Curated by James Beard Award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins, the cookbook illustrates what Impossible, Beyond Meat, and other alt-meat purveyors have been arguing for a long time: Plant-based beef crumbles can go into incognito mode in every dish from burgers to bolognese to taco salad. And now, you don't even have to wing it: Some of the world's greatest chefs—from Pinky Cole to Tanya Holland—will walk you through the steps of fully integrating environmentally-friendly meat products into your everyday cooking.
To celebrate the launch of the much-anticipated cookbook, I signed up for a Zoom cooking class with Des Jardins herself to make two of the recipes: chef Michael Symon's Keftedes with Lemon and Mint (Greek meatballs) and Des Jardin's very own Impossible Jardinière Burgers. With my apron on and my kitchen fully stocked with all the alt meat, onions, breadcrumbs, and spices you need to whip up flavorful ground beef.
Chef Des Jardins starts with the Keftedes, cooking off onions and garlic to create the ground beef mixture (along with bread crumbs and a mix of cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and oregano). I've been a vegetarian for almost eight years now, so the feeling of rolling a product that feels very much like the beef between my palms to form a ball of meat feels alien (and kind of fun). I fry them in a pan and watch as they turn into crispy, perfectly-cooked meatballs. After topping them with lemon zest and mint, I take a bite and experience the nostalgic euphoria of eating meat for the first time since high school. Except! Wait! I didn't actually eat any animals. The mint and lemon zest also bring a summery lightness to the otherwise-heavy hors d'oeuvres.
Next, we pivot into prepping chef Des Jardins' signature burger, which launched in one of her San Francisco restaurants to become an instant sensation. "The expectations were high. People had been waiting with huge anticipation to try it," she writes in the cookbook. "But the response was even better than we expected. Before long, we had regulars coming in more than twice a week to enjoy it."
The recipe calls for slow-caramelized onions, cornichons (the cutest variety of pickles!), avocado, a slice of vegan cheese, and a dijon, vegan mayo that should truly win awards. I carefully stack my burger up in a pretzel bun and take a big bite. I wait. Then the flavors—the tangy-sweetness of the pickles, the fattiness of the mayo, the creaminess of the avocado, and the rich taste of the meat—all come together in my mouth. It's a flavor symphony that didn't require the 600 gallons of water or 260 square feet of land that one pound of animal-based beef does. A win, I think.
The cooking class wraps up with all of us presenting our plates to Des Jardins and me vowing to add both of these dishes to my monthly menu. We made the Keftedes and the burger in under two hours, and since the meatballs themselves only took about half an hour, I'd count them as one of those speedy dinners that prove invaluable on weeknights.
We've had plant-based meat for over a decade now—it's about time we learned how to cook it right.
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