Marie Simmons loves bold, imaginative flavors from around the world, and her magically simple combinations have been featured in many magazines, from Redbook to Bon Appétit, where she was a popular columnist, and in her award-winning cookbooks. Over the years, she has come to rely more and more on vegetables and grains, because, as she says, "They taste good and they make me feel better."
Now, in Fresh & Fast Vegetarian, she offers up more than 150 of her favorite dinners. Most can be made in half an hour or less, and for each one, Simmons provides an equally easy accompaniment. Like Roasted Vegetables and Mozzarella Quesadillas, some are meals in themselves, while others are smaller dishes that can be paired to create a quick but sumptuous dinner. A number of Simmons's nearly effortless, vibrant recipes are vegan. Each tells exactly how long it will take to prepare. Fresh & Fast Vegetarian also provides hundreds of tips for shortcuts and substitutions.
"Of all the meals I enjoy cooking, soup is my favorite," Marie says, "Soup-making techniques are not etched in stone. The experience can be fluid, generous and spontaneous. You can follow a recipe or not."
Here are some quick tips to get you started:
A large (5- to 8-quart capacity) wide pot with two opposing handles, often called a Dutch oven, works best for soup.
The fresher the ingredients, the better the soup. Relegate limp and tired vegetables to the compost bin.
If you have a mishap and the vegetables turn black, throw them out. All the spices in the world can’t mask burned vegetables. Take a deep breath and start over.
Warm spices in olive oil over low heat, 1 to 2 minutes, perhaps with the garlic, if using. Warmed, lightly toasted spices release their flavor and add a full, complex taste to the soup.
Dried herbs are twice as strong as their fresh counterparts and should be used sparingly. Add them to the hot broth or other liquid, where they will slowly rehydrate.
Add fresh herbs at the end of the cooking time so they retain their bright, fresh taste. Stir half of them into the soup and use the remainder to sprinkle on top as a garnish.
If your soup is a little blah, it may simply need a squirt of fresh lemon or lime juice, an extra shower of finely chopped herb, a drizzle of olive oil or a swirl of yogurt.
Tips for pureed soups:
Pureeing is a snap with a lightweight handheld immersion blender. This handy tool allows you to puree the soup directly in the pot, eliminating the need to transfer the soup back and forth and saving messy cleanup.
Cool the soup slightly before pureeing in a blender or food processor. A boiling hot soup can expand and spill over dangerously. Be careful not to overfill. If the soup is warm, hold the lid down with a folded towel.
An old-fashioned food mill will remove seeds and skins and produce a thicker-textured soup than a blender.
Carrots and sweet potatoes make for sweet silkiness in this smooth, creamy, dairy-free soup. Hefty additions of fresh ginger and jalapeño contribute the right hit of heat and create a sophisticated flavor profile. To keep the juicy crunch of the bok choy, add it just before serving.
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Ingredients2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat the oil in a soup pot until it is hot enough to sizzle a piece of vegetable. Add the carrots, sweet potatoes, scallions, celery, garlic, ginger and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until lightly browned and softened, about 10 minutes. Add 6 cups water and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
2. Ladle out about 2 cups of the solid vegetables and set aside. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. If you don’t have an immersion blender, let the soup cool slightly, transfer it to a blender or food processor, in batches if necessary, and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot.
3. Add the reserved vegetables, lime juice and jalapeño. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Bring the soup to a boil. Stir in the bok choy and cook for 30 seconds. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro.
If you can find real baby carrots, use them. Leave the thin skins on and cut the carrots into 1½-inch pieces. Instead of peeling the sweet potatoes, scrub them with a stiff brush. Their skins soften when cooked.
TOASTED QUINOA, CORN AND AVOCADO SALAD
The nutty taste and irresistible crunch of toasted quinoa make it a natural for a refreshing, yet hearty, main-dish salad. Here I dress it with a favorite dressing of toasted ground cumin and lots of lime juice.
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side dish
1 1–2 cups quinoa
1 tablespoon mild-flavored olive oil or other vegetable oil
For the Jalapeño Dressing
2 teaspoons ground cumin
5 tablespoons mild-flavored olive oil or other vegetable oil
½ cup fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper, plus more to taste
1 garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears)
1 cup diced (½ inch firm, ripe plum tomatoes
½ cup thin-sliced (¼ inch) scallions (white and green parts)
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced (½ inch)
½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1. Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer under cold running water for at least 45 seconds. Shake the strainer to remove as much water as possible.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the rinsed quinoa and cook, stirring, over medium heat until it is a light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and appears to be uncoiling, 18 to 20 minutes. Let stand, covered, until cool, about 10 minutes.
3. To make the dressing: Sprinkle the cumin in a small skillet and toast over medium-low heat, stirring, until fragrant and a shade darker in color, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. When the skillet is cool to the touch, add the oil, lime juice, jalapeño, garlic and salt. Transfer to a large bowl and whisk to blend.
4. Add the cooled quinoa, corn, tomatoes and scallions to the dressing and toss to blend. Spoon the salad onto a large platter and sprinkle the avocado and cilantro on top.
You can toast a large batch of quinoa ahead of time. Store at room temperature in a tightly closed container. It will keep for 3 or more months. Use in main dishes, side dishes or other salads.
Make a Meal
Serve with Tomato and Mint Salad or with a platter of thick-sliced tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt.