I have three or four vegan cookbooks, and not because I follow a vegan diet (I couldn't survive without cheese) but because they seem to have more imaginative recipes. Tonight I prepared two recipes: Pasta with Sweet Potato and Roasted Red Bell Pepper from The Complete Vegan Cookbook, and Wilted Spinach Salad from The Greens Cook Book.
When I saw the title for Pasta with Sweet Potato, I thought there would be diced or sliced potato mixed with the noodles -- WRONG! It was more of a sweet potato pesto with pasta that looked like mac n cheese. Squeezing just a bit of lemon on top of the pasta really brightened the flavor -- there were more than a few oohs and yums let me tell you.
I think the instructions assumed the grilling would be done on a gas grill but we don't have one. We do have an electric grill that I bought Paul for father's day, and it worked out well.
There were no red fleshed sweet potatoes in the store (only red fleshed yams) so I bought the yellow-tan sweet potatoes. I wish I would have read the footnote of the recipe before I went to the store. It said:
Most vegetables sold as "yams" in the United States are technically sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes come in many varieties, ranging from orange-tan in color to reddish brown or burgundy red. The true yam is an extremely large tuber that is native to Africa and grows only in very hot regions. Whatever their name, the red-fleshed tubers are an antioxidant powerhouse. Just a few bites, as little as 1/8 of a cup, delivers the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.
I could have bought the red yams, and got all that vitamin A. Good to know next time I go shopping!
The salad was my favorite part of the dinner even though I messed up the "wilting" part a bit. I didn't want to dirty a pan just to heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil, so I put it in a bowl and popped it in the microwave for about a minute. The bowl was hot when I pulled it from the microwave, and since I wasn't about to put my finger in some potentially oil I just dumped it on the spinach, tossed the salad and...it didn't wilt! I guess the oil wasn't hot enough. Oh, well, it was still delicious! In lieu of bunches of spinach I used a one pound tub of baby spinach which I washed in my salad spinner. For the croutons I used the remainder of my potato bread that had gone stale in the fridge -- not as pretty as using baguette slices, but still tasty.
Both of these recipes are keepers.
Pasta with Sweet Potato and Roasted Red Bell Pepper
The Complete Vegan Cookbook
Yield: 6 main dish servings
1 1/2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (3 medium)
2 medium red bell peppers
1 cup plain rice or soy milk
1/4 tsp salt
A few grinds black pepper
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground mace
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 pound dried fusilli
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 lemon wedges
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Scrub the sweet potatoes and pierce them in several places with a medium fork. Place the whole sweet potatoes on the grill, cover the grill, and cook about 45 minutes until they are soft, turning occasionally. Remove from the grill and set aside to cool slightly, then peel off the skin and chop the potato.
While you are cooking the sweet potatoes, also place the whole peppers on the grill. Turn them every 10 minutes to blacken and blister the skin, cooking for about 30 minutes. Transfer the blackened peppers to a paper or plastic bag, close the bag, and set aside until the peppers are cool enough to handle. Peel off the blackened skin and discard the stem, seeds, and white membranes. Slice the peppers into long 1/2 inch strips and set aside. Place the sweet potatoes in a food processor with the milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, mace, and dry sherry; puree. The sauce should be fairly thick.
Meanwhile, bring several quarts of water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Before draining the pasta, add about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to the food processor to heat the sauce and thin it a bit, then add the parsley and pulse to combine.
Drain the pasta well and place it in a large, warmed serving bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss, then add the sweet potato puree and parsley and toss again. Arrange the grilled red pepper strips over the top. Serve immediately, passing the lemon wedges.
Wilted Spinach Salad
The Greens Cook Book
Yield: 2 large, or 4 to 6 small salads
1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 to 4 slices baguette per person, for croutons
6 tbsp olive oil
8 to 12 Kalamata olives
1 pound bunch spinach
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
6 ounces feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 400. Cover the onion slices with cold water and refrigerate until needed. Brush the bread with some of the olive oil and toast it in the oven until it is crisp and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Press the olives to split them open, take out the pits, and cut or tear the meats into two.
Remove the spinach stems (or not, as you prefer) and discard any bruised or yellow leaves. Cut the large leaves into halves or thirds; small leaves can be left whole. Wash the spinach, using two changes of water if the spinach is very sandy, and spin dry.
This salad could be accompanied with a moderately dry Riesling, or perhaps a Zinfandel or Beaujolais.
Variations: Instead of using only spinach, combine it with curly endive, escarole, or thinly sliced red cabbage -- all greens that respond well to being prepared this way.
Tomorrow night: Quick Bean and Vegetable Couscous Pilaf!