Jack Bishop and America’s Test Kitchen crew celebrate vegetarian cuisine in new cookbook

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If you’re a vegetarian, this book’s for you.

If you’re not, you might seriously want to glance through the pages of “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook: A Fresh Guide to Eating with 700 Foolproof Recipes,” by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen, for some delicious options to whatever comprises your current mealtime planning.

That’s the whole idea behind the massive tome, the first full-out vegetarian cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, according to veteran ATK editorial director/chef  Jack Bishop (you might know him from his taste-testing segments on the PBS series “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen”).


“The book is designed for the committed vegetarian who has to come up with a plan for dinner 365 nights a year, but we also wanted to do a book that would appeal to a larger audience who are committed to taking a break from meat once or twice a week,” said Bishop during a recent phone conversation.

“I think what’s truly unique about the recipes we ended up with is how diverse they are in terms of regions of [vegetarian] cuisine,” Bishop said. “It’s from all over the world — Indonesian, Korean, Colombian, Turkish.”

Compiling a 700-recipe cookbook is a Herculean task; it took Bishop and his team about a year to develop the recipes and put them through a rigorous ATK testing and tasting regimen.

The recipes are made about 20 times on average, Bishop said, allowing for variables such as substituting or entirely replacing ingredients, changing the required amounts, using fresh-versus-frozen ingredients, and such.

Jack Bishop Book Signing When: 7:30 p.m. April 14 Where: Lake Theatre, in partnership with The Book Table, 1022 Lake Street, Oak Park Tickets: $37.50 (includes a copy of The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook) Info/tickets: brownpapertickets.com

“Sometimes we go up to 40 or 60 (recipe testing) times,” he said. “We send out a good number of recipes pre-publication to our volunteer recipe testers who agree to try them and fill out our survey. We get a tremendous amount of feedback on recipes from this process. Key questions we need to answer: Are we on target with the recipe? Can people follow the recipe? Can we use their substitutions (if any)?”

So what finally determines whether a recipe is the best it can be?

“It comes down to all our testing, all our feedback, and our team deciding this is the best it can be,” Bishop said. “And perhaps most important, we ask all our recipe testers, ‘Would you make this recipe again?’ At least 80 percent have to answer yes to that. If not, we don’t publish it or we go back into the kitchen and start over.”

The book also works to dispel some misconceptions about vegetarian cuisine. Bishop offered three he hopes will be put aside thanks to the book.

“First, [there’s the misnomer that] there has to a big hunk of protein at the center of the plate three times a day,” Bishop said. “Most people are getting way more protein than they need; the exception of course is people who are sick or pregnant, or teenagers or ultra-marathon runners.  … That doesn’t mean there aren’t proteins in the recipes we feature in the book, but it’s a different [protein source] from the classic American dinner-making. For example, we have a recipe for a rice bowl with a fried egg and kale. Or a kale salad with roasted sweet potatoes and parmesan shavings. There are sources of proteins on those plates but there is no single, big hunk of protein.

“Another misconception is that vegetarian cooking takes a long time because of the prep work. If your knives are not sharp and your knife skills are not good, that will definitely add to the prep time. So get your knives sharpened. Try to work on your knife skills. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. … There’s also a ‘fast’ icon in the book — 300 recipes we define as ‘start-to-finish you’re sitting down at the table in 45 minutes or less.’ The other 400 take about an hour or so and that includes hands-off time. We dispel the myth that vegetarian cooking is hard.

“Third is the idea that there are not many ways to build flavors in vegetarian cooking. We spent a lot of time on how to develop flavors, looking for things that have umami — the savory notes our taste buds respond to. So for example, we add soy sauce to Italian recipes to add depth or complexity.”

One element missing from the cookbook is the recipe nutritional information. Bishop said that was intentional, and reflects the philosophy behind nearly all the recipes from ATK.

“In general we don’t include the nutritional information unless it’s a book specifically geared to the health market, and we did a [different] book on that [“The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook,” 2010]. As a company, we think a lot of time people obsess about the numbers. It’s not the numbers, it’s what you eat over the course of the day or the week that matters rather than one individual dish. This of course excludes people with serious health issues; then diet is very specific with them and their doctors.

“The problem is not what people are eating at home, it’s what people are eating at restaurants. If you’re cooking at home it’s not an indulgence; you don’t eat creme brulee three nights a week. But people will eat out three nights a week and order crème brulee. … People are eating too much [processed] food, too much take-out.

“The food in this book is vegetarian. For the most part it’s naturally good for you. Yes, our recipes have a fair amount of cheese and butter. …But we have used relative low amounts of fat. There’s a lot of food in the book that’s relatively lean.”

Pan-Seared Tempeh Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce | COURTESY AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN

Pan-Seared Tempeh Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce | COURTESY AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN

Try this recipe from “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook: A Fresh Guide to Eating with 700 Foolproof Recipes”:

Pan-Seared Tempeh Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

(Serves 4 • Vegan • Gluten-Free)

Why This Recipe Works:: Made from whole fermented soybeans and a mix of grains, tempeh has a firmer, chewier texture than tofu, but it is just as good at soaking up flavor. Looking for an easy but impressive tempeh recipe, we gave it a similar treatment to steak. Marinating the tempeh in a highly seasoned base infused it with flavor, then patting the tempeh dry and pan-searing it created a crispy edge and made the texture more cohesive. Next, we wanted to balance the tempeh’s earthy flavor by serving it with a bright herb sauce. Chimichurri sauce is a traditional condiment for steak that combines parsley, wine vinegar, oil, lots of garlic, oregano, and a good dose of red pepper flakes. It paired perfectly with our tempeh, lending bright flavor and richness to the seared “steaks.”

NOTE: In order for this recipe to be gluten-free, you must use gluten-free tempeh.

1/4 cup water

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound tempeh, cut into 3 1/2 inch-long by 3/8 inch-thick slabs

1 cup fresh parsley leaves

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1. Combine water, 1/4 cup vinegar, half of garlic, 1 teaspoon oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes in 1 gallon zipper-lock bag. Add tempeh, press out air, seal, and toss to coat. Refrigerate tempeh for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours, flipping bag occasionally.

2. Pulse parsley, 1/2 cup oil, remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, remaining garlic, remaining 1 teaspoon oregano, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in food processor until coarsely chopped, about 10 pulses. Transfer to bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Remove tempeh from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add 4 pieces tempeh and cook until golden brown on first side, 2 to 4 minutes.

4. Flip tempeh, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue to cook until golden brown on second side, 2 to 4 minutes; transfer to platter. Wipe out skillet with paper towels and repeat with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining tempeh. Serve with parsley sauce.

VARIATION: Pan-Seared Tempeh Steaks with Chermoula Sauce

(Serves 4 • Vegan • Gluten-Free)

Omit oregano. Substitute lemon juice for red wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne for red pepper flakes, and cilantro for parsley. Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon paprika to tempeh marinade. Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon paprika to sauce.

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