Food: Celebrating compassionate cuisine

Vegetarian cuisine has come a long way since the macrobiotic meals we used to savor.

Vegetarian cuisine has come a long way since the macrobiotic meals we used to savor at a modest eatery called Auberge Inn in Paris’s Latin Quarter in the late 1970s, where we dined on such fare as brown rice and beans sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. The food was hearty and tasty, but creativity was not one of its qualities.
Last week innovation clearly characterized the spread at the Compassionate Cuisine Celebration. The festival took place at the elegant Japanese Garden at California State University, Long Beach, to commemorate World Vegetarian Day and to benefit Animal Acres, a farmed animal sanctuary in southern California.
Our good friend Nancy Eisman of Melissa’s Worldwide Produce had discussed the dish she was planning to prepare for this event, as we were strolling last week down the aisles of our favorite East Asian supermarket. We were eager to taste her creation and so we went to her booth first. She presented a refreshing salad of fresh tofu with Vietnamese-inspired pickled vegetables and a luscious pesto of cilantro and Mexican pumpkin seeds. This dish was not only delicious; it needed no cooking! We put it at the top of our list of dishes to make at home.
Another dish we enjoyed was Tuscan cauliflower, prepared by the cook of a local market called Olives Gourmet Grocer, who combined roasted seasoned cauliflower florets with artichokes, garlic, capers and olive oil.
Vegetarian cooking in the West has been enriched by contributions from Indian and Chinese cuisines, which have age-old traditions of meatless cooking. In East Asia cooks developed tasty vegetarian dishes imitating meats and fish. At the booth of Happy Family Vegetarian Cuisine, some of the nonvegetarian guests sampling the spicy Chinese orange-peel chicken and the sweet-and-sour meat forgot for a moment that this was not really chicken or meat; all their “meats” were made from soy or wheat protein – also known as seitan or wheat gluten.
These Asian faux meats also starred in the Latin American chimichurri fajitas served by Native Foods Café, which featured Mexican flavored seitan with roasted sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes, accompanied by grilled organic corn tortillas. The Argentine parsley-and-garlic chimichurri sauce is classically served with steak but proved a fine partner for this vegetarian dish.
There were vegan quiches that were surprisingly tasty considering the composition of the fillings – the chef of Da Vinci’s Delight told us she made them from tofu pureed with uncooked vegetables and baked in a flaky pastry crust.
We were impressed that the quiches could be cut neatly although there were no eggs to hold the filling together.
C’est La V Bakeshop featured not only dairy- and egg-free treats like pumpkin pie bars on an oatmeal pecan cookie crust, but even gluten- and soy-free toffee cookie bars.
Some cooks focused on raw foods, which have become trendy, and which the chef of Good To Go restaurant in Huntington Beach, California, prefers to call “living foods.”
We didn’t expect to like the unbaked pizza, but its crust of ground nuts and seeds was tasty indeed and complemented the mushroom olive basil topping. Another successful preparation was the restaurant’s chocolate mousse made by blending three ingredients – cacao, avocado and agave nectar – one more idea to play with at home.

These roasted vegetables make a tasty appetizer or side dish. To turn them into a main course, add chickpeas or other cooked beans. If you like, line the roasting pan with foil or baking paper to make cleanup easier.
1 cauliflower, divided in small florets 1 or 2 zucchini or white squash (kishuim), halved lengthwise and cut in chunks 1 small onion, halved and sliced lengthwise 1 small red pepper, cut in thick strips (optional)
2 garlic cloves, chopped 3 to 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil salt and freshly ground pepper 1 to 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or to taste 1 Tbsp. drained capers
1 to 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 190º. Put cauliflower in roasting pan large enough to hold all the vegetables in one layer and sprinkle it with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and a little salt. Roast for 10 minutes. Add onion and sweet pepper, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon oil or to taste and a little salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes. Add zucchini and garlic and stir gently. Sprinkle with 1 to 2 teaspoons oil and a little salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes.
Gently stir vegetables, turning pieces over. Roast for 10 more minutes or until vegetables are done to your taste.
In a small bowl whisk lemon juice with 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Spoon mixture over the vegetables. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve vegetables hot, warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with parsley and capers.
Makes 4 servings.
The creamy pesto dressing is terrific not only with tofu and greens, but also with hard-boiled eggs, baked eggplant and all sorts of cooked vegetables.
These pickled vegetables in this dish are gentle and savory-sweet. Depending on how long you let the vegetables sit in the flavorful blend of pineapple juice, soy sauce, ginger and garlic, you could think of them as marinated or as pickled. Their marinade doubles as a sauce for the tofu.
Nancy uses the classic Vietnamese mixture of carrots and daikon radish for the pickles, but you can use other long, mild radishes, kohlrabi, mild fresh turnips or cucumber strips. To make julienne, cut the vegetables in pieces 2.5 cm. to 3.75 cm. long, then in very thin strips.
Asian-style Quick Pickled Vegetables – see recipe below Cilantro Pesto Mayonnaise – see recipe below4 or 5 cups mixed baby lettuces a 350-gr. to 450-gr. package tofu, preferably firm, cut into 8 pieces
Prepare Quick Pickled Vegetables at least a day before you plan to serve the dish. Prepare Cilantro Pesto Mayonnaise.
To serve, place a handful of mixed greens on each of 8 plates. Place a piece of tofu on greens. Add a few pieces of pickled vegetables on one side of tofu and a spoonful of cilantro pesto mayonnaise on the other.Drizzle a little of the pickling marinade over the tofu and the greens. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Makes 8 salad servings.
Asian-style Quick Pickled Vegetables:
11⁄2 cups julienned carrots 11⁄2 cups julienned daikon radish or other radish 1⁄2 cup sliced jalapeno chili peppers or other hot or semi-hot peppers 11⁄2 cups pineapple juice 1⁄2 cup soy sauce 1 tsp. minced garlic 2 tsp. minced ginger 1 Tbsp. sugar
Put carrots, radishes and sliced chilies in a jar or a container. In a bowl combine pineapple juice, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sugar and whisk together until blended. Pour this pickling marinade over the vegetables.
Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours; or leave for 3 to 4 days for the vegetables to absorb more flavor from the marinade.
Cilantro Pesto Mayonnaise: 3⁄4 cup chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup vegetable oil 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste 1⁄3 cup green pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted Kosher salt to taste Freshly ground pepper or cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
In a blender process cilantro, oil, lemon juice and pumpkin seeds. Add salt and pepper to taste, and additional oil or lemon juice if needed to obtain the consistency of a pesto or thick sauce. In a bowl mix the pesto with mayonnaise until well blended.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. You can keep it, refrigerated, for several days.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.