The Secret of Plant-based Diets

People today are more health-conscious than ever yet, sadly, obesity rates are at an all-time high, ditto for diabetes and heart disease.    
    Hundreds of diets proliferate, but almost without exception experts agree that one key to a healthful lifestyle is incorporating a plant-based diet. While vegan diets or even vegetarian diets are becoming more popular, they are not for everyone. That’s why we say plant-based.
    We’re talking less meat, more plants. But that doesn’t mean you pack your grill in mothballs, as we see in the recipes here.
   “My Italian grandfather and great-grandfather were butchers, the traditional kind who could gracefully carve out a tenderloin and butterfly a chicken,” writes Cara Mangini in “The Vegetable Butcher” (Workman, $29.95). “I can wield a knife as well, but I use mine against the curves of a stubborn butternut squash and to cut thin ribbons out of crinkly kale.”
   If you are not taking advantage of the breathtaking array of fresh produce available, it’s probably because you’re confused about how to shop for, care for and prepare them.  
   “You don’t need much to make eating vegetables easy and pleasurable,” Mangini notes. “With some basic knife skills, a better understanding of how to shop and care for different varieties, and a handful of simple, rewarding go-to recipes, cooking with vegetables becomes second nature. Here, vegetables are at the center of your plate, not an afterthought or obligation. They are modern, sexy, and extraordinarily delicious, the way they deserve to be.
    Case in point: the eggplant dish featured here.
    Meaty eggplant is grilled and given a Caprese treatment.
   “Grilled eggplant, walnut-basil pesto, and a thick balsamic reduction elevate, quite literally, the venerable tomato and mozzarella pairing,” explains Mangini. “The pretty and sturdy stacks make a meal, two on a plate with a delicate salad of baby greens. They travel well, too, and are impressive, a good choice to take to a backyard barbecue. You can make them ahead and not fuss over them, although I might save the last drizzle of balsamic reduction until you reach your destination. Use a mix of colorful heirloom tomatoes, and the colors on the plate will wow you.”
   When you think of grilling, vegetables may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Steven Raichlen, author of over 30 books including “The Barbecue Bible,” which launched a revolution in American grilling, has put an end to all that with his latest, “How to Grill Vegetables” (Workman, $24.95).
    “If something tastes great baked, boiled, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes even better grilled,” he says, and here he applies the same enthusiasm and exacting techniques to grilling a head of cauliflower as he does in his other books to a porterhouse steak.
   Before writing award-winning grilling books including “The Barbecue Bible,” “Planet Barbecue!” “How to Grill” and “BBQ USA”; before his TV shows “Project Smoke,” “Primal Grill” and “Barbecue University”; before being dubbed the “Gladiator of Grilling” by Oprah and before beating the Iron Chef in Tokyo, Steven Raichlen was garnering honors for his healthy lifestyle cookbooks: “High-Flavor Low-Fat Cooking,” “High-Flavor, Low-Fat Vegetarian Cooking,” and “Healthy Latin Cooking.” Then in 2001 he won the James Beard Foundation/KitchenAid Book Award for his “Healthy Jewish Cooking.” So it’s not surprising that at last he turns his attention to vegetables.
    “Grilling 24/7 is one of my bywords, and that means firing up the grill for breakfast and brunch as well as for dinner,” he writes.
   “Which brings me to a dish that’s welcome pretty much anytime, day or night–double-grilled vegetable frittata. Frittata is a cross between an omelet and a quiche, of course, and the first grilling–direct–imparts a smoky char to the vegetables. The second grilling–indirect–cooks the frittata itself. The strategic addition of wood to the fire imparts a smoke flavor that transports this Italian classic to the realm of barbecue. Note the use of a grilling grid, grill wok, or wire-mesh grill basket to grill the vegetables.” 

Eggplant, Tomato, and Mozzarella Stacks
with Pesto Sauce and Balsamic Reduction

1 medium globe eggplant (about 1 pound), sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt

2 to 3 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced into a total of 10 1/4-inch-thick rounds

2 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced into a total of 10 1/4 inch-thick rounds

Coarse or flaked sea salt

1/3 to 1/2 cup basil-walnut pesto (recipe follows)

6 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 10 1/4 inch thick slices

Freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic reduction (recipe follows)

10 fresh basil leaves

  1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat
  2. Place eggplant rounds in single layer on rimmed baking sheet, and brush both sides with olive oil.
  3. When grill is hot, use tongs to place eggplant rounds on grill. Cook, covered and turning once, until eggplant flesh is tender through center, but not completely soft and limp, 25 minutes per side. Transfer eggplant back to baking sheet to cool. Sprinkle lightly with fine sea salt.
  4. Line another baking sheet with parchment, and place 10 of the largest tomato slices on top in a single layer. Sprinkle each with small pinch of salt and pepper. Top each tomato slice with grilled eggplant round equal in size (or slightly smaller). Spread small spoonful pesto over each eggplant round and top with slice of mozzarella. Place smaller tomato slices on top of mozzarella. Sprinkle each tomato slice with small pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and top each stack with basil leaf. Carefully transfer stacks to serving platter or individual plates and serve.

Balsamic Reduction

Yield: about 1/4 cup

1 cup balsamic vinegar

Place vinegar in small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer until vinegar reduces to about 1/4 of its original volume, about 20 minutes. Check consistency: it should be syrupy and coat back of a spoon. Simmer slightly longer if needed.

Store in an airtight, heatproof container in refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely. When you are ready to use it again, bring it to room temperature. Place uncovered container in hot water until you can stir reduction, adding drops of hot water as needed to thin it to your desired consistency.

Basil-Walnut Pesto

3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1 garlic clove

1/3 cup toasted walnut halves (or pine nuts, whole almonds, or pistachios)

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra as needed

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra as needed

1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Bring small pot of water to a boil and place bowl of ice next to stove. Drop basil leaves into boiling water just for a few seconds until they wilt. Immediately remove them with a spider or slotted spoon and immerse them in the ice water. Lift leaves and transfer to colander to drain. Gently squeeze out excess water and let them stand briefly between paper towels to absorb extra moisture.
  2. Finely chop garlic in food processor. Add basil leaves, nuts, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and process until ingredients won’t break down any further. With motor running, pour 1/2 cup of olive oil through top feed tube and blend until mixture is smooth and creamy. Scrape down side of bowl, add Parmesan, and blend briefly to incorporate it. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add more oil, up to 1/4 cup, to thin pesto if you wish.

Pesto will keep in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 3 days. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays or an airtight container up to 6 months.

Source: “The Vegetable Butcher” by Cara Mangini

Double-Grilled Summer Vegetable Frittata

Yield: 4 servings

For the Vegetables:

4 cups diced vegetables (any or all of the following): asparagus stalks, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces; mushrooms, trimmed, wiped clean, and quartered (halved if mushrooms are small); zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices; yellow squash, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices; red or yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice; 4 scallions, trimmed, white and green parts cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper

For the Frittata:

8 large eggs, preferably organic

1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (about 5 ounces)

3 tablespoons thinly slivered or chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, dill, tarragon,

flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, sage, and/or other herbs (optional)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil.

  1. Set up grill for direct grilling and heat to high (or build a wood fire). If using a grilling grid or grill wok, preheat it as well.

2  Prepare vegetables: Place veggies in mixing bowl; toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to grill basket or add to preheated grill wok or grilling grid. Don’t overcrowd; work in batches. Grill, stirring often, until vegetables are darkly browned, 6 to 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

  1. Make frittata: Place eggs in large mixing bowl and lightly beat with whisk or fork. Stir in 1 cup grated cheese, the herbs, grilled vegetables, and salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in cast-iron skillet directly over one burner on grill or stovetop. Swirl pan to butter sides. Add egg mixture; cook without stirring until bottom starts to set, about 2 minutes.
  3. Move skillet off burner and onto grill grate, away from direct heat. If enhancing a charcoal fire, add wood chunks or chips to coals; if enhancing a gas fire, place chunks or chips in smoker box, or place chunks under grate directly over one or more burners. Reduce heat to medium-high.
  4. Cook frittata until eggs are set and top is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. (To test for doneness, insert a bamboo skewer in center of frittata: It should come out clean.) Remove skillet from grill; let rest 3 minutes. Run tip of slender paring knife around inside rim of skillet. Place large heatproof plate or platter on top. While holding plate firmly against skillet’s rim, carefully invert skillet and plate, giving the former a little shake to loosen frittata. Lift skillet. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Cut into wedges and serve at once.

Source: “How to Grill Vegetables” by Steven Raichlen

Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at 



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