Oldways is always searching for creative ways to add more plants to our plates, so when we caught wind of the book, The Vibrant Table, we were excited to see what inspiration might lie inside. The pages of Anya Kassoff’s cookbook do not disappoint – from salads, soups, savories, sweets and more, each dish is a feast for the senses. Her unique ingredient combinations and photography (taken by her daughter) leave the reader wanting more, more, more!
Today we share some morsels of this delicious cookbook with all of you.
OLDWAYS: You talk about always dreaming of food, beginning with your vivid childhood dreams of huckleberry ice cream. How does it feel to have made those dreams a reality and to have the ability to share them with others?
ANYA: I feel fortunate to constantly have access to such a variety of fresh ingredients - something that was only a distant dream in my childhood and youth in the Soviet Union. Sharing my recipes and inspiring others to be more adventurous with plant-based cooking is very fulfilling and what I love to do best. I still get giddy when I hear of a reader trying out and loving a recipe of mine.
OLDWAYS: Can you talk with our readers about your transition from a meat-centric lifestyle to becoming a woman with a plant-filled plate?
ANYA: That transition was very exciting for me. When it comes to cooking, I always look for novelty - otherwise I get bored. Once I learned about the amazing culinary potential of fruit and vegetables, I realized that I would never be bored in the kitchen again. There are countless kinds of fruit, roots, grains and nuts in this world, and all offer unique health benefits and flavors. I continue to discover new foods and ways of preparing them every day. Needless to say, I do not much miss cooking with meat.
OLDWAYS: What tips can you offer to readers who are just starting to think about cutting back on meat?
ANYA: The most important advice I can give is to eat and cook according to season. Seasonal vegetables and fruits are usually at the peak of their freshness and flavor, and don’t require a lot of time or effort to turn them into an amazing meal. Incorporating a variety of grains and legumes, as well as plenty of fresh herbs, spices and citrus, can help calm down possible initial cravings by making your meals bright and exciting. Try to learn from international culinary wisdom as well - many cuisines from around the world are originally plant-based and contain many simple, yet flavorful dishes.
OLDWAYS: As you invite readers to your table you encourage them to be flexible with ingredients and open to new flavors. What are some other suggestions you have for a curious (but maybe inexperienced) cook looking to become more versed in the kitchen?
ANYA: Take on one step or ingredient/flavor at a time. Begin with simple techniques, like blanching and roasting, and get to know your food. Ultimately, you will become more versed, but only if you try and find out what works or doesn’t work for yourself.
OLDWAYS: We love your commitment to cooking with kids. Can you share some successful strategies with readers who want to bring their children into the kitchen?
ANYA: In my experience, children love to help out in the kitchen, as long as you give them enough freedom and interesting, creative tasks. It takes more time and patience to cook with kids, but eventually, it will lead to them learning a few skills and starting to be truly helpful.
OLDWAYS: We can never walk away from a conversation like this without asking, would you be so kind to share a recipe from your book with our readers?
ANYA: Absolutely. My butternut squash and sage fritters feel perfect for this time of year.
Butternut Squash and Sage Fritters
Makes about 12 fritters
I have a deep fondness for vegetable pancakes or fritters; they were one of the tastiest and simplest meals of my childhood. My mother made them with zucchini in summer and pumpkin in fall and winter, or we would enjoy potato pancakes, or draniki, the dish so dear to most Eastern European cultures.
These baked butternut squash fritters satisfy my craving for vegetable pancakes and deliver a strong fall flavor. You can also make them with zucchini in the summer instead of butternut squash—just squeeze out the excess water. For the summery variation, eliminate the sage and nutmeg and add 1 tablespoon each minced mint and dill and use almond flour rather than hazelnut flour.
1½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 cups (about 14½ ounces) packed, finely shredded butternut squash
1 large egg
Large pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons minced
Fresh sage (from about 5 sage leaves)
1 tablespoon minced fresh
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1½ ounces (45 g) feta
cheese, preferably goat’s milk and/or sheep’s milk feta, crumbled
½ cup (50 g) hazelnut flour or almond flour
Warm ½ tablespoon of the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, until translucent. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Wrap the shredded butternut squash in several layers of paper towels and squeeze gently so the paper towels can absorb the excess liquid. Remove the paper towels and place the squash in a medium bowl with the egg, salt, pepper, sage, parsley, paprika, nutmeg, cheese, and hazelnut flour. Add the onion and garlic and mix to combine.
Line a baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment paper. With your hands, shape the squash mixture into patties and arrange them on the baking sheet about 1½ inches (4 cm) apart. If the batter doesn’t stick together or is too wet, add a little more flour. Brush the patties with half of the remaining olive oil and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove the sheet from the oven and flip the patties using a thin spatula. Brush the other side of the patties with the remaining olive oil and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream or yogurt and/or a simple green salad on the side.
For a vegan variation: Roast ½ cup hazelnuts in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes. Let the nuts cool, then remove the skins by rubbing them with a kitchen towel. Grind the hazelnuts into small pieces in a food processor. Add the hazelnut meal to the shredded squash along with salt, spices, herbs, and sautéed vegetables. Add 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds and ¼ cup buckwheat flour. Mix well, then form the patties and bake as directed above.
From The Vibrant Table by Anya Kassoff, © 2014 by Anya Kassoff.© 2014 Photographs by Masha Davydova. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA. www.roostbooks.com