I tend not to find vegetarian (or even vegan) cookbooks all that inspiring. Sure, some are better than others. And, sure, I’ve even picked up the odd recipe or two from vegetable-based books such as Zucchini Pancakes, Roasted Peppers and Sun-dried Tomatoes with Fresh Mozzarella, and Roasted Squash Potage with Spiced Crème Fraîche. But, overall, vegetarian books tend not to inspire me.
Where I do get my culinary inspiration from is non-vegetarian cookbooks written by brilliant chefs.
Now, at the most basic level, I get vegetarian recipes from these books. But, at the more interesting level, I get inspiration for vegetarian recipes I develop myself.
Let me explain.
A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Julia Child’s Baking with Julia at a second-hand bookstore. I grabbed it because, when casually flipping pages, I came across the Alsatian Onion Tart recipe from Michel Richard. And I was captivated.
Here are the ingredients for the tart
About ½ pound puff pastry scraps, chilled
4 very large onions, peeled and diced
1 cup chicken broth (homemade or canned low-sodium)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 pound slab bacon
Here's how you make it
Preheat the oven to 350F. Then sauté the onions in the broth for half an hour. Add the cream and salt and pepper and remove from heat. Next, cube and boil the bacon for 1 minute. Dry, then sauté for another minute or two and remove this, too, from the heat.
Top the pastry with the onions, then the bacon, and bake for half an hour.
Here is the inspiration
It is not this specific recipe that I love here. What I love is the idea behind this recipe. Namely, take very tasty, savory, ingredients and bake them on a bread base.
What an inspiration for tons of recipes!
And here are the results
Obviously, I did not want the bacon or the chicken broth. And I could do without the cream, too. So I ditched those and, instead, sautéed the onion with kale in olive oil and garlic. When this was just this side of cooked (wilted, but not totally limp), I sprinkled it on the puff pastry. On top, I sprinkled a generous handful of grated gruyère. Then salt, pepper, and a half hour in a 350F oven.
Next, I tried topping the pastry with onions and mushrooms sautéed in white wine with dried porcini. Amazing! Next, kale with sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Great!
Then I think I’ll try a sweeter version. Say sliced pears with walnuts and blue cheese. Or sliced apples with sprigs of rosemary.
After that, I’ll see what I can do to make the white flour / butter-laden puff pasty a bit healthier. I know I have a pie dough recipe from Sally Schneider that cuts the butter in half by substituting sour cream. That’s better. But what if I cut out the butter altogether and made it on a baguette? What if I went even further and eliminated the white flour, too, by using a whole wheat baguette? Healthier, sure, but am I sacrificing so much taste to good health that no one will eat it? Hmmm.
So do you see how the inspiration just flows?
Where to get more inspiration
Sure I read new cookbooks and food books and magazines. But I also haunt used bookstore for old treasures (if you’re interested, these days I seem to be drawn to older French cookbooks and I am searching for some out-of-print Nigel Slater cookbooks, but am having no luck.).
And I read non-food books, too. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Anywhere at all. You just have to be open to it.