Family dinners can be the best part of the day, but it can also be a challenging concept.
Juggling preferences and food allergies can be tough, but renowned cookbook author Mark Bittman has covered a surprising number of those obstacles in his new book, “Dinner for Everyone: 100 Iconic Dishes Made 3 Ways — Easy, Vegan and Perfect for Company.”
The cookbook makes it easy to pick a type of food that everybody likes — tacos, pasta, scampi or curry — and adapt it to be speedy, vegan or all-out elaborate. The trio of preparations for each dish all focus on the goal of putting a satisfying dinner on the table. “I want cooking at home to make you happy,” Bittman writes.
Along with being happy, Bittman wants meals to be healthy, too. As a long-time proponent of “part-time veganism,” he has developed many vegan recipes and generally shies away from hard-to-find substitutes for animal-based products, relying instead on fruits and vegetables. “There’s usually more to a superior vegan dish than just exchanging a slab of meat for a slab of tofu or simply removing the cheese,” he observes.
Some of the variations are subtle, such as morphing a chicken Caesar salad into a grilled vegetable Caesar salad, while others require more imaginative substitutions, like recreating the taste and texture of chicken salad with grated jicama and sunflower seeds for a vegan salad or sandwich filling.
The vegan versions aren’t meant to be clones of the traditional dishes, but rather something that captures the overall idea of a specific cuisine or dish. Pizza, rice and beans, meatballs and tamales all get reworked as easy, vegan, and company-worthy.
“There are shortcuts — that’s the only way you could hope to enjoy the taste of homemade tamales, beef stew or pot pie on a weeknight — but you’ll always be cooking from scratch,” Bittman says of his “easy” recipes. The “easy” iterations are also designed to minimize cleanup as well as preparation, using fewer bowls and pans.
His explorations of cacciatore, typically a meat braised in a tomato-based sauce, all keep the essence of the classic, but in different forms. The easy version, uses chicken drumsticks, dried herbs and tomato paste to bring dinner together in about 30 minutes, while the vegan recipe incorporates a variety of vegetables into a similar sauce.
Bittman has a fondness for retro favorites like cacciatore and stroganoff, which he describes as “a throwback to 1960s family cooking, simple and hearty.”
He recreates it, not identically but deliciously, as the vegan Mustardy Mushroom and Kale Stroganoff. The “easy” recipe in the trio, One-Pot Stroganoff, is actually as simple, and actually slightly faster, to make as boxed ground beef-based dinners.
It’s rare to find a cookbook that covers so many types of meals, and the full range of cooking abilities. Bittman writes that the “Easy” and “Vegan” recipes in each trio are a good starting place for beginning cooks.
“Your skills will improve, you’ll learn about new ingredients and seasonings, and the process of shopping and preparation will become more streamlined; actually, making dinner will help you feel comfortable in the kitchen way faster than any televisions show, and sooner than you might think, you’ll be making yourself and those around you happy almost every night.”