This warm, garlicky potato and green bean salad is bursting with summery flavors of mint, arugula and lemon juice. Recipe below.
We’re trying to eat less meat these days. It’s healthier for us, some would argue, and definitely healthier for the planet. We sometimes do it by having meatless days. And we eat smaller portions of meat when we have it; this is an approach Mark Bittman urges us all to take, to use meat as a flavoring or move it to the side of the plate, with vegetables taking the starring role. In an interview this spring on NPR, he envisioned a scenario in which meat “could resume its proper place in our lives, which is as a treat rather than as something we can eat whenever we feel like it.”
I’ll admit I’m not there yet. When I go more than a few days without eating meat, I miss it. A lot. So when author Michael Natkin told me he’s been a vegetarian for 30 years now, it was almost more than my brain could take in. Marion and I were at a book tour event for Natkin’s excellent new vegetarian cookbook, Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes.
The cookbook is a compilation of 150 recipes from his popular blog by the same name. And it’s not specifically aimed at vegetarians. As Natkin puts it, “I don’t care if you are a vegetarian, omnivore, carnivore, vegan, pescetarian or flexitarian!” A good third of the recipes are hearty main courses, the kinds of dishes that could make even someone like me miss meat less. To achieve this, Natkin taps into a global pantry of big-flavored ingredients that were once exotic, but are now available in many supermarkets.
What you won’t find in Herbivoracious is commercial meat substitutes. Natkin says he has nothing against them and his family occasionally eats them at home. But in the book, he chooses to focus on “making delicious foods from vegetarian ingredients” rather than emulate meat. Tofu and tempeh are exempt from this ban because they are “traditional ingredients with thousands of years of history” that predate the notion of meat substitutes.
Besides an impressive range of recipes from small plates to soups, salads, sandwiches, main courses, desserts and breakfasts, the book is full of useful information and tips on ingredients, kitchen equipment and cooking technique. Some of this is in special sections, but much is woven into the recipes themselves. Natkin’s clear, friendly writing style should instill confidence even in kitchen novices. But it’s not watered down cooking. Amanda Cohen, chef/owner of the New York vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, says that Natkin is “one of the few chefs who is not a professional restaurant chef whose writing I read religiously and who has taught me things I didn’t know before.”
I’m sure we’ll try many recipes in this book. For the first one, I’ve chosen a potato and green bean salad with arugula pesto. I tweaked it only slightly (because that’s how I cook), upping the amount of oil in the pesto and adding pecans and a little lemon juice. I also served it still warm, instead of cooling the potatoes and green beans with cold water.
Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto
Serves 3 to 4
A quick note: Get all ingredients for the pesto ready, but don’t blend it in the food processor until the potatoes and green beans are cooked. Processing it at the last minute will help maintain its vibrant green color.
1 pound small waxy potatoes (I used red-skinned, but fingerlings would be nice too)
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and halved
freshly ground black pepper
For the arugula:
1/2 cup pecan halves
2 ounces baby arugula (about 3 cups loosely packed)
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup grated good quality Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Prepare the vegetables. In a large pot, cover potatoes by 2 inches with cold water. Salt generously and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a vigorous simmer and cook until potatoes can be pierced easily with a sharp knife. Transfer to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Add green beans to pot and cook until crisp tender, about 2-1/2 minutes. Transfer green beans to a separate bowl.
When the potatoes are cooled just enough so you can handle them, slice them into halves.
Make the pesto. While the potatoes are cooking, place all the pesto ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, but don’t process the until you’re ready to dress the vegetables. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
Assemble the salad. Add the green beans to the potato bowl. Top with the pesto and toss gently with wooden spatulas to combine. Season with black pepper and additional salt, if needed. Serve while still warm.