Spring has sprung! The sun is shining, mornings are milder and days are longer. As the winter ends and summer starts to feel closer, I always find myself wanting to cook lighter dishes, moving away from the winter soups I love but have had enough of for a year. While meat and starches tend to dominate throughout winter, springtime really is the time to let the vegetables shine.

Best place to start? Without a doubt, the farmers’ market. It is literally bursting at the seams with new season veggies at the moment: asparagus, beans, all sorts of leafy greens, baby carrots, artichokes, fennel, cabbage, peas and the list goes on…

But of course, as beautiful and appetizing as they all look, coming up with ideas to cook them can be tricky at times. I thought I would share a couple of recipe books that I have had my eye on for a while and that might just get the creative juices flowing.

-Salad for dinner – by Jeanne Kelley
Complete meals for all seasons
Salad for dinner is all about the art of bringing beautiful ingredients together, in a balanced harmony, to emphasize each ingredient and play with textures, flavors and colors on the plate. Nothing does that better than a salad and if you thought that salads are only for summer, then think again!

Salad for dinner puts the leafy greens at the centre of the metaphorical plate and surrounds them with wonderful combinations of seasonal ingredients, creating warm earthy salads in winter, vibrant crunchy salads in the spring and light fresh salads in summer.

The book begins with a comprehensive introduction into the world of green leaves. If your repertoire is limited to cos lettuce, then there is a lot to learn. Many of these leaves are pretty easy to find (crisphead lettuce, aragula, mache, frisee) while others might be a bit more challenging to get your hands on (mizuna, chickweed, nettles..), but that’s all part of the game and you could always start growing your own. The author goes into how to wash, store and prepare leaves to preserve the all important crispness.

The recipes are then organized by main ingredient (salads with seafood, salads with meat…) and almost every recipe is matched with a different dressing, from the classic vinaigrette to more unusual ones like blood-orange sherry vinaigrette or creamy blue cheese dressing.

The salads themselves are beautifully illustrated and include classics like the Caesar salad and the Salade Nicoise, salads which can seamlessly pass as a main meal – roasted balsamic chicken and green bean salad with goat cheese – or even better, a sensational breakfast – frisee and aragula salad with bacon, poached egg and whole wheat croutons.

Oh and to finish it off, the author includes a single dessert recipe: a divine looking chocolate cream pie, because afterall, isn’t the point of having salad for dinner to keep some room for dessert? Yeah, that sounds like excellent logic to me.

– Mr. Wilkinson’s favourite vegetables by Matt Wilkinson
A cookbook to celebrate the seasons
Mr. Wilkinson’s favourite vegetables is a beautiful compilation of tips and recipes for growing, preparing and cooking with vegetables as the centre piece of a meal. This isn’t a vegetarian cookbook but certainly shifts the balance we are nowadays accustomed to.

The volume that Matt Wilkinson has put together is simple yet sophisticated and beautifully presented.

Matt begins with a quick introduction into his basic cooking philosophy: vegetables come first, protein and starches come next. In days gone by, this was the default way: meat was harder to come by, expensive and difficult to store. Nowadays, meat tends to comes first, starches next and lastly, the poor old vegetable.

This book isn’t vegetarian but it definitely highlights vegetables. The book is organised in 24 sections corresponding to the author’s proffered favourite vegetables, most of which he says he can’t live without and mostly grows himself at home.

Each vegetable chapter includes a bit of history about the vegetable in question, tips on growing and preparing it. This introduction is then followed by a few recipes which include a good balance of dishes with dips, cold soups or entrees as well as some heavier main meals.

Quite a few of those happen to be vegetarian, or could easily be transformed into vegetarian, but many include beautiful cuts of meat which I can only assume would have been ethically sourced.

Understanding the ingredients, whether they are meat or vegetables opens up a whole new world of possibilities and this book goes a long way in rekindling a sometimes flailing friendship with the good old veggie.

– Pure Vegan – by Joseph Shuldiner
70 recipes for beautiful meals and clean living

And finally, if talking about veggies inspires you to really take the plunge, then Pure Vegan could be a good place to start.

Pure Vegan is a good introduction to a plant-based diet and while I must confess, I enjoy the occasional steak too much to look the other way for now, this book has certainly gone some way in changing my perception of the vegan diet.

When I hear the word vegan, I seem to only think of tofu and strange seeds. I completely forget that so many basic ingredients of life are inherently vegan.

This book reminded me of it and reading through it seemed to open the door into a world that is actually surprisingly familiar.

The book begins with a comprehensive list of what one might find in a vegan pantry. Amongst all the ‘normal’ ingredients like chocolate, dried fruits, nuts, mushrooms, herbs and spices etc… were a few of the more specialized ‘vegan’ ingredients: non-dairy milks (soy, almond, rice, barley…), soy based products, vegan mayonnaise etc…

The book is then divided into sections based on times of the day, from morning to very late night. Included is quite a selection of various cocktails (yes, most alcohol is vegan!), some entrees or dips, plenty of filling and hearty meals and a few very tempting desserts.

I suppose that the main thing is to understand how to substitute eggs or dairy, particularly in baking but this book really shows that it’s pretty easy. A combination of silken tofu which has the texture of custard, soy yoghurt and vegan shortening (a sort of butter stick) seems to provide the solution.

In any case, when one sees the photo for the chocolate sea salt tart, it’s hard not to believe the author when he says that a vegan diet isn’t about deprivation but really a celebration of the ingredients and a way of sustaining oneself that is closer to the earth. And contrary to popular belief, it all looks quite simple.

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