Have you ever picked up a cookbook and thought, ‘Everything in here looks amazing! How did this author get inside my brain and put all of my favorite foods - and favorite way to eat them [a salad bowl!] - into one book?! I want to make it all right now!’?
And then you drop everything to go to the grocery store and find the few ingredients you’re missing and promptly dig into at least four of the recipes at the same time?
That was absolutely my response to Terry Hope Romero’s latest cookbook, Salad Samurai. I am convinced it’s the definitive guide to salad-making, an ode to the art of preparing vegetables, a veritable --
Wait, what? Salad, you say? A salad cookbook? Isn’t salad just a bowl of chopped raw veggies? Why do you need a cookbook for that?
Because, sweet friend, these aren’t just your average diner iceberg-lettuce-and-pale-tomatoes-sometimes-with-bottled-dressing salads. These are toothsome, entrée-sized, knife-and-fork events packed with the most sumptuous of ingredients in the most intriguing of combinations… and many of them don’t include lettuce at all.
Every recipe is 100% vegan, and those that include wheat, barley or seitan can easily be adapted to become gluten-free.
Apart from being an informative guide to preparing individual ingredients ahead of time to throw together when a salad mood strikes [or a quick dinner is necessary], Salad Samurai is also one of the most gorgeously laid-out books printed lately. It’s funky and fun, with beautiful photography of many of the dishes, and Terry Hope Romero’s voice rings through it with the same fun, funky, helpful tone.
Each chapter is laid out by the season, which I appreciate as someone who a) plans meals by the contents of our CSA box, b) lives in the NYC Greenmarkets, and c) understands the added nutritional value of eating foods according to what nature provides. And yes, Salad Samurai has an answer for salads in winter: we put together a batch of the Vanessa Kabocha Salad, where roasted squash mingles in peanut-coconut sauce, and the Beet Ball & Fries Salad, complete with homemade lentil-beet ‘meatballs’ and crispy russet potato fries. Definitely not wimpy side dish salads, these nutrient-dense meals were filling and beautifully warming… even while the summery weather is still trying to hang on.
We also experimented with a few of the fall recipes, including Smokehouse Chickpeas and Greens Salad (roasted BBQ chickpeas in a dark smoky sauce!) and Mushroom, Barley and Brussels Sprouts Bowl (although I used buckwheat in place of barley to make it gluten-free).
Truly, it’s as if the author jumped inside my head - and my fridge - pulled together all of my most loved foods, then made some culinary magic happen. These recipes are wildly creative upgrades to my go-to mix-and-match dinner bowls (yum), adding a little something exotic, familiar or wacky (like the Avocado Amaranth Bhel Puri Chaat salad -- extra yum!).
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the whole chapter on dressings. When it comes to clean eating, one of the most inventive swaps we can make is to reduce packaged condiments and experiment with making our own at home. Crafting these from scratch ensures your salad’s liquid accessories are without preservatives, stabilizers or artificial flavors, and as the author points out, many of them are customizable to your taste. The basic ranch dressing (see below) can be tailored with an number of different add-ins, each of which would lend a new flavor to another salad (chutney or maple ‘bacon’, anyone?).
Of all the recipes we tested, this one was our household favorite. Michael, buffalo-everything-lover that he is, was particularly a fan. I loved that the dressing could be reused another day on another salad, and that the tofu could also easily reappear in another meal. Efficient meal prep is essential, and this salad, with its simple ingredients and extra delicious combinations, fits the bill perfectly.
Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad
By Terry Hope Romero, from the Salad Samurai cookbook (page 105)
Serves 2-3 | Time 30 Minutes
Back at the Ranch Dressing, page 17 in the book
1/2 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup hot water
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tsp white miso
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
Red Hot Saucy Tofu, page 42 in the book
1 lb super-firm tofu, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp sriracha or Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp agave nectar (we used coconut nectar)
1 large head Romaine lettuce
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery (sliced on the diagonal)
2 cups classic croutons, page 39 in the book (omit for gluten-free; we swapped in smashed gluten-free crackers)
1. Prepare the dressing by soaking the cashews in water for 30 minutes. Transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend until fully combined. Transfer to the fridge to chill.
2. Prepare the tofu by heating coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add tofu and sautee until golden on all sides, about 5 minutes. Whisk sauce ingredients together in bowl. Once tofu is done, transfer to bowl and coat in sauce. Set aside.
3. Remove and discard the root end of the lettuce, then chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Wash and dry lettuce and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the cabbage, carrots, celery and croutons. Add the dressings and use tongs to toss thoroughly. Arrange the salad in serving bowls and top with tofu.
Photo and recipe reprinted with special permission from Da Capo Press.
I absolutely can’t wait to explore this book to its full extent; in particular, the breakfast salad section is calling to me, especially the Coconut Carrot Cake Salad.
If you’re looking for a handy guide for quick meals, Salad Samurai has it going on. Plus, it offers some great ideas to add more vegetables to a day without even realizing you are. Beautiful veggies are so much more fun - and so much more motivating - to eat! Because it provides much inspiration to create your own delicious bowls of goodness, Salad Samurai is a must-read for anyone looking to up their veggie game.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Salad Samurai to facilitate this review, but all opinions are my own.