I’m not ashamed to say that I still get intimidated by cooking at times.
You can blame it on a childhood largely spent outside of the kitchen, a pantry that typically needs restocking, and a general baseline of anxiety.
I’ll find myself standing in the kitchen, eyes fluttering between a recipe and my meek-looking vegetables (just how wrinkly can a bell pepper get before it’s unusable?). Then my phone buzzes and I’m reminded of things like Postmates and DoorDash that deliver food without me running the risk of starting a small kitchen fire.
So, yeah, I order in more than I should. But it’s a scary world in the kitchen.
At least that’s what I thought until I stumbled across “Vegan in 7,” a cookbook by Dutch food blogger Rita Serano. It’s a simple yet oddly ingenious concept: Plant-based recipes that have seven or fewer ingredients.
“If it’s simple, you think, ‘Oh, OK, I can do it,’” Serano said in a phone interview. “It’s much more of a motivation to keep you going. If you’re a new person to a vegan diet, you have a cookbook with 25 ingredients, you think, ‘OK, I’m not going to do this. Too complicated.’ ”
When Serano and I chatted in April, she was at her Dutch home. Serano, her husband and their 7-year-old daughter move back and forth between homes in the Netherlands and France quite a bit. But the couple has been sticking around the Netherlands more now that their daughter is in school.
Serano has developed a degree of fame on Instagram, where she has more than 45,000 followers. She first took to the social media platform nearly three years ago after getting a smartphone. Her husband suggested she post her food pictures to Instagram. “What’s that?” she asked.
She’s been promoting her recipes from “Vegan in 7” there. She said she wanted the book to be easy for those new to a plant-based diet but also interesting enough for longtime vegans.
“I’m not much of a preacher,” she said, adding that there are people who could write better or may have more knowledge.
But for her, plant-based cooking is adventurous and never boring. And on top of that, she believes healthy eating can truly help people feel better.
“If you see the book, read it, cook from it and think, ‘OK, this I can do,’ it gives a little bounce in energy and confidence. That’s the most important,” Serano said. “It’s doable and healthy and tasteful.”
Spring pea soup with roasted radishes
From “Vegan in 7” by Rita Serano (Kyle Books, February 2018):
“I first made pea soup when I unexpectedly had to cook for guests with only a big bag of peas and a few leftovers on hand,” Serano writes. “My guests were astounded that I’d managed to concoct such a delicious and healthy-looking soup from so little. This spring variation includes roasted radishes and is a delicious way to celebrate the new arrival of fresh, seasonal produce — a nice prelude to warmer times.”
- 1 cup radishes, quartered
- 4 1/4 cups (or 34 ounces) vegetable stock or water
- 1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
- 4 cups frozen peas
- 5 ounces spinach leaves, shredded (or a mix of leaves, e.g. spinach, sorrel, wild nettle)
- A swirl of Savoury Cashew Cream, to serve (optional)
- Chopped fresh chervil, to serve (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Toss the radishes in a bowl with a splash of stock or water and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread them out on the prepared baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them every 5 minutes. They should be tender with a firm center and a have a lovely pink color when done.
Meanwhile, make the soup. Put the spring onions, reserving 2 tablespoons, into a pan with a splash of water and cook over a medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes until soft. Add the remaining water or vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Add the peas, spinach leaves, 1½ teaspoons salt and a good pinch of pepper. Lower the heat and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Blend the soup using a stick blender, then taste and add more seasoning if needed.
Serve scattered with the roasted radishes, reserved chopped spring onions and chervil, with some Savoury Cashew Cream if you like.
Savour Cashew Cream
Makes 2 1/4 cups
- 1 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or the juice of 1/2 lemon
Place the cashews, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2/3 cups water in a high-speed blender and blitz until very smooth. If you want the cream to be more liquid, add a tablespoon of water at a time to thin it out. Add other flavorings of your choice.
Store the cream in a glass container in the fridge for a maximum of three days.