A “steak” dinner with vegetarians in mind

By David Tanis, The New York Times

After the long, gray winter, outside is where I want to be more and more. And somehow all I want to eat is vegetables, perhaps as a kind of tonic.

If your climate allows, this light, sunny menu is really more of a daylight meal, relaxed and best eaten outdoors (though, this year, it’s anyone’s guess what surprising things the weather might do).

Salad, made with ingredients of the season, is a necessity for me all year round. What I want right now is a salad of just-picked tender greens with colorful radishes, sweet raw young turnips, roasted beets, asparagus tips, shavings of fennel and fresh herbs. Fresh, fresher, freshissimo.

Some salads are tossed, while others, like this one, are composed. The idea for this delicate, appealing first course is to have an assortment of complementary greens, herbs and vegetables, artfully arranged on a platter or individual plates, dribbled with a tangy vinaigrette. Feel free to improvise: A few spinach leaves, a handful of raw sweet garden peas or fava beans, or thinly sliced raw artichoke can be nice additions, as can edible blossoms like nasturtium, rose or calendula.

For a main, I chose cauliflower “steaks,” which I hadn’t made in ages. A large cauliflower steak was all the rage in upscale restaurants a few years ago, when cauliflower was the darling of the cooking world. It’s a vegetable that, cooked correctly, is easy to love.

To get thick slices, you’ll need a couple of medium to large heads. Be warned that there will be trimmings, to be turned into a soup or use for stir-fry for another meal. But I never mind having too much cauliflower. If you don’t want bother with slices, you can make this dish with baked florets just as easily.

It’s a simple dish to prepare. The steaks are painted with extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned on both sides, and then roasted, topped with cheese and breadcrumbs, and placed back into the oven to get golden. If you top them with a bit of anchovy, it’s not vegetarian, of course, but it’s awfully good. These steaks are surprisingly substantial and filling. An option to consider is serving the baked cauliflower steaks with a light marinara sauce, but they are very tasty with no sauce at all.

Here, in California, recent torrential rains have pummeled the strawberry fields and prevented the daily harvest. Thankfully, now the sun shines, and organic local strawberries are back.

For dessert, I made them the centerpiece: I sliced some and lightly sugared and spooned them into glasses, topping them with ricotta cream — sweetened ultra-fresh ricotta, lightly whipped. Commonly used in Sicily to fill cannoli or frost traditional cakes, it’s is pretty fabulous. I layered the lovely stuff with the strawberries for a splendid parfait.

Such a pleasant meal it was, a spring awakening.

Recipe: Spring Salad

By David Tanis

Some salads are tossed, while others, like this one, are composed. Feel free to improvise here: A few spinach leaves, watercress, a handful of raw sweet garden peas or fava beans, or thinly sliced raw artichoke can be nice additions. For a true celebration of spring, make sure to gather an assortment of complementary leaves, herbs and vegetables, and arrange them artfully.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes


For the Vinaigrette:

  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon zest
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the Salad:

  • 3 medium red or gold beets, cooked and cut into wedges (see Tips)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 handfuls salad greens, preferably a mix of arugula and lettuce, such as Little Gem or red oak
  • 1 (2-inch) piece daikon radish, or 1 medium watermelon radish, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch small radishes or baby turnips, trimmed and halved
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, briefly blanched in salted water and cooled (see Tips)
  • 4 eggs, boiled for 7 to 8 minutes, then cooled, peeled and halved
  • 1 cup fresh mixed herbs, such as tarragon, basil, mint or dill
  • Nasturtium or calendula blossoms, for serving (optional)


1. Make the vinaigrette: Put shallot in a small bowl, and add a pinch of salt, the lemon juice and zest, and mustard. Stir until the salt dissolves, then whisk in olive oil. Taste, and add more salt and pepper to taste.

2. Start preparing the salad: Put beet wedges in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and toss with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette. Set aside.

3. Put salad leaves in a large mixing bowl, salt very lightly and dress with 1 tablespoon vinaigrette. Divide among individual plates or arrange on a platter. Scatter beets, radishes and fennel over leaves. Arrange asparagus spears over the top and add egg halves. Season eggs with salt and pepper.

4. Top with herbs and blossoms, if using. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over salad and serve.


To cook beets, place in a roasting pan with 1 inch of water, tightly cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees until tender, about 1 hour. Once cool enough to handle but still warm, slip the skins off the beets. Peeled beets will keep refrigerated for up to a week.

To cook asparagus, snap off the tough ends, then simmer in salted water for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove and spread out on a plate to cool.

Recipe: Cheese-Topped Cauliflower Steaks

By David Tanis

Cauliflower “steaks” were all the rage in upscale restaurants a few years ago, but they’re easy to make at home in any number of variations. To get thick slices, you’ll want to invest in a couple of cauliflowers and be prepared to turn the trimmings into soup or use for stir-fry for another meal. Or simply skip the slices and use florets instead. You can serve these with a light marinara sauce, but they are very tasty with no sauce at all.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes


  • 2 medium cauliflower heads (about 2 pounds each), cut into 12 (3/4-inch-thick) slices, trimmings reserved for another purpose
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for roasting
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 12 slices fresh mozzarella (from 1 1-pound package)
  • 12 slices provolone (from 1 8-ounce package)
  • 12 slices Monterey Jack (from 1 8-ounce package)
  • About 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry, coarse breadcrumbs, preferably homemade (see Tips)
  • 12 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry (optional)
  • Pitted black olives, such as niçoise (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon roughly chopped rosemary


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place cauliflower slices on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle both sides of the cauliflower with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, rotating the pans and switching racks halfway through, until fork-tender and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

2. Top each cauliflower steak with a slice of fresh mozzarella, a slice of provolone and a slice of Monterey Jack. Sprinkle each steak with a generous amount of grated Parmesan or pecorino, a tiny bit of red-pepper flakes and a heaping tablespoon of breadcrumbs, and bake until golden and bubbling, another 15 minutes.

3. Top each steak with a torn piece or two of anchovy (if using), a few black olives, a bit of parsley and rosemary.


You may prepare the cauliflower steaks in advance though Step 2, then reheat briefly to serve. They also taste good at room temperature.

To make homemade breadcrumbs, pulse some bread in a food processor and leave the crumbs out at room temperature to dry out for a couple of hours.

Recipe: Strawberry Parfait

By David Tanis

Ricotta cream — sweetened fresh ricotta, lightly whipped — is used in Sicily to fill cannoli or frost traditional cakes. Here, it’s combined with whipped cream and strawberries for a layered “parfait” and a very simple but impressive dessert.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 15 minutes


  • 1 pint strawberries, trimmed and sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 lemon, zested, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta


1. Put strawberries in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Toss with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and set aside.

2. Make the ricotta cream: In a medium bowl, beat whipping cream with a whisk until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, then fold in ricotta and lemon zest.

3. Spoon the strawberries into 4 dessert glasses. Top with ricotta cream and smooth to cover. Refrigerate for up to 6 hours, but serve at cool room temperature.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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