Teach me to make tastier vegetables
April 23, 2013 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Lately I crave very tasty vegetable and grain salads from very pricey cafes. Can any cookbooks or blogs teach me to cook something similar?

I want to eat more veggies and stop spending money on small containers of tasty goodness so I'm hoping people have good cookbook, blog or even single recipe suggestions for me. I don't know quite what to call what I'm looking for (modern farmer's market cold veggie salads? Pricey cafe deli vegetable salads?) They sometimes have grains like farro, barley, etc and sometimes they don't. To give you an idea of the kinds of things I've been ordering:
* Roasted cauliflower, preserved lemon, green olives
* Farro with feta, cucumber and radishes
* Shaved brussel sprout salad with fennel, pecorino, toasted almonds and parsley
* Butternut Squash Salad with basil, pickled red onion, pine nuts & lemon yogurt
* Toasted Israeli Couscous with mushrooms & shallots

I don't mind buying unusual ingredients or that sort of thing if it will save me from getting take out. I suspect that part of what makes these vegetable salads are the dressings which go beyond a basic vinaigrette. Maybe someone has a good suggestion as far as vinaigrettes or special vinegars or...?

What cookbook should I check out? As far as blogs, I already read: Smitten Kitchen, 101 Cookbooks, Love and Lemons, Amateur Gourmet. What else should I be reading? Thanks!
posted by biscuits to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
I can't make any cookbook recommendations, but more generally, the one thing that most separates restaurant salads from home salads is salt. Make sure you use enough salt (and acid). If you're not vegetarian, anchovies are pretty magic as well.

Check out J Kenji Lopez-Alt's month of vegan recipes on Serious Eats; he does some pretty amazing stuff with grains and vegetables.
posted by supercres at 5:51 PM on April 23, 2013

Check out "A New Way to Cook" and an "Improvisatory Cook." both by Sally Schneider. They're filled with recipes like those. Especially the first one, which has huge sections on both salads and grains.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:54 PM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

the salad section on 101 cookbooks might get you started.
posted by koroshiya at 5:56 PM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. Look at the chapter on salads. Also, part of the book goes through each major vegetable in alphabetical order, with simple recipes that feature each one.
posted by John Cohen at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

martha stewart also has a section on vegetarian main course salads.
posted by koroshiya at 6:00 PM on April 23, 2013

Hit the library and checkout just about anything by Deborah Madison. The newer books by Moosewood would be good too. I've heard very favorable reports about a newish book called "Raising the Salad Bar".

Often the label of your deli purchased salad will list the ingredients. They are listed in order of quantity so you have a starting point to help recreate the dish.
posted by cat_link at 6:10 PM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

in LA, there's a place called mendocino farms, and they make AWESOME salads. they've posted some of their recipes here.
posted by koroshiya at 6:13 PM on April 23, 2013

101cookbooks.com and the associated books by Heidi Swanson are exactly what you want here.
posted by juliapangolin at 6:14 PM on April 23, 2013

thanks everyone! These are all great! I should say, I read 101 cookbooks and have cooked from her site--so yes, I want sites and cookbooks like 101 cookbooks salad section.
posted by biscuits at 6:39 PM on April 23, 2013

Everything we've made out of Mediterranean Fresh has been excellent!

Most of the book is salads like the ones you like and the back has a bunch of different dressings and vinaigrettes. There are suggestions on combinations, but the author is pretty relaxed about mixing it up. Since I'm a novice, I find this very reassuring :)

It looks like you can't "look inside" on Amazon, but to give you an idea the book is broken up into chapters on Leafy Salads; Raw and Cooked Vegetable Salads; Fruit Salads; Classic and Modern Grain, Bread, and Pasta Salads; Bean Salads; From the Sea; Poultry and Meat Salads and Small Plates. Then the dressing chapters are: Vinaigrettes; Citrus Dressings or Citronnettes; Creamy Dressings that Double as Dips; and Sauces with Multiple Personalities: Pesto, Tapenade, Romesco, Charmoula, and Harissa.
posted by Mouse Army at 6:46 PM on April 23, 2013

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian is a lot like Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone (organized similarly, fairly comprehensive, with general tips and guidelines on prepping vegetables along with easy recipes and variations) and quite useful. For example, that's where I learned that allowing asparagus to soak in water for 30 minutes and then thoroughly draining helps it retain some crispness through the cooking process.
posted by ifjuly at 6:49 PM on April 23, 2013

Oh, and it's not any single one of her cookbooks necessarily, but Melissa Clark is awesome with simple but scrumptious and unique/modern fresh take weekday preparations for vegetables (generally, she likes to put cumin, lemon, red pepper flakes, and/or anchovy in pretty much everything).

Orangette was my first ever cherished food blog mainly on the strength of her salads/veggies (along with baked goods), and she's still way high up there.
posted by ifjuly at 6:52 PM on April 23, 2013

The Moosewood Daily Special focuses on soups, stews, and salads. It has lots of good veggie, grain, and/or fruit salads.
posted by BrashTech at 7:17 PM on April 23, 2013

A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends by Jack Bishop is wonderful. I've heard great things about his other books, too, and his America's Test Kitchen background mean the recipes work.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:46 PM on April 23, 2013

I came in to recommend Orangette also (link directly to the recipe index). Molly's salads are awesome, and I've used vinaigrettes from them on other salads with great success. Particularly the dressing from this salad, which I basically put on everything (sometimes with different wine vinegars).
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:05 PM on April 23, 2013

I always like to check out Yotam Ottolenghi's receipes here and here ... he also has some cookbooks but it's not solely salads, you will have to dig a little.
posted by latch24 at 9:30 PM on April 23, 2013

The Post-Punk Kitchen website and cookbooks are full of grainy goodness.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:38 PM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

My local food co-op has many salads like this, and, like you, I have recently realized how much $$ I'm spending on hearty salads that I could be making at home. My favorite replication so far (which only takes 5 minutes to make) is:

1 can chickpeas (15 oz)
handful dried apricots
couple tablespoons kalamata olives
dresssing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon, and poultry seasoning (or marjoram, thyme, etc.) + salt and pepper.

Whisk together dressing ingredients in a tupperware. Sometimes I add champagne vinegar, walnut oil, etc., but you can realistically use the four listed and have a pretty good dressing. Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas, dump in to the tupperware; add to this chopped up kalamata olives and dried apricots (I cut mine into slivers with kitchen shears). Snip up the parsley and add; put the lid on and shake it up. Take to work with a bed of arugula or other nutritious green.

After trial and error I found that my biggest incentive to buy ready-made salads was the fresh herbs the stores included. I wasn't willing to buy/care for/prepare fresh herbs, and often would use dried herbs as a shortcut. It really makes a difference to use fresh, and you should see if it is worth the time/money investment.
posted by stellaluna at 12:24 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Obviously 101 Cookbooks, but also Heidi Swanson's cookbooks.

Recipe archives at The Kitchn have a lot of these types of salads.
posted by hrj at 8:06 AM on April 24, 2013

In general, also, part of the trick to getting restaurant-level tastiness in food at home is to use more salt and fat than you might think to normally, as well as using high-quality ingredients. For these kinds of salads, that probably means being generous with the oil in the dressing and generous with the dressing (and other fatty, salty things like feta) in the salad.
mmm, fatty salty things...
posted by EmilyFlew at 8:13 AM on April 24, 2013

Real french fleur de sel makes all the difference. It's expensive but you don't use as much.
posted by rada at 9:20 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you might like the cooking of UK-based Yotam Ottolenghi. He does have cook books, but I have only ever cooked from his recipe column in the UK Guardian newspaper. Try it out here
posted by kadia_a at 11:38 AM on April 24, 2013

101 Simple Salads - good stuff, gives you ideas.
posted by mskyle at 6:07 PM on April 24, 2013

I am in love with the above-mentioned Plenty. The photos in it make every recipe look amazingly delicious and everything I have made out of it so far (10+ recipes, I think) has been delectable. My mouth is watering just thinking about that book!
posted by urbanlenny at 7:37 AM on April 25, 2013

Thanks so much for all the great answers! They're all best answer but I'm going to mark the ones with books I want to get.
posted by biscuits at 9:57 AM on May 28, 2013

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