I would never claim to be vegetarian, despite what a look at my weeknight dinner menu may suggest. I’ll order a bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon when we go out to dinner and be just as happy with that meal as I am my bowls of vegetable soup in the fall, so I’m not opposed to vegetarian food either. But a history of health problems linked to diet and lifestyle on both sides of my family does tend to increase the frequency of my healthier dinners, which is why I picked up Fresh & Fast Vegetarian, by Marie Simmons, on a recent trip to Powell’s. I’m busy during the week and a healthy, fast, and filling dinner recipe comes in handy!

Fresh & Fast Vegetarian

Marie Simmons seems to have a similar “sorta almost vegetarian” story to mine-she grew up in a rural area where fresh veggies are readily available, and a mother who believed fresh and healthy food cured everything. The introduction to the cookbook (part of which I shared in a recent TT post) explains that “the simple fact is I eat plant-based foods because they taste good and they make me feel better.” Caring about the planet and the animals is great, but to eat anything first and foremost is has to taste good and feel good!

This book has tons of recipes, and most of them take 30 to 40 minutes to prep and cook (perfect for weeknight dinners for me, since I don’t like spending more than an hour in the kitchen when I’m tired from work). The recipes include everything from soups to snacks to full meal plans. Many of them have options for making the recipe vegan, although that’s not a big deal with me (of course, I also bought a cookbook of vegan recipes on this trip…). The make the meals more filling there is a variety of beans, pastas, and tofu main dishes; I’ve never tried tofu, but the fiance is trying to change that. On my first pass through the book I found 16 recipes I will use without changing, and dozens more that will need minor tweaks (we don’t eat mushrooms, so I’ll need to modify those recipes at a later time).

And of course, the food sounds amazing. Some of my favorites include Tomato and White Bean Soup with Spinach Pesto, Curried Lentils with Walnuts, Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes, and the Orecchiette with Ricotta, Broccoli Rabe and Blistered Cherry Tomatoes. Each recipe comes with a “Make it a meal” plan that suggests sides to create a filling and balanced meal. Sometimes the side suggested is a simple toasted bread with cheese curls, and other suggestions are soup and a salad. The one thing I found missing from the cookbook were dessert recipes, but since almost every dessert is vegetarian anyway I can understand why it was left out (and it’s not like I don’t already have 20 dessert themed cookbooks…).

Possibly my favorite part, however, are the tips Simmons shares at the start of each chapter. From how to properly store and chop veggies to cooking techniques and flavor parings, her suggestions are a great starting point for beginning vegetarian cooks and helpful reminders for experienced cooks. She breaks complex recipes into easy small steps, gives shortcuts for more time-consuming recipes that aren’t weeknight friendly, and her meal plans balance sides dishes with main dishes in a way I still struggle to do. Fresh & Fast Vegetarian is a wonderful introduction to the world of vegetarian cooking and one I would strongly recommend for anyone just starting their journey into healthy eating.

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