook. I guarantee you will see a recipe which is most definitely unhealthy!
But is all that fat really necessary to produce a tasty and balanced dish?
As a mostly plant-based cook, I have discovered how to produce really tasty food without the use of animal products and with a heavy emphasis on supporting good health. Removing fats from a dish will dramatically affect its flavor, so I had to consider how I would maximize the flavor of ingredients I use in my recipes. I began looking at alternatives. I started to emphasize toasting and roasting nuts, seeds and spices before I would use them in a recipe. I increased the sweet, acid and spice elements in my dishes to create powerful flavors which balanced well in the mouth. I concentrated flavors through reduction to bring even more flavor into my no oil dishes. And I never missed the fat!
I really enjoy the flavors of spring…especially when the young greens emerge from the soil. My favorites are the wild garlic greens of Switzerland called bärlauch, young dandelion greens, wild sorrel or young blood sorrel. All of these greens have tremendous nutritional value, especially in the amount of antioxidants, which are very good to ward off any winter crud lingering in your blood stream.
I always use this type of mixture to create a nice spring salad, but lately I have decided to quickly sauté the greens in a bit of water and coat with oil after they are wilted. This method really enhances their flavor characteristics while minimizing the amount of fat you are consuming.
As for the beans… Well actually you can use any type of starch. I have used roasted potatoes as well as creamy polenta to mix with the wilted greens. I think beans are very nice if you are looking for something completely different. I prefer using fresh beans when they are available. Otherwise, just cook your beans in a pressure cooker as follows.
To cook your beans very easily, begin by soaking the dried beans in cold water with a dash of baking soda for about one hour. The beans will get a bit wrinkly after this treatment, but don’t worry, they will still cook just fine. Place your beans in a pressure cooker and cover with about 4-cm of water. Add a bay leaf to the water, then close the pressure cooker very well. Place the pressure cooker on a burner with high heat. When the pressure hits 2 bars, reduce your temperature to low and maintain pressure for 65 minutes (I find this time works best for most beans). Release the pressure by running cold water over the top of the pressure cooker. Check the consistency of the beans. If you are happy, season them well with salt and remove them from the pressure cooker to cool. If they are underdone, return the pressure cooker to the stove, cover well and bring the pressure back up to 2 bars like before. Maintain this pressure for 10 minutes and then release the pressure again. The beans should now be just about right!
I really enjoy shopping at the market just after winter and before the explosion of fresh ingredients arrive in the heat of spring. I think this period is quite interesting – especially in Switzerland where it is very simple to find products coming from the southern part of Italy. And when I shop…I get inspired to come up with something very fresh and very quick!
During my latest trip to the market, I was inspired by the selection of Italian artichokes, which were both large and small. They are especially good right now and perfect to prepare in so many ways. I elected to use the carciofini (the small ones, which are fully mature, just smaller because they grow on the bottom part of the plant), because they are really tender at the moment. It may seem like you are removing too much of the small artichoke, but in reality, the entire flower is edible. I just remove the outer 1-2 layers and any green bits that remain…as well as those nasty little stickers. I also ran across some delightfully large artichokes with very long stems still attached – a gold mine for those in the know! I really enjoy eating the artichoke marrow which is easily revealed by trimming away the outer part of the stem. The flavor is very similar to the heart and a part of the artichoke which is usually discarded…at least outside of Italy (Italians are always clever in finding the tastiest bits of food).
I’m not one to generally use recipes I see out of cookbooks. I prefer instead to scan through my books looking for inspiration and flavor matching ideas instead of recipes. But, when I was thumbing through Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, I knew right away I needed to try making his Celeriac and lentils with hazelnut and mint recipe. The combination sounds simply irresistible!
But alas, I gave into my instincts as a cook and decided to make some changes…changes which I believe are better-suited for Switzerland in February.
The first change was replacing the celeriac with salsify…which seemed like such a natural decision for me. Celeriac may be popular in North America or the UK, but I think in mainland Europe it is a bit…well…pedestrian. Salsify on the other hand, is relatively underappreciated. It’s flavor is somewhat akin to asparagus and it is incredibly healthy. Next, I decided to switch from Puy lentils to brown lentils because I think the nuttiness of brown lentils matches better with the hazelnuts in the recipe. Finally, I decided to go for tarragon to dress up the final version of the dish instead of mint. I don’t have anything against mint, but I really don’t think it is appropriate in mid-February.
I’m happy with the outcome, which can be served either hot or cold…and cold is how I will be enjoying this dish as part of my Meatless Monday.
Find out what’s in season at markets throughout Switzerland – and get inspired to cook fresh!