When vegetarians tell me they’re in a cooking rut, I tell them to try one or all of the following strategies: Go global, go seasonal, go spicy.
By going global, I mean to look around at other cultures’ traditions, vegetarian and otherwise, and incorporate their spices and blends and recipes. By going seasonal, I mean to pay attention not only to the vegetables that are freshest in the market but also to the items in your pantry that match the weather and your mood. Finally, it’s obvious what I mean by going spicy: Whenever my palate is fatigued, there’s nothing like good old chili-fired heat to wake it up.
All of which is to say that in late March, David Joachim’s new book, “Cooking Light Global Kitchen” (Oxmoor House, $29.95, 320 pages) landed like a beacon on my desk. It’s not vegetarian per se, but almost 40 percent of the recipes are meatless (and half of those are vegan).
One particular dish in the Middle East/Africa chapter stood out, because it satisfies each of the three strategies. It’s chef Marcus Samuelsson’s take on pasta saltata, an Ethiopian dish that combines pasta with potatoes and a spicy, tangy, rich-but-light sauce. The sauce includes almonds, lemon, Parmigiano-Reggiano and harissa, the North African chili paste. The harissa is the kicker, literally; it pulls everything together with a punch.
I made the dish twice – once for dinner and again for the camera the next morning. Or so I told myself. The truth is, I couldn’t get enough.
Red whole-wheat penne
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
Adapted from “Cooking Light Global Kitchen,” by David Joachim (Oxmoor House, $29.95, 320 pages).
1 pound (2 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup blanched whole almonds
1 large shallot lobe, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons harissa
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 ounces dried whole-wheat penne
1/4 cup chopped arugula
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
Cover the potatoes with water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low so the water is bubbling gently; cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and reserve the cooking water. Cool the potatoes slightly; cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into a small skillet over low heat. Add the almonds, shallot and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until the almonds are golden brown and the shallot and garlic are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat to cool a bit.
Scrape the almond mixture into a food processor. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, along with the lemon juice, cheese, harissa and salt; purée until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add 11/2 cups of the reserved cooking water; purée until smooth.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the penne and cook according to the package directions, just until al dente. Drain; immediately toss in a large bowl with the potatoes and sauce. Fold in the arugula.
Divide among individual plates. Sprinkle with the basil, and serve hot.
Per serving: 420 calories, 14 g protein, 58 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 450 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar