Chef Josiah Citrin may be best known for his two Michelin-starred French restaurant Melisse in Santa Monica. At home, his two teenage kids are more familiar with his Monday dinners, which for about eight months was meatless every week from last October until about June. It started as a way for son Augie to earn extra credit for a ninth grade school project on his environmental footprint. The family has since observed Meatless Monday almost every week.
"It's been fun. I try not to cook pasta, because my wife might make pasta during the week when the kids have activities like volleyball practice," says Citrin. "During the winter time, I do a lot of stews. We make a veggie burger ahead of time that we can heat up the next day."
He's had a vegetarian tasting menu (vegan upon request) at Mélisse for 14 years, inspired by the challenge of working with the seasonality of produce. "You can get meat products almost all year long. You can go to the farmers market and find some mushrooms that you can't find all year or asparagus that are beautiful and sweet."
He's been looking forward to tomatoes the most for the summer season. He'll use them in recipes like a tomato soup with braised beans and a poached egg. He is just as likely to eat them raw though. "All you need is some salt, pepper, basil, and olive oil. When you cut into it, there's that perfect texture and sweetness. I just find that to be so satisfying."
For home cooks, he recommends keeping certain staples at hand to save time. "There are good canned beans without a lot of chemicals or premade low-sodium vegetable stocks." When it comes to meatless dinners, he advises to look into how a favorite dish can be converted -- what can be substitute or taken out.
"You can get creative with it. Take tacos for instance. It's an easy dish to make. You can marinate portobello mushrooms in the same recipe you'd marinate a carne asada, grill them, chop them up really fine, and make them into a taco."
He'll make an allowance for tempeh sold at the farmers markets in Venice, Culver City, and Hollywood, but in general he avoids using processed meat substitutes in his cooking. "For protein, I'll use lentils or garbanzo beans."
The biggest hit with the family thus far has been a portobello, kale, and black bean enchilada with a tomatillo sauce. It's a dish that falls in line with Citrin's culinary principle of creating composed dishes. "It's taking into account the different flavors and textures and how all these ingredients play off each other."
Turn the page to find Citrin's recipe for tomato soup with braised cannellini beans and a poached egg:
Orange Tomato Soup with Braised Cannellini Beans and a Poached Egg
From: Josiah Citrin
(You may substitute any other dried beans or use fresh in the summer when available. You can prepare the beans a day in advance.)
1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight at room temperature
4-5 cups vegetable stock
1 bouquet garni
2 Tablespoons Maldon sea salt
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
½ leek, white part only, washed well and diced
½ sweet onion, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon butter, optional
2 teaspoons chopped shallots
3 Tablespoons chopped sweet and opal basil
1 Tablespoon chopped chives
¼ cup diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon Sherry vinegar
1. Remove any bean skins that are floating in the water. Strain the beans, put them in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and remove any bean skins that are in the pot. Strain the beans and rinse with cold water.
2. Put the beans, vegetable stock, and bouquet garni in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 35 minutes.
3. Season with sea salt. Add carrots, celery, leeks and onions. Simmer until the beans are cooked through but still hold their form, about 15 more minutes. Add in butter if using and stir until melted. Strain out almost all the remaining liquid; set aside two tablespoons of liquid for reheating. At this point, if using right away, add shallots, basil, chives, diced tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and Sherry vinegar. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste; otherwise, store beans in a little cooking liquid, covered in the refrigerator. The beans can be made a day in advance.
Orange Tomato Soup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, peeled and sliced
2 garlic cloves, germ removed then chopped
3 pounds very ripe fresh tomatoes
1 28-ounce can peeled San Marzano tomatoes
Maldon sea salt to taste
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 pint vegetable stock
1. Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add oil, then onions and garlic; sweat until the onions are soft and translucent.
2. Add both fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until tomatoes release most of their juices.
3. Add the basil and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 35 minutes.
4. Remove basil, transfer liquid to a blender and puree until smooth. Season again with sea salt if needed. Pour liquid through a fine strainer. Keep warm if serving right away; otherwise, chill and keep covered in the refrigerator.
1-2 teaspoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
1. Bring a saucepan of water to boil. Reduce to a low simmer and add the vinegar.
2. Crack an egg into a small cup; gently drop the egg into the water. Use a spoon to push the egg whites close to their yolks. Add the remaining eggs.
3. Allow to cook for 30 seconds, turn off the heat and let sit in the water for 3 ½ minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lift eggs out of the water.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
Maldon sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. While cooking the eggs, reheat soup. If using butter, add it in and blend with a hand blender until light and frothy. [If beans were made in advance, reheat with the remaining two tablespoons of vegetable stock. Add shallots, basil, chives, diced tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and Sherry vinegar. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.]
2. Spoon the beans into the center of six soup bowls. Place a poached egg on top and pour the soup around the egg and beans leaving a little of the egg showing. Sprinkle the egg with a little Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
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