I have a pet peeve. I go searching for vegetable-centric recipes -- usually on the Web, but even in many cookbooks -- and I keep finding recipes in which the vegetable is a bit player instead of the star, or gussied up with all sorts of other ingredients as if in an attempt to disguise that OMG it's a vegetable!
I'll give you the immediate example as a for-instance. A friend gave me an assortment of gorgeous winter squashes. Of course I can just roast them -- a terrific way of cooking veggies that I have used time and time again -- but that's just the problem. I have been roasting so many veggies recently that I'm beginning to get bored with the technique, and I sure as hell don't want to ruin such an excellent method for myself through overuse.
So ... I get my Google on, and what do I find? Squash soups, where some 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the soup is broth, dairy, etc. Stews in which the squash shares billing with all sorts of other items. Casseroles, which by definition are assortments of ingredients. Risottos, in which, again by definition, the arborio rice is the main event. Squashes stuffed with everything from meat to nuts. Squash as bits and pieces on pizza. Salads in which squash is a garnish on top of greens. And on and on and on ...
Now mind you, many of the above recipes look absolutely excellent. BUT. NONE of them are what I am looking for. I'm looking for recipes in which my squash will be the star, not a bit player, not even a co-star. Recipes in which the squash will be set off in all its glory, with only those seasonings and aromatics that enhance its glory -- and certainly not glopped up with a bunch of sugar or syrup or sweeteners or other such additions that ignore the fact that winter squash are gloriously sweet all on their own.* And I'm hard-pressed to find such recipes, and for the life of me I can't figure out why.
I have some guesses, of course. At least among many United States eaters, though eating patterns have changed somewhat in recent years, food is still centered around animal protein and vegetables are seen as a side. Even with the recent changes in food patterns to adopt less reliance on meat, the typical meatless entree still either mimics a meat dish ("meat" loaves, veggie burgers, etc.) or consists of an amalgam of different ingredients, such as a stew or soup or tagine or pizza or casserole. I see this pattern even in US vegetarian and vegan cookery. Perhaps, at least to some extent, this is yet another side-effect of modern urban consumer culture, in which we don't have to figure out what the heck to do with a bumper crop of a particular vegetable put out by our farm, but can just buy dribs and drabs of different ingredients as we desire and cobble them together as we please.
But mainly I confess this pattern just fairly shrieks at me a mindset of "OMG you can't have just a naked vegetable as your entree! That's so... so... unsatisfying!"
But I do want to have a vegetable as my entree. Of course I will have some protein and carbs as side-dishes or garnishes -- I do want a nutritionally balanced meal. But why do I have to have those things glommed onto the veg?
There are of course some cuisines that are more simpatico to this preference. Traditional Japanese nihon ryori, for example, has numerous recipes in which a single vegetable is prepared to jewel-like perfection and served on its own little plate with maybe a few sprigs of herbs as garnish. A favorite local Indian vegetarian restaurant of mine focusing on the cuisines of Southern India presents a buffet featuring a variety of all-vegetable curries (supplemented by pilaus, dals, and fresh-made dosas and idlis delivered directly to your table). And every summer I make multiple batches of ratatouille -- yes, a stew, but an all-vegetable stew, in which the zucchini and eggplant strut undisguised. And so on and so on with stir-fries and etc.
And there are also some cookbooks that do at least partly buck this trend. I have a beloved, much-stained and dogeared copy of The Victory Garden Cookbookthat I consult frequently for inspirations. While a lot of the recipes do the kind of things I don't want -- and also use larger quantities of high-fat ingredients than I care to indulge in on a regular basis -- each vegetable-chapter does lead off with some simple tasty preparations for the veggie unadorned and unadulterated. I also have a selection of macrobiotic cookbooks, which are great for technique ... but, alas, maybe a little too unadorned even for my tastes. And I have a few Indian vegetarian cookbooks, which again are great ... though sometimes the intensity of Indian spices presents its own issues of obscuring the flavor of the vegetable ...
I dunno, maybe the preparation of a single vegetable is considered too boring or elementary? Like, "what's the big deal? Just whack it up and either pile it in a steamer or onto a sheet pan and get on with it!" For comparison, though, I suggest an experiment: go Google "steak recipes." There you have it: a single ingredient, whose preparation, while indeed requiring some care, is usually simplicity itself, and look at the bazillions of hits, the majority of which do not attempt to adulterate the steak by making it the bit player to anything else. Because it's a steak, man! Why would you want to hide that it's a steak?
Hmmmm ... maybe I am sensing a niche for a possible cookbook project of my own. Who knows? Could there be a market for a book all about preparing vegetables simply, tastily but un-gussied-up, so that you can actually tell what you are eating and savor it for what it is?
*Well... most but not all varieties of winter squash, I have since discovered. Some of the beautiful squashes my friend gave me were a little lacking in the sweetness department, to put it mildly. But varieties like kabocha and butternut really stand on their own without a ton of sweetners.