Lukas Volger is a vegetarian cookbook author I have long admired, ever since he reversed my veggie burger cynicism with his 2010 cookbook, “Veggie Burgers Every Which Way.” He is a master at creating attractive vegetarian and vegan meals that are put together with a light hand but that fill you up.
This is certainly the case with his latest book, “Bowl.” The book’s subtitle, “Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings and Other One-Dish Meals,” pretty well defines the breakdown of the chapters, with many pleasing, bright variations on each theme.
His dumpling-bowl chapter offers over a dozen recipes for vegetarian dumplings and open-faced shumai, followed by an array of vehicles for them: wonton or miso soup, stir-fried rice, grain bowls, green salads dressed with honey soy vinaigrette.
I would happily top the stir-fried bok choy and rice with spicy carrot dumplings, which are filled with a mix of steamed carrots, jalapeño, scallions, garlic, lime juice, cilantro and roasted peanuts.
With some exceptions, the palate here is decidedly Asian, true to the origins of many of these bowls. The book provides us with a pantry of Asian ingredients, both store-bought and homemade, that is realistic for the shelf space in a Brooklyn apartment kitchen but extensive enough to cover all of his recipe requirements.
He knows just when to pump up the flavor of a quiet mixture of noodles or grains and vegetables, be it with a spicy Korean fermented chili paste (gochujang), an Indonesian garlic chili paste (sambal oelek), a sweet and spicy Japanese chili-infused oil (rayu), a quickly fermented kimchee, or pounded ginger pulp.
In this recipe, he roasts squash, shiitakes and broccoli rabe in a sweet and spicy mix of soy, chili paste, sugar and oil for a winter bibimbap. It’s a dish, like many others in the book, that uses condiments to great effect – a hallmark of Volger’s cooking.
Spring Ramen Bowl With Snap Peas and Asparagus
8 ounces asparagus, preferably thick stalks
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 plump garlic cloves, smashed
4 2-inch squares kombu, or 2 longer sticks
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso paste
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
4 ounces sugar snap peas
8 ounces dried or 12 ounces fresh ramen noodles
2 2-inch squares toasted nori
4 large hard-boiled eggs, semi-firm or firm yolks (optional)
Zest of 1/2 to 1 lemon, to taste
Freshly grated ginger, to taste
Toasted sesame oil, for garnish
Neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1/2 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 3-inch matchsticks
Fine sea salt
Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus and set the top parts aside. Combine the tough asparagus ends, mushrooms, garlic and 9 cups water in a stockpot or saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add kombu, remove from the heat, and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain out and discard the solids and return the broth to the stockpot.
While the broth is simmering, prepare the frizzled scallions, if using: Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a small skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Test temperature by adding a piece of scallion; it should sizzle on contact. Add scallions and cook, stirring frequently, until brown all over but not burned. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and allow to cool. (Use within a few hours.)
In a tall glass or measuring cup, combine miso and a ladleful of hot broth. Purée thoroughly with an immersion blender until smooth. (Alternately, carefully purée in a blender.) Pour mixture back into the stockpot and bring to a bare simmer. Add salt and taste, adding more if necessary. Keep covered over low heat until ready to serve.
Use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus spears into ribbons. (It’s easiest to do this by laying them flat on a cutting board, and using a Y peeler.)
Bring another saucepan of salted water to boil and prepare an ice bath. Remove the fibrous strings from the snap peas. (To do so, pinch one end and pull along the straight edge of the pea as if it’s a zipper.) Once the water comes to a boil, add snap peas and blanch for 90 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer peas to the ice bath. Reserve the boiling water.
Add noodles to the boiling water, in a strainer or the pasta insert that comes with a stockpot, and cook until tender, usually 4 to 7 minutes for dried or 60 to 90 seconds for fresh. Lift out the noodles, reserving the cooking water, and rinse the noodles thoroughly under cold running water. Quickly dunk them back into the hot water to reheat. Divide among four bowls.
Just before serving, wave the nori squares over the flame of a gas burner a few times, until the corners curl and they turn crisp, or roast under a broiler, flipping periodically. Slice into thin strips with a chef’s knife or crumble with your fingers.
Arrange asparagus, snap peas and egg halves, if using, over the noodles in each bowl. Add a pinch of lemon zest and a few gratings of ginger to each bowl, then cover with the piping hot broth. Divide frizzled scallions on top, if using, then garnish each serving with a few drops of sesame oil and the nori. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings
Roasted Vegetable Bibimbap
1 small or 1/2 large butternut squash
Neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste) or sambal oelek, more for serving
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut in half if large
1 generous bunch broccoli rabe, thick bottom stems trimmed and discarded
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
5 cups cooked white or brown rice, or mixed grains
1 cup sprouts or shoots, such as broccoli sprouts, mung bean sprouts or sunflower shoots, for garnish
1/2 cup quick cucumber pickles, for garnish (optional; see recipe)
Lime wedges, for garnish
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Peel the squash and cut it crosswise, separating the long neck from the bulbous bottom part. Slice the neck into 1/2-inch-thick dominoes; scoop out seeds from the bottom and slice the squash 1/2-inch thick.
Whisk together 2 tablespoons neutral oil, the soy sauce, brown sugar and gochujang or sambal oelek.
Place squash and mushrooms on one baking sheet, but do not mix them together. Place broccoli rabe on another baking sheet. Divide sauce between the two pans and use your hands to toss the vegetables so they’re evenly coated.
Transfer both pans to the oven. Cook broccoli rabe for 5 to 8 minutes, until collapsed and the thicker parts of the stems are tender. Cook mushrooms for 15 to 20 minutes, until juicy and slightly shrunken, and remove from baking sheet. Return squash to oven and cook 5 to 15 minutes longer, until caramelized and tender. Cover the vegetables with foil until ready to serve.
If you’d like, make crispy-base bibimbap rice: Just before serving, heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil and the sesame oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Press rice into the skillet, making a thick cake. Let cook without disturbing for 4 to 5 minutes, until a golden brown crust forms on the bottom of the rice. (If you skip this step, use freshly cooked rice instead.)
While the crispy rice is cooking, fry the eggs: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough neutral oil to liberally coat pan. Crack in 2 eggs and sprinkle with salt. Tilt the pan so some of the oil runs over the edges of the egg whites, lower heat to medium-low and cook 1 minute. Sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon water (or soy sauce), cover and cook another minute, until whites are set. Carefully remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining eggs.
To serve, use a spatula to scoop out rice and divide it among 4 bowls, ensuring that everyone gets some of the crispy part. Top with vegetables, including any marinade left on the baking sheets, and place 1 fried egg on top of vegetables in each bowl. Garnish with sprouts or shoots, pickles (if using) and lime. Serve immediately, passing gochujang or sambal oelek at the table.
Yield: 4 servings
4 small firm cucumbers, such as Kirby or Persian, peeled or scrubbed, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Slice cucumbers 1/8-inch thick using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Toss with the sugar and salt and leave in a colander to drain for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse well and drain.
In a bowl, toss cucumbers with the vinegar, tasting and adding more as desired. Store in a container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Yield: About 2 cups