Not many of my recipes here are vegetarian for a couple of reasons. I should stress that none of those reasons is that I don’t ever eat vegetarian food. Tofu doesn’t do it for me in pretty much every form but that doesn’t stop me from aiming to have three or four meat-less meals (on top of just about every breakfast) a week. Rather, I think I see myself as a better meat cook. I also put a lot more thought and planning into meat meals and tend to treat the vegetable-heavy ones as filler.
I’m working on changing these levels of expertise and attention and am using Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes From London’s Ottolenghi as my principal guide at the moment.
A small chain of popular restaurants with devoted fans is a good place to start from when considering a cookbook. Ottolenghi builds on that with large collection of well-tested and beautifully-photographed recipes. Also, we’re telegraphed the message that it’s a serious cookbook that the publisher thought was going to be a seller with the now de rigueur (for cookbooks of that type) soft, padded cover. (I don’t know why they’d care but this seems like a ploy to keep us from immediately throwing out the dust jacket.)
One of the first recipes to catch my eye was Plenty’s quinoa salad with dried Persian lime. Those dried limes are a fantastic ingredient. They add the essence of lime to dishes without the acid or liquid and are welcome in many dishes from cuisines between, say Sicily and Hawaii. Also, if kept cool and dry they last forever. They definitely aren’t stocked everywhere but I find The Spice Trader on Queen West is a good source.
Plenty has an interesting method for cooking quinoa that I can really get behind. Instead of treating it like rice and figuring out the ratio of water to grain and also trying to hit the timing exactly you cook it like pasta. (But with more rinsing.) Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer, get a big pot of boiling going, put in the quinoa, cook for nine minutes, and drain it.
The weather was a large part of what inspired me to adapt the salad into a sort of stuffed sweet potato skins. A couple weeks ago when it was merely spring-like instead of absolutely summery we headed across the street to the park for our first picnic of the year. In that context an edible serving utensil (the sweet potato skins) is indispensable.
Sweet Potato Skins with Quinoa, Rice, and Feta Salad
Adapted from the Quinoa salad with dried Persian lime in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty.
Sweet potato skins filled with a quinoa and rice salad are a healthy, vegetarian option that doesn’t taste like compromise.
Yield: Feeds two with plenty of leftovers
- 2 sweet potatoes, selected for their regular, football-like shape and well scrubbed
- 1/2 cup quinoa
- 1/2 cup basmati rice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 TB ground Persian lime
- see note on herbs
- 2 scallions, the green parts only, sliced very thinly on the bias
- 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 3 oz feta, crumbled, more or less depending on virtuous you’re feeling
- 3 TB olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Note on herbs: The original recipe calls for a battalion of fresh herbs (3 TB shredded mint, 1 1/2 TB roughly chopped oregano, and 1 1/2 TB shredded sage leaves, once amounts are halved for my purposes) but I because it was still wintry here when I made this I substituted a heaping tablespoon of the “condi-mint” from the Joe Beef cookbook.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Microwave the sweet potatoes for four minutes on high. (This will soften them.) Cut them in half from tip to tip. Use a paring to cut through the flesh about a half centimetre in from the skin, all the way around. Then cut about every centimetre in the shorter direction and a couple times in the longer direction so that the flesh is can be scooped out in rough dice. Your goal is to keep the sweet potato skins intact with a bit of flesh still attached to help with sturdiness but don’t sweat it too much and be careful not to cut yourself. Place the skins, flesh up, on a baking sheet and spread the cubes around them. Drizzle with half the olive and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 18 mintues. After 18 minutes remove from the oven but leave the oven on and move the top rack to the position two below your broiler.
- Follow the instructions on the package for cooking the rice. Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the quinoa, reduce to a simmer, and cook for nine minutes. Drain both the rice and quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and combine in a large mixing bowl.
- Heat the garlic in the remaining oil in a small pan over medium. When it is just turning golden add the sage and oregano (if using), stirring, and after 30 seconds transfer to the bowl with the rice and quinoa.
- Add the roasted sweet potato cubes, lime powder, mint (or substitute), half the scallions, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Stir gently together. Fill the sweet potato skins with the salad and sprinkle the crumbled feta over the top.
- Bake in the oven for eight minutes to warm everything through and then turn the broiler on high. Broil for two to three minutes or until the feta is brown and some of the quinoa is toasted. Garnish with the remaining scallions and enjoy.