My favourite cookbooks either take me somewhere or challenge me in a new way. I think this is true for films, books, music etc. as well, but it has to be most especially true with cookbooks because frankly, I have too many. And if I’m makin’ space in my new shelf-y kitchen cabinet JUST for this sort of thing, or I’m aiming to cook with some serious intention from a new perspective, that possible new cookbook better be damn good.
This is just my point of view though. Once you’ve cooked for a while and made a serious effort to be around food in a professional setting, recipes begin to feel almost pointless. Almost. Certain books and audiences need them though. Baking is a good example here. But in a big picture-kind of sense, I’m more vested in the how of recipes and dishes, the cook’s philosphy and how they arrived at this full page photo and accompanying blurb. How many recipes for kale salad does one really need?! When an author goes beyond the recipes and makes you feel something or tells you their story in some way, it’s a whole other thing. Doors open, your vision expands and you think about new things that are possible. The book inspires you to the point where you can think a bit differently.
I’ve had Kimberley Hasselbrink’s book VIBRANT FOOD in my possession for about two weeks, and can safely say it’s one of those inspiring, thought-shifting kind of cookbooks that takes you somewhere. Maybe you read her blog The Year In Food and you already had a hunch that this could be possible? It’s organized by season and then further broken down by an almost micro-seasonal consideration by item. There’s a section on flowers for spring, herbs + greens for summer, tree fruits in fall, and hardy root vegetables in the winter segment, among many others. You get a sense of each season’s flavour and vibe through Kimberley’s photography and thoughtfully approached recipes.
I never thought to put squash blossoms in a quesadilla or to roll chocolate truffles in bee pollen, or to even approach a Japanese-style curry with kabocha squash and soba noodles. There’s some bangin’ renditions of more classic fare as well, like smoky red pepper soup and a shredded brussels sprouts salad with apples + pecans. All really good and beautiful things that could inspire anyone, at whatever level, to cook at home.
The first recipe I tried was a riff on her salmon banh mi sandwiches, with some portobello mushrooms instead. The whole time I was making it, it dawned on me how realistic it would have been for me to fix up something like this for dinner. You get your pickled veg going and the portobellos marinating a bit. You stir up a little mayo, clean some herbs and prep the bread. A minor bit of stove time and assembly leads to a most gratifying sandwich experience. There’s a sour-fresh crunch from the vegetables, the portobellos are meaty to the point of “Wait, really?!” and the mayo! It’s all fresh lemon and garlicky-ness, and it’s crucial for waterproofing (yes, that’s the term I’m using) that light baguette. I could see this as some sort of salad scenario with tons of fresh herbs in the mix with the lettuce and the portobellos all grilled and sliced on top. You could thin the mayonnaise with some of the pickling liquid for a solid dressing, and then make some baguette croutons to finish it off. See what I mean by a book showing you a new way to think?
High fives, Kimberley. It’s a beaut :)
portobello banh mi with pickled vegetables
lightly adapted (but barely) from Vibrant Food by Kimberley Hasselbrink
notes: If you aren’t a mushroom person (WHAAAA??), tempeh or tofu would be so great here. I could even see some grilled pieces of eggplant as a decent replacement. Also, Grace has a particularly yummy looking version of vegetarian banh mi with sweet potatoes! Lastly, I used Vegenaise for the garlic aïoli, mostly out of ease (TRUTH BOMB: I would stock a case of the soy free at all times if I was a billionaire), but you could do a pine nut or cashew variation from the archives :)
pickled vegetable slaw ingredients:
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup natural sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 medium carrots, julienned
2 big radishes OR 1/3 of a daikon radish, sliced paper thin
1/2 english cucumber, julienned
1/2 cup Vegenaise/other plant-friendly mayo
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2 tsp lemon zest
squeeze of lemon juice
banh mi ingredients:
4-6 portobello mushrooms caps (depending on size), cleaned
2 tbsp maple syrup OR dark agave nectar
1 1/2 tsp tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp sriracha hot sauce
3 cloves of garlic, minced
salt + pepper
1 baguette (French, Vietnamese or a GF one, depending on your need or what you can find)
big handful of cilantro leaves
equal handful of thai basil OR mint leaves
thin slices of chili (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the white vinegar, cane sugar and salt until the sugar has dissolved. Place the julienned and sliced cucumber, radish and carrots into the bowl and toss them/submerge them in the vinegar mixture. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Drain when ready to use.
In a small bowl, stir together the Vegenaise, minced garlic, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Cut the portobello mushroom caps into quarters and set aside.
In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the maple syrup/dark agave, tamari, sriracha, minced garlic and a hearty splash of warm water. Add some salt and pepper if you like. Place the quartered portobellos in the sriracha mix and let them sit for 15-20 minutes or so, flipping them over here and there.
Heat some oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Place the portobello quarters into the pan and let them brown a bit on one side. Flip them over and brown a little more. Pour half of the sriracha marinating mix into the pan and simmer until reduced by at least half. Keep turning the portobello pieces in it. Once the mushrooms are reasonably soft and browned, remove them and place on a plate.
Build the sandwiches! Cut the baguette into 4 equal pieces. Spread the aïoli on both sides of all bread. Divide pickled vegetable slaw among the 4 bottoms of bread. Divide the quarters of portobello among the 4 sandwich bottoms. Place cilantro, mint, and Thai basil leaves on top of the portobellos along with the sliced chili. Place the mayo’d tops on top and enjoy.