Reinventing plant-based eating is what Tal Ronnen is all about. I’ve known Tal for such a long time –in fact, we joked at a culinary conference in 2000, that the day might just come when vegan was considered a cuisine. Well, that has happened and Chef Ronnen has been at the forefront, as he catered Ellen and Portia’s wedding, cooked for Oprah, created the vegan menus for the Wynn Hotels, and founded the Kite Hill line of artisan vegan cheeses, among other things.
At his Los Angeles restaurant Crossroads, the menu is vegan, but there are no soybeans or seitan to be found. He and executive chef Scot Jones turn seasonal vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains into sophisticated Mediterranean fare—think warm bowls of tomato-sauced pappardelle, plates of spicy carrot salad, and crunchy flatbreads piled high with roasted vegetables. The no-fish seafood tower, which was not available on my last visit, is legendary, but I’ve had the shrimp cocktail made out of meaty lobster mushrooms. Seafina Magnussen, the pastry chef at Crossroads, is also very talented.
Can’t get to LA? Well, in his new cookbook Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine, Chef Ronnen teaches readers to make his recipes and proves that the flavors we crave are easily replicated in dishes made without animal products. With clearly written recipes, Crossroads takes plant-based eating firmly out of the realm of health food and into a cuisine that fits perfectly with today’s modern palate. The recipes are photographed in sumptuous detail, and with more than 100 of them for weeknight dinners, snacks and appetizers, special occasion meals, desserts, and more, this book is an indispensable resource for healthy, mindful eaters everywhere. I know that kale salads are nothing new, but the recipe in the Crossroads cookbook by Tal Ronnen (with Scott Jones and Seafina Magnussen) manages to be elegant and thoroughly accessible for any level of cook, while being absolutely delicious. I agree with Tal, that black kale is earthy without being bitter.
Kale Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts, and Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette
Raw kale can be tough, so it has to be treated right. Yet all of the talk about “massaging” kale to make the leaves tender and palatable is nonsense. The key to achieving a melt-in-your-mouth texture is to cut the robust green leaves into a fine chiffonade, resembling strands of confetti. Once the kale is shredded, you don’t have to chew it endlessly to break down the tough leaves. But be sure to dress the salad with the vinaigrette about 10 minutes before serving, so it has a chance to soak into the kale and soften it a bit.
- 2 bunches (about 1½ pounds) black kale (aka lacinato kale or cavolo nero; see Note)
- ½ cup dried currants
- ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ¼ cup Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- One at a time, lay each kale leaf upside down on a cutting board and use a paring knife to cut down both sides of the center rib to remove it. Stack a few leaves at a time, roll them into a tight cigar shape, and cut crosswise into thin ribbons (no more than 1⁄8 inch). You should have about 6 cups shredded kale.
- Put the shredded kale in a colander or salad spinner and rinse well with cold water. Drain and dry well.
- Combine the kale, currants, and pine nuts in a salad or mixing bowl. Drizzle the salad with the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Gently toss with your hands to dress the salad evenly, and let stand for about 10 minutes.
- Serve the salad in the salad bowl or divide among four individual plates.
Black Kale – Once you’ve tried black kale, you might not ever go back to the more conventional curly variety. Also known as Tuscan or lacinato kale, or cavolo nero, this Italian specialty has long, spiky, ruffled deep green leaves. It’s less bitter than curly kale and has an earthier taste. And kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet to boot.
Makes 1 cup
You will want to keep this light, tangy, and faintly sweet vinaigrette in the refrigerator as your go-to salad dressing.
- ½ small shallot, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves stripped from the stems
- ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Combine the shallot, garlic, thyme, balsamic, lemon zest and juice, agave, and oil in a small mixing bowl or a Mason jar and season with salt and pepper. Whisk or shake vigorously to blend. Leftover vinaigrette can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Excerpted from Crossroads by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lisa Romerein.
I have a copy of the stunning Crossroads cookbook by Tal Ronnen for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter. Contest ends at midnight eastern time on November 10th. U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!