In Season: Vegetarian feasts

When cooking a meatless meal, look for flavor, texture, heartiness and visual appeal.

Vegetarian food 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Vegetarian food 311
(photo credit: MCT)
What is it about cooking for vegetarians that stumps so many carnivores? Even those who make a sublime split pea soup or divine curry suddenly feel compelled to reach for the safety of soy burgers. Truth is, vegetarians and omnivores can dine happily together on the same glorious feast.
When planning a dinner party that includes both vegetarians and meat eaters, best to banish any lingering whiffs of 1970s vegetarian restaurants, with their Birkenstock-wearing servers and mushy beige food, and focus on the wow factor. And today, that couldn’t be easier.
Consider aromatic, curried vegetables nestled against the black grains of forbidden rice, an exotic grain favored, according to legend, by the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. Or a hearty stew of toothsome farro, flavorful lentils and vivid orange sweet potatoes or butternut squash that gets a tangy zing from lemon zest and yogurt. In short, create a menu that offers nothing but gustatory temptation.
“I don’t come to the table as a vegetarian,” says Marie Simmons, the food writer behind Fresh and Fast Vegetarian. “I come to the table as someone who loves big, bold, robust flavors, and I believe in abbondanza. That’s the Italian word for ‘joyful abundance.’ The issue isn’t that traditional meat eaters are anti-vegetarian, it’s a fear of tofu,” she says. “And they’re afraid they’re not going to get enough to eat.”
What Napa Valley food writer Janet Fletcher looks for in a vegetarian main dish are the exact same things she seeks in any entree – flavor, texture, heartiness and visual appeal. And, of course, how it pairs with wine.
One of Fletcher’s favorite menus includes a salad of roasted peppers and mozzarella, and a creamy Farro risotto with Jerusalem artichokes and deeply browned, almost meaty mushrooms. “It’s a beautiful dish for red wine,” she says.
✔ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving ✔ 2 large yellow onions, chopped ✔ 1 cup peeled, diced sweet potato or winter squash ✔ Sea salt ✔ 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. curry powder ✔ 2⁄3 cup semi-pearled farro (solet, in Hebrew) ✔ 11⁄4 cups green or black lentils ✔ 6-7 cups vegetable broth or water ✔ 1 cup Greek-style yogurt or crème fraiche ✔ Grated zest and juice of 1⁄2 lemon, or to taste
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions and sweet potato. Add a big pinch of salt and sauté until the onions soften a bit, a couple of minutes.
Add the curry powder. Stir until onions and sweet potatoes are coated and the curry is fragrant, a minute or so.
Add the farro, lentils and 6 cups broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. (If using whole farro instead of semi-pearled, increase cooking time to 50 minutes.)
Taste and season with more salt if needed. Stir together the yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and 1⁄4 tsp. salt. Serve each bowl of soup topped with a dollop of lemon yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil.
(Adapted from Heidi Swanson, Super Natural Every Day, Ten Speed Press)
✔ 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil ✔ 1 cup chopped red onion ✔ 11⁄2 cups Arborio or other medium-grain white rice ✔ 21⁄2 cups water ✔ 1⁄2 cup dry white wine ✔ Kosher salt ✔ 3 cups corn kernels, fresh or canned or frozen ✔ 1 cup creamy, mild feta or fresh goat cheese, crumbled ✔ 1 cup diagonally sliced (21⁄2 cm.) green beans ✔ 1 garlic clove, grated ✔ 2 cups diced (1 cm.) tomatoes✔ 1⁄4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, torn ✔ Freshly ground black pepper
Heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet until it is hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Add 1⁄2 cup onion and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat until tender, 5 minutes.
Add the rice and stir until coated with oil. Add the water, wine and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, stirring once. Cook, covered, over low heat, stirring once or twice, until creamy and tender, 12-15 minutes.
Stir in 1 cup corn and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Fold in 1⁄2 cup cheese.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet until it is hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Add the remaining 1⁄2 cup onion and cook, stirring, until tender, 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups corn, green beans and garlic, and cook, stirring, until the green beans are crisp-tender, 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, basil, a pinch of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper to the corn mixture.
Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls.
Top with the vegetable mixture and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
(Adapted from Marie Simmons, Fresh and Fast Vegetarian, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Note: This colorful curry is delicious served with black Forbidden, Bhutanese red or brown jasmine rice. Feel free to vary the vegetables with the season.
✔ 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil ✔ 2 tsp. cumin seeds ✔ 2 cups unpeeled eggplant, diced in 3-cm. cubes ✔ 2 cups chickpeas, cooked or canned, rinsed and drained ✔ 2 cups cauliflower florets ✔ 1 cup diced onion ✔ 1 cup diced carrot ✔ 1 cup green beans, cut in 1-cm lengths ✔ 2-3 tsp. jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced ✔ 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced ✔ 1 Tbsp. curry powder ✔ 1 garlic clove, grated ✔ 1 tsp. coarse salt ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric ✔ 380-gr. can regular or light coconut milk ✔ 1⁄2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews, coarsely chopped, ✔ 1⁄4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until they are a shade darker, 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and chickpeas; cook, stirring, over mediumhigh heat for 5 minutes.
Add the cauliflower, onion, carrot, green beans, jalapeno, ginger, curry powder, garlic, salt and turmeric. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the sauce has thickened and the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Spoon the curry into a large bowl or over a platter of rice. Sprinkle with cashews and cilantro and serve. ■
(Adapted from Marie Simmons, Fresh and Fast Vegetarian Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (San Jose Mercury News