I used to be convinced that all cookbooks should have pictures and would be horribly disappointed when I got a new cookbook only to find that it was page after page of text. Wasn’t seeing the food an essential part of the experience? How else would I choose what to make first? But over the past few years, and especially since I started writing Superspark, I’ve come around to the idea of the picture-free cookbook. While I still appreciate a good photo, I’ve come to realize that not every cookbook would be improved by peppering it with pictures. Take, for instance, one of my new stand-bys, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Weighing in at over 1000 pages with nary a picture to be found, can you imagine how unwieldy it would have been had there been photographs as well? In this case, where the book becomes almost a reference, given the choice, I’d rather have more recipes than take up room with illustrations.
There’s a second reason why sometimes a lack of photos is good, though, and Bittman’s recipe for quinoa salad with tempeh illustrates it perfectly (pun noted, though not intentional). There are recipes that are stand-out beauties, that will make your guests sigh as you bring them to the table. Then there are the recipes that will never win a beauty pageant, the ugly babies of the culinary world, if you will. In most cases, they’re not so much unappealing in appearance as completely unassuming, unnoticable, unimpressive. Yet, they’re often quite delicious. Had I seen a photo of this quinoa salad with tempeh ahead of time, I’d have been unlikely to choose it from the hundreds of other recipes in Bittman’s book because it just doesn’t pack a visual punch.
And what a loss, because it actually ended up being unusual and tasty. This is a tempeh recipe that you could serve to a non-tempeh lover because crumbled into it’s tiny particles and sauteed until crispy, the tempeh actually almost takes on the flavor and texture of a nut. (When I said, “See you like tempeh!” after Dylan scarfed down a bowl, he promptly responded, “What tempeh?”) Combining the tempeh with quinoa (also slightly nutty and crunchy), a smattering of fresh veggies, and a light sort of Asian-inspired sauce, the dish becomes surprisingly filling, so much so that what was intended as a side dish became a light dinner for me two nights this week. With lots of interesting textures and healthy grains, it may not be an eye-catcher, but this quinoa salad with tempeh is worth a try.
Quinoa salad with tempeh (serves 4-6)
2 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa (about 1 cup raw)
3 tbsp peanut, canola, or other neutral oil
4 oz tempeh, crumbled
1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tbsp slivered garlic
1 cup mung bean sprouts (optional)
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce, to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped scallion for garnish
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1. Cook the quinoa. Drain in a strainer, if necessary, and rinse.
2. Meanwhile, put the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the tempeh and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook for another minutes or two, then add the bean sprouts and tomato (if using), stir, and turn off the heat. Stir in the vinegar, sesame oil, and soy sauce and transfer to a bowl.
3. When the quinoa is dry and cooled, toss it with the tempeh mixture. Taste and add salt if necessary and a healthy sprinkling of black pepper Garnish with scallion and cilantro and serve.