From one of the world’s most renowned chefs, 110 essential recipes that celebrate the beauty, simplicity, and elegance of vegetables. NAMED ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Eric Ripert is the chef and co-owner of the acclaimed restaurant Le Bernardin, and the winner of countless Michelin stars, well known for his exquisite, clean, seafood-centered cuisine. But lately, Ripert has found himself reaching for vegetables as his main food source—and doing so, as is his habit, with great intent and care...
Publisher: Random House (April 20, 2021) Hardcover: 256 pages ISBN-10: 0593132483 ISBN-13: 978-0593132487 Dimensions: 7.78 x 0.86 x 10.31 inches
It may seem a bit strange to start a cookbook devoted to vegetables by saying that I have been drawn to fish as long as I have been in kitchens. But from age fifteen, when I started culinary school, to my training with Joël Robuchon in Paris to my nearly three decades as chef of Le Bernardin in New York City, my entire career has been about seafood. Fish is incredibly delicate and requires a great deal of focus, technical skill, and experience to prepare in a way that enhances, rather than hides, its essential qualities. It was Gilbert Le Coze, self-trained chef and master of seafood (and my mentor in the early days of Le Bernardin), who first showed me the beauty of cooking seafood with a light touch and a lot of respect.
Over the years, we have developed a mantra at Le Bernardin: “The fish is the star of the plate.” And while that remains true, I have recently started to wonder why we weren’t highlighting vegetables in the same way, with the same level of care. In 2014, we opened a wine bar next to the restaurant and created a menu consisting largely of small, shareable vegetable-based dishes. Inspired by that process, we introduced a vegetable tasting menu at Le Bernardin two years later. While my passion for seafood has not waned, it has started to become obvious to me over these past years that my focus is widening to include vegetables as a central ingredient—not only in my life as a chef, but also as an enthusiastic eater. This shift has been subtle, at times even unconscious, but once I realized how important vegetables had become to my cooking and to my diet, I decided I had to write Vegetable Simple.
When I sat down and began to create this book, the realization dawned that the book had actually been inside me for a long time. It started, in fact, with my earliest experiences: dishes from my childhood, the kitchens of my mother and grandmothers, the gardens of my grandfathers, my yearlong sabbatical on a farm after my military service, and, more recently, the recipes I have found myself reaching for again and again when entertaining guests or cooking for my family. Looking back at my own relationship with food, I see vegetables have been hard-wired in me from an early age. Nothing thrilled me as a child more than trips to the market with my grandmother to find the perfect ingredients for ratatouille, or our adventures in my grandfather’s modest but painstakingly tended garden plot, where he proudly grew lettuces, radishes, string beans, potatoes, and anything else he could. I would spend hours up in the boughs of an apricot tree watching my grandmother and aunts through the kitchen window as they prepared soup with the tomatoes and summer squash we’d picked that morning. My diet during these summers spent with family in Provence consisted mostly of vegetables, with fish on Fridays and meat on Sundays. Back in Andorra, my mother, who is an excellent cook, would prepare elaborate three-course meals that always included vegetable dishes like potato gratin and morels à la crème.
When I cook vegetables today, my goal is to showcase their natural flavors and qualities, so simplicity is key. Keeping the recipes in this book easy and uncomplicated allows me to serve a variety of them at once with minimal effort. I rarely go into dinner parties with a preconceived idea of what I’m going to cook; instead, I like to be inspired by whatever looks good and is in season at the market or farmstand. Hosting friends on the weekends is a huge part of my life, and my goal is to feed them well and to bring a sense of fun to the table. I make five or six of these vegetable recipes and arrange all the dishes in the center of the table so everyone can serve themselves family style, or I set up a buffet and encourage my guests to take a bit of everything. Food naturally brings people together, and it makes me so happy to use my experience as a chef to gather everyone around the table to share a meal that I took great pleasure in preparing for them. I always take a second to appreciate that moment after everyone has been seated and raised their glasses in a toast, when my guests start to pass dishes to one another, filling their plates and taking their first bites.
When thinking about how I wanted to structure this book, I approached it in the same way as my trips to the market: with freedom. While the recipes are set out in a loose natural progression from starters to dessert, I want people to have fun with this book, to flip through the pages and be inspired to try any one or two (or three) dishes at a time, rather than feel the need to adhere to strict categories of appetizers, mains, and sides. I get real pleasure out of spending a whole afternoon or even a full day in the kitchen, but I realize not everyone is able to do that, so I have included recipes that come together in less than an hour for a quick and easy meal. I have also included a basic guideline to shopping, storing, cleaning, and making the most out of your vegetables because I believe that good cooking begins at the source, and there are several important steps in the process before you begin your work in the kitchen.
There’s a broad spectrum of recipes in the book, from dips and snacks to appetizers, soups, and salads, to pastas and grains, as well as many dishes that could stand alone as main courses. Most of the recipes serve four, so if you are having a light lunch with friends, for example, you might want to try only one or two recipes, but if you are serving dinner for a larger group, I recommend preparing a variety of dishes and serving them family style. Grilled Corn Elote Style, Coleslaw, Herbes de Provence–Crusted Tomatoes, Potato Tortilla Española, and Frosé would make a wonderful summer spread, while a feast for the colder months could be made up of Butternut Squash, Ginger, Turmeric Soup; Slow-Roasted Cauliflower; Rutabaga Gratin; and Mushroom Bolognese.
I’m not a pastry chef, but I do have a sweet tooth, so I couldn’t write this book without including some of my favorite easy-to-make desserts, like Chocolate Mousse and Sticky Toffee Puddings, as well as some drinks that take you from breakfast to an afternoon pick-me-up to celebrating with friends.
The approach to cooking and eating reflected in these pages has become a central part of how I live. As I do with fish, I like to pay homage to vegetables and prepare them in a way that enhances their best qualities. I want them to shine, I want to bring out their brightness and beauty. This book, then, is an expression of my evolution not only as a chef, but also as a home cook who loves food and entertaining.
Vegetable cooking has become a growing trend in recent years, not only among chefs, but also among the wider food community and home cooks looking to incorporate healthy changes to their diet. I personally have found that I feel good after eating vegetable-rich dishes—and that feeling stays with me. Naturally, I want to feel good again after my next meal. It’s a positive cycle that I want to pay forward with Vegetable Simple. We’re only starting to discover just how beneficial eating vegetables as a main food source can be to our own well-being and the health of the planet, not to mention the positive impact on sustainability, as well as on the welfare of animals.
My intention is not to convert you to a vegetarian or vegan diet or to impose any judgment on your eating habits, but to inspire you to cook and enjoy delicious, simply prepared vegetables knowing that, ultimately, this benefits the well-being of all.
POPCORN, YUZU-CITRUS SALT
Popcorn purists may want to make this the traditional way with oil and a pan, but I find the microwaveable kind easier, less messy, and just as tasty. Popcorn is super versatile and can be seasoned with a whole range of flavors such as grated parmesan, truffle oil, or dried herbs and spices. Here I add yuzu and citrus for an unexpected bright twist.
1 bag (about 3 ounces) unsalted microwave popcorn
1 teaspoon yuzu salt
1 teaspoon shichimi togarashi
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
POP THE POPCORN in the microwave according to the package directions.
Toss the hot popcorn with the yuzu salt, togarashi, and citrus zests and serve immediately.
SPICY PLANTAIN CHIPS
SERVES 4 TO 6
Ultimate crispiness is the key here. I recommend eating these the same day you make them, but if you are planning to make a big batch, make sure you store any leftovers in a dry space in a tightly sealed container. They will last a couple of days. Take extra care when using a mandoline, as the blades are extremely sharp. If your mandoline does not have a hand guard, I recommend you wear a Kevlar glove.
Canola or another neutral oil (about 2 cups), for frying
6 to 8 large green plantains
Fine sea salt and chili powder
POUR 4 INCHES OF OIL into a tall-sided, heavy-bottomed pot and heat the oil over medium-high heat to about 300°F.
Line a sheet pan or large plate with paper towels. Peel the plantains. Using a mandoline, slice them into pieces approximately ⅛ inch thick. The plantains can be cut widthwise into coins, or lengthwise into strips.
Working in batches (to avoid overcrowding), carefully lower the plantains into the pot. Stir the plantains more or less constantly, so that they cook evenly. Once the bubbles have dissipated and the chips begin to brown, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and transfer to the paper towels to drain. Season the chips right away with salt and chili powder to taste.
Let the chips dry and crisp up for about 15 minutes, then serve.
There are many ways to break down a coconut…my trick to keep things simple for this recipe is to buy one already out of its shell and in pieces—a common shelf item in grocery stores these days. If you do plan on splitting the coconut yourself, make sure you do it over a bowl or some other vessel to catch the liquid. When toasted, these chips are best eaten immediately, as they go soggy quickly.
1 coconut, whole or already out of its shell
Fine sea salt
PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 375°F.
If using a whole coconut, examine the coconut and locate the ridge that runs across it. Wrap the coconut in a kitchen towel with the ridge side up. Over a bowl or vessel, hit the coconut with a mallet until it breaks. Reserve any liquid for another use.
Place the coconut on a sheet pan, flesh side down, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes to loosen the flesh from the shell. (Leave the oven on.) When the coconut is cool enough to handle, use a butter knife to remove the flesh. If there is any skin on the coconut, remove it with a vegetable peeler.
Using a mandoline, carefully shave the coconut flesh into very thin strips.
Line the sheet pan with parchment paper and distribute the shaved coconut on it in an even layer. Season lightly with salt.
Bake for 4 minutes. Remove from the oven, shake the pan slightly, and return to the oven to bake until golden brown, another 2 to 3 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container.