Cookbooking: The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen

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While I love making up my own recipes, sometimes it’s great to sit down with a cookbook and do things someone else’s way. So today, I’m presenting what will hopefully be the first post in an occasional series of cookbook reviews, where I’ll tell you what I think about a book, and show off something I cooked from said book. I’ll be kicking off with a well-worn favorite of mine, The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, by Donna Klein.

As cookbooks go, MVK is fairly unpretentious and unassuming. No fancy photos (no photos at all, aside from the cover, actually). There is some introductory prose about the Mediterranean diet and how realistic the vegan interpretations of it are (condensed version: vegan or nearly vegan food is not that uncommon in the typical Mediterranean diet). Then, the recipes. The book is roughly organized into courses, with a little subdivision in the middle: for some reason there is one chapter of “rice and grains” and then a chapter of “vegetables and legumes”. I didn’t quite understand why legumes didn’t merit their own chapter, but there you go. Things I especially like about this book: the proliferation of low-fuss vegetable dishes (perfect for our everyday meals) and the fact that the food really does encompass a wide swath of Mediterranean cuisine (lots of Italian recipes, but also Spanish, Provencal, Greek, and forays into North African dishes). More specific to my own little quirks, I like that this is a vegan cookbook with no tofu/tempeh, and that it helps me to break out of the tomato-heavy rut my own Mediterranean cooking can tend to fall into.

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As you might expect from a Mediterranean cookbook, there are plenty of recipes involving bread, rice, or pasta, which I initially skipped over but have since found to be a good source of inspiration for flavor combinations. And the dessert section has quite a few items that are fruit based and either already low in added sugars, or that look like they would be easily tweakable. Very nice if you like to have a little something after dinner on a regular basis.

For my recipe to test-drive and post about, I decided to branch out a bit and try something new to me. After much flipping around and deployment of scrap-paper bookmarks, I settled on a simple dish of spinach sauteed with raisins and pine nuts. The ingredients list was relatively short and unexotic, and I’ve been wanting to expand my spinach repertoire beyond smoothies and salads.

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The most involved part of this dish was toasting the pine nuts, as you really do have to stand over the pan and watch them constantly. Turn your back and they burn. For cooking the spinach, I used our trusty 12″ cast-iron skillet, which was the perfect size to prevent the pre-wilted spinach from spilling over onto the stovetop. If you are using a smaller skillet, you might need to cook the spinach in two batches. When I make this again, I’m going to take the time to run the washed spinach through a salad spinner, as I think there was just a little too much residual moisture sloshing around in the pan and creating a dish that was slightly more steamed than sauteed. Overall though, the spinach was very tasty and I especially loved the addition of the raisins. I have some wariness of adding dried to fruit to anything other than trail mix, baked goods, or breakfast foods, and this spinach was a reminder that I am being ridiculous. More raisins at dinner!

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For the inagural run, I decided to go for an all “Mediterranean” dinner and added a dish of chickpeas with walnut sauce, and lemon-herb cauliflower rice into the mix (recipes for those next week). It was a great little trio, but I could see the spinach easily mixing with curries or other less Mediterranean dishes. We’ll be having it again.

Spinach sauteed with raisins and pine puts
(adapted from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, by Donna Klein).
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
2 tbsp pine nuts (the price for these nuts seems to be going further through the roof every day–once our current stockpile is gone I will probably be using chopped almonds)
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 lb spinach, stems removed, rinsed and dried
2 tsp water
2 tbsp raisins, soaked in warm water for at least 10 minutes, then drained
salt and pepper, to taste

Method

1. Toast the nuts. Heat a 12″ skillet to medium heat and place nuts in the pan. Stir for approximately 3 minutes, until nuts are just beginning to brown. Remove nuts from pan and set aside.

2. In the same skillet, heat the olive oil. Ad the garlic clove and cook until lightly browned, then remove garlic from pan and discard.

3. Add the spinach and water to the pan, stir for 2-3 minutes, until spinach is wilted but stil bright green. Remove from heat and add raisings and pine nuts, salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition information (assumes 4 servings): 76 calories, 7g carbohydrate, 5g fat, 3g protein, 2 g fiber

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