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[Photograph: Vanessa K. Rees]

This is a vegan salad book. Now, come on, stay with me. This is a book by award-winning cookbook author Terry Hope Romero full of complex, belly-filling, sometimes even show-stopping meals that happen to be salads. And vegan. On board? You should be. Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don't Have to Be Vegan to Love is something of a wonder: a book that lives up to its subtitle. I certainly wasn't prepared to be so impressed by a vegan salad book, I admit. I love a good, hearty salad, but cheese and/or egg, if not meat of some kind, almost always show up when I'm making a meal of it. But these are not sad-sack plates of greens killing time till the steak arrives. Packed with veggies, fruits, grains, and proteins, these are beefy salads—generous (bordering on immodest) and fully-loaded.

It should be no real surprise that the recipes are so successful. Romero has made quite a name for herself with her previous best-selling, vegan cookbooks, like Veganomicon and Vegan Eats World. Her books, many co-authored with Isa Chandra Moskowitz, tend to have cross-over appeal; they're vegan without being self-righteous or self-denying, and the recipes aren't thrown together around the negative space where the meat should be. Instead, the dishes are crafted with clear deliberation, and are fully fleshed-out with grains, beans, produce, and plenty of fat.

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[Photograph: Vanessa K. Rees]

Salad Samurai follows suit, with salads that are modern and globally-inspired. It's an eclectic, edgy mix, from Salade Nicoise Bento Box to Asparagus Pad Thai Salad to Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar. Romero's flavors are brawny and diverse, and she enjoys toying with the context of classic combinations. In her Coconut Samosa Potato Salad, for instance, she reimagines the Indian pastry as a warming salad with peas, chickpeas, cashews, and tangy curry dressing, with crushed papadum as a crunchy nod to the crust. Like this one, her salads are robust, to say the least. Many use grains as their base, and many more use legumes for bulk, texture and protein. She does use some alternative vegan proteins, like seitan and tempeh, but she treats them in such a way that will bust any weird, bland, or funky notions you may have of them.

I did encounter a few of my editorial peccadilloes, like non-standardized methods of measurement (i.e. calling for 1 cup of something, chopped, then calling for 1 cup of chopped something), questionable time estimates, and photos that were slightly out of sync with the recipes. But the recipes worked, and the flavors wowed me. Not once in this week of testing was I left hungry or wishing for meat or cheese (though ice cream for dessert became de rigueur, nonetheless; we'd just had vegan salad for dinner, for crissake).

To kick off this week of vegan eating, we'll make Romero's Polish Summer Soba Salad, which uses soba noodles as the earthy, buckwheat base for an Eastern European mix of beets, cucumbers and dill. Then we'll experiment with tempeh in the surprising and clever Curried Tempeh & Apple Salad in Radicchio Cups. Next, we'll make Smokehouse Chickpeas 'N' Greens Salad, with fried chickpeas in a BBQ-like marinade and creamy avocado. And on Friday, we'll conquer the labor-of-love, Fiery Fruit & Quinoa Salad, that combines grilled peaches and corn with quinoa in a chipotle-laced chia seed dressing.

Win a Copy!

Thanks to our friends at Da Capo Lifelong Books, we have 5 copies of Salad Samurai to give away this week. Just share your favorite meat-free salad in the comments below.

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