BookPeople Feast: Tomato & Pomegranate Salad

This month our booksellers are cooking up a seven course feast to highlight the many new cookbooks hitting our shelves in time for the holidays. Join us as we chronicle our ambitious culinary undertakings here on the BookPeople blog. From cocktails to side dishes to dessert, we’ll share our adventures investigating a wide variety of new cookbooks, all of which will add up to one eclectic meal.

First course: Cocktails with Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails
Second Course: Salad! 

For today’s post, Julie W.’s cooked from
Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi

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As the vegan member of our crew of cooks, I was tasked with making the salad for our feast. I’m always happy to dive into a new vegetable cookbook and have been looking forward to trying out the recipes in Plenty More, Yotam Ottolenghi’s follow-up to the beautiful, bestselling 2011 vegetarian cookbook, Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi.

Ottolenghi is a chef who works out of a test kitchen in Camden known as “the Arches”, where he creates recipes for his regular Guardian column and for cookbooks. (You may recognize his cookbooks by their signature puffy covers.) In the introduction to Plenty More, Ottolenghi lays out the difference between this new cookbook and Plenty:

“If Plenty, through its structure and recipe selection, tried to shed light on groups of ingredients – my favorite ingredients – this book takes these favorites, adds a few new members to the happy family…and then focuses on cooking techniques and methods that best utilize their potential.”

In this spirit of utilizing the potential of a favorite ingredient, I decided to go with the very first recipe in this book, Tomato and Pomegranate Salad. Pomegranates are in season, popping up in bins at the supermarket and the lunch boxes of fellow booksellers, and the idea of jazzing up fresh chopped tomatoes with their flavor intrigued me. (Other recipes that caught my eye, but, alas, were not salads: Soba Noodle with Quick-Pickled Mushrooms; Brussels Sprout Risotto; Eggplant Pahi.)

I’d anticipated a complicated undertaking, based purely on the intimidating heft of the pomegranate, but this turned out to be a remarkably simple recipe. Step one was locating pomegranate molasses. After a long, unsuccessful spin around the Whole Foods across the street from the bookstore, I gave Wheatsville Co-op a call. They’d just started carrying it. Huzzah! The molasses came in a slender bottle that only cost a few bucks. Double huzzah! This “fancy” ingredient didn’t burn a big hole in my wallet.

Pomegranate molasses is technically a fruit syrup, not a typical molasses, and used in Turkish and Iranian cuisine (according to Wikipedia)While it may not qualify as an official molasses, the pomegranate syrup certainly acted like one when we put it to a taste test. It smelled divine, sweet and rich, but when we tasted it, it was bitter and our tongues missed the sultry, mesmerizing qualities of its olfactory personality. Just as molasses never, ever tastes like chocolate (no matter how many times you try it), pomegranate molasses did not taste like jam. Live and learn.

Step two was chopping over four cups of tomato. Look at Andrew go! We had as many varieties of tomato as could be found at HEB on a Monday night.

photo (45)After the tomatoes were prepped, we chopped half a red onion, a few cloves or garlic, and combined them in one big, colorful bowl of vegetable cheer.

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Soundtrack is important in any kitchen. At this stage of the game, after spinning through Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby, we put on a double live Willie Nelson album. While it is not expressly included in the Plenty More recipe, we feel confident that any food prepared while listening to Willie Nelson improves its quality, so we highly recommend the sonic addition of at least one Willie album of your choice to this recipe.

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It was then time to go after the pomegranate. This is where things got messy. I’m sure there is a clever way to open a pomegranate and extract the seeds with minimal fuss. We achieved what I will call Maximum Fuss. But we did get those suckers out of there! If you haven’t tried pomegranate seeds, give them a shot now while pomegranates are easy to find and affordable at supermarkets. The seeds look like jewels and pop with a sweet burst in your mouth. It’s the closest we, as a species, will ever get to eating rubies.

The key to this recipe is the dressing. I’m a big fan of making my own salad dressings. For years, I made a shallot and dijon vinaigrette from The New Basics Cookbook (that cookbook was my bible when I worked in the kitchen of a California health club) that I paired with everything. I was happy to whisk up something new with the pomegranate molasses, a bit of vinegar, olive oil and all spice. Here’s an action shot of the whisking process:

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I’ll admit that I innovated a bit on Ottolenghi’s recipe. The basil in my backyard had begun to flower, so I harvested quite a few stems and threw some fresh basil into the mix. I couldn’t help myself. We combined the tomatoes, onion, pomegranate seeds, basil and dressing, and voila, we had a salad!

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We chopped our veggies pretty thick, which made for a chunky, hearty meal starter on a bed of lettuce. You could dice the tomatoes and onions to match the petite pomegranate seeds, which I think is what Ottolenghi intended, but I’ll go ahead and pull my Ace by reminding everyone that everything is bigger in Texas, including the size of this salad and all of the ingredients in it.

The dressing really makes this dish. Its subtle, slightly sweet flavor strikes a nice balance with the acidic tomatoes. You could easily make a version of this salad sans the pomegranate seeds, if the fruit is not in season, so long as you have that pomegranate molasses on hand.

Pomegranates are a fun ingredient to work with and seem ideal for holiday cooking. Their sparkling red sheen could dress up everything from sides to desserts. Or just put a bowl of them on the table with a spoon and let guests have at it (which may or may not be what I’ve been doing with the leftover seeds in my refrigerator).

If vegetarian cooking is your thing, I highly recommend these other fine cookbooks: 

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison
Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
How to Cook Anything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
Home Made by Yvette van Boven

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All books mentioned in this post are available via bookpeople.com and on the shelves at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, Texas).

Next course: Soup!

 

 

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