Cooking

For the Love of Vegetables

We cook through Steven Satterfield's debut cookbook, "Root to Leaf"
Root to Leaf
Images: Courtesy HarperWave 

A talent for coaxing flavor from any vegetable and a desire to explore led chef Steven Satterfield to launch Miller Union in Atlanta, his farmstead-inspired restaurant that's been a media darling—and a James Beard Award nominee—since opening in 2009. Six years later, Satterfield has put his vegetable-loving philosophy to paper in his first cookbook, Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons.

The recipes often have a Southern accent, and the book is organized by season, but what really motivates Satterfield—and what sets his cooking apart—is his root-to-leaf approach. More than just the culinary love child of the vegetable and nose-to-tail dining trends, root-to-leaf cooking is about making the most of everything that's harvested, including what would normally be considered scrap.

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Satterfield keeps it simple. A dish might incorporate the roots, stems and leaves of a vegetable, but the recipes are refreshingly streamlined, proving that though more produce is good, more fussing is not.

Satterfield zeroes in on specific seasonal ingredients and shares a handful of recipes for each. He also offers succinct, information-packed overviews that touch on everything from history to nutrition to shopping and prep. These sections offer interesting tidbits (did you know beets are related to quinoa?). But there's also practical advice that will help you master the recipes, make you a smarter shopper and a better cook.

Bulgur Wheat with Roasted Baby Beets and Their Tops captures the essence of Satterfield's style. The beets are simply roasted, their stems and leaves are quickly sautéed, and if you compost the peels, you'll make use of every inch of the vegetable. Be sure to read Satterfield's introduction to beets, where you'll learn that "beet tops" refers to the stems and leaves, something that isn't spelled out in the recipe. Bulgur (cracked wheat) provides a fluffy, slightly nutty base for the trio of beets, greens and stems. It's an earthy mix that benefits from tangy, creamy farmers' cheese or chèvre, plus a hit of lemon juice. There's already a lot going on here, but you could also add toasted pistachios for crunch.

Trout Fillets with Sautéed Fennel Stems and Fronds also speaks to Satterfield's root-to-leaf ethos. The recipe doesn't even use the fennel bulb, focusing instead on the stems and fronds, which are usually tossed. It's one of the longer recipes in the book, but it's still remarkably straightforward and delivers impressive results without much effort. The sauce requires nothing more than pushing a button on a blender, while the leeks and fennel are just chopped and sautéed. Fish isn't Satterfield's focus, but he offers a foolproof way to cook the trout and allows for flexibility, so you can finish everything at the same time—it really works and is a lesson worth remembering.

Viva's One-Skillet Greens and Eggs demonstrates another Satterfield signature: minimalism. It's a true one-pan dish and is practically effortless. You start by crisping bacon in a cast-iron skillet, then add dandelion greens and water to steam them. Eggs are nestled between the greens and gently cooked. We couldn't fit the full one and a half to two pounds of greens in our large cast-iron pan and would have liked more detail on how to prep them—we ended up trimming the tough ends and cutting the leaves in half. Regardless, it's a really simple meal to pull together for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You may be tempted to skip the cider and cider vinegar drizzle, but don't—it emphasizes the sharp bite of the greens and tempers the richness of the eggs and bacon.

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