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Book Reviews

Stellar Vegan Salads by Sharon Discorfano

Book Review:
Stellar Vegan Salads by Sharon Discorfano

Is there any dish more stereotypically “what vegans eat” than salad? The notion of herbivores eating a steady diet of only salads is pervasive but anyone who’s been vegan for a while knows that there are seemingly endless dining opportunities available to us, basically everything that anyone else can eat, from pizza and tacos to Thai food and casseroles, made without animal ingredients. (We have so many options, in fact, that some vegans have to remind themselves to eat more vegetables.) Along came a new book into my queue to review recently, and it’s one that has prompted me to reconsider the rather routine big salad I make for my lunch most weekdays: why should salads be so predictable and boring? The new cookbook, Stellar Vegan Salads by Sharon Discorfano, elevates the art of salad from the rudimentary affairs most of us think of when we hear the word to the imaginative show-stoppers that would work as complete meals and impress at any party. In other words, Stellar Vegan Salads is a whole new way of conceptualizing what we think about when we think about salad.

Written by an unabashed, lifelong salad enthusiast, Discorfano starts the book by waxing nostalgic on a vivid memory of sitting at her father’s side as they made a simple salad together, and that same sense of wonder and possibilities infuses the entire book. Think of salad as simply lettuces, a cucumber and some tomatoes? What about grains, fruits, legumes and nuts, as well as vegetables that are not common salad ingredients, thinking outside of the salad bowl? But before getting into her 27 creative and fun salad assemblies, Discorfano gives some tips on the art of salad making (for example, stick your washed and spun salad greens in the freezer for two-to-three minutes for chilled greens with a more crispness) as well as her “5 Ts” of thinking of salads as a full sensory experience: Taste, Texture, Timing, Trappings and Travel. Master these, loosen up your expectations of what a salad should be, and you could also unleash your inner-salad artist.

Including recipes that range from classics like “Chicken” Caesar Salad to a wild party in a bowl like the Ravioli Salad, lighter ideas like the refreshing looking Watermelon and Watercress Salad to celebratory main dishes like the Thanksgiving-inspired So Thankful! Salad, these are whole meals intended for two big servings but can be easily downsized or expanded. With vivid descriptions and simple instructions, the salads vary in complexity and skill level, though I’d venture to guess that all could be made by a novice cook. For those who appreciate dishes that incorporate some prepared items, such as polenta, seitan and packaged vegan cheese, you will find recipes here. For those who prefer salads that are wholly prepared by hand, you will find those as well. There are ample photos included as well (many are tantalizing though a few could be better lit and more in focus) to give a good glimpse into what the finished salad could look like. Emerging salad artists will also appreciate the helpful section on oils and vinegar flavors.

I recommend Stellar Vegan Salads to anyone looking to step up their salad game and anyone who looking for some creative and fun combinations to enjoy salads every season of the year. Is salad a stereotypic vegan food? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that it ever has to be boring.

Thanks so much to Sharon Discorfano for permission to reprint the Paradise Salad with Orange-Chili Oil Dressing, a simple, warming and refreshing creation.

Paradise Salad with Orange-Chili Oil Dressing

After finishing up law school, where I focused on topics related to animal law, my husband Seth and I treated ourselves to a relaxing and restorative trip to Cabo. This is my version of a salad I savored while staying at Las Ventanas al Paraiso. The combination of hearts of palm, dates, and orange-chili dressing truly is a slice of paradise; and one forkful takes me right back to practicing yoga in the white sands and warm breeze, watching the manta rays fluttering in and out of the ocean’s surface as I gaze out towards the horizon.

Ingredients for the Bowl:
Mixed Greens
5 Hearts of Palm
5-6 Desert Dates
cup Pumpkin Seeds

cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons hot chili oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 loves minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh jalapenos, minced (optional)

Place mixed greens in the salad bowl.
Slice 4 pieces of hearts of palm into thin discs (about 7 slices per heart) and add to bowl; quarter  the 5th heart of palm length-wise and set aside, to use as center garnish.
Cut 4-5 dates in half and remove the pit from each. Then cut them into smaller slices and add to the bowl. Reserve one date to cut in half, length-wise, and remove pit; set aside for center garnish.
Combine dressing ingredients in a large cup and use a hand mixer to blend. (This makes quite a bit of dressing -- enough for a second salad.)
Drizzle salad with dressing and toss it all together. Ready to serve immediately.

2013, 2014, Vegan Street

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