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Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

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Vegetarian Cookery for Omnivores and Vegetarians: Eating Well Without the Meat

Introduction

Vegetarians have a bad reputation. Their dietary choices are widely viewed as an unnecessary frivolity at best and a domineering control mechanism at worst. Restaurateurs often dread developing vegetarian options for their menus, and home cooks shy away from having their vegetarian friends over to share a meal. Several eGullet members have adopted signature files that show their impatience with vegetarians.

My personal experience reflects that vegetarians are passionate about food and eating. They're accustomed to practices such as learning the sources of the food they eat, reading labels and keeping themselves educated about food. They love to learn about cooking vegetables, grains and other tricky foods properly, and they love to share the results with their friends and families. Chefs in restaurants with vegetarian-friendly menus have learned ways of producing fine vegetarian cuisine using techniques such as infusion and juicing in sauces and smoking or grilling vegetarian foods to add flavor. Their efforts are rewarded through loyal followings among vegetarians, and their restaurants benefit from lowered food costs on vegetarian menu items.

The ethical debates about vegetarianism are irrelevant to the importance of vegetarian cuisine. I'm not interested in telling other people what they should or shouldn't eat, comparing oppressions, or designating some people as superior to others based on something as silly as what they do or don't consume. I am very interested in preparing and eating good food; the ethical debates are best left to more political venues than a food discussion website. This course is designed as a practical guide to vegetarian cuisine with some ideas for preparing appropriate foods.

It doesn't matter if you are a vegetarian, considering becoming a vegetarian, a friend or family member of a vegetarian, a serious home cook, or a professional cook. Awareness of vegetarian cuisine can enrich your culinary life, and understanding its principles will make you a better host, guest, diner and cook. At the end of this lesson, you may not want to be a vegetarian if you are currently an omnivore, but you'll be prepared to accommodate one and may learn some new ways with vegetarian foods. If you are a vegetarian, you may gain some new techniques and ideas to use for producing delicious food. Ultimately, what's most important is the food.

What is vegetarianism?

There are many types of vegetarians, each with a unique set of dietary preferences. The simplest way to ascertain a vegetarian's diet is to confirm it by asking. There are some generally-accepted labels for various diets:

Vegetarian, Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian, Ovo Vegetarian, Lacto Vegetarian: These titles generally refer to people who eat no meat, fowl, or fish. "Vegetarians" are usually the same as "ovo-lacto vegetarians;" both populations eat dairy products and eggs but no meat, fowl or fish. Ovo vegetarians and lacto vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy, or dairy but not eggs, respectively. The barriers around lacto-ovo vegetarianism have a few gray areas; for example, some lacto-ovo vegetarians refuse to consume cheese that was made with animal rennet. For purposes of this lesson, "vegetarian" means "lacto-ovo vegetarian."

Vegan: This word refers to a person who eats no meat, fowl, fish, dairy or egg foods. Many vegans refuse to be associated with anything that could be derived from an animal-related process; for example, vegans often eschew honey, avoid leather goods, and reject down-filled linens. Vegans may also refuse to consume dates (which are fertilized by a certain type of wasp), white sugar (which may be purified with bone charcoal) and other foods that appear to be animal-free.

Fruitarian, Raw Food, Macrobiotic: These diets are outside the mainstream of vegetarianism and veganism. Fruitarians consume fruits, nuts, and some nut oils, but no vegetables, grains, meat, fowl, fish, dairy or egg; theoretically, this diet prevents plants from dying to feed the fruitarian. Raw food adherents are usually vegans who do not cook their food by applying heat. They prepare grains and beans by lengthy soaking and washing, and they subsist mostly on raw fruits, vegetables and nuts. Macrobiotics are usually vegans who make an effort to eat in tune with the seasons; they generally stick to foods that are produced locally.

Pesco-Vegetarians, Semi-Vegetarians: These labels apply to persons who eat dairy foods, eggs, and occasionally other animal foods. Pesco-vegetarians consume fish but no meat or fowl. "Semi-vegetarian" is difficult to define; some semi-vegetarians eat meat or fowl on rare occasions, while others maintain a mostly-vegetarian diet but tuck into meat or fowl once every week or two.

Meatless: Some people eschew meat, fowl, and fish as foods, but may still consume animal foods like gelatin or chicken stock. Sometimes people on such a diet describe themselves as "meatless." I don't regard "meatless" as the same as "vegetarian" for the purposes of this lesson.

For the purposes of this class, we will discuss mostly lacto-ovo vegetarian cuisine. Most of the recipes in this class are easily adapted to the vegan diet.

Why do People Insist on This Wacky Diet? Why Did I, and Why Did I Stop?

The reasons why people choose vegetarian diets are as varied as vegetarians themselves. Some people are vegetarians for religious reasons; either their religion requires vegetarianism, or their personal circumstances make it difficult for them to source meat, fowl or fish that suits their religious dietary requirements. (Religious Jewish people whose work causes them to travel frequently will sometimes adopt a vegetarian diet out of necessity, for example.) Others are concerned about animal rights and animal suffering; many vegans particularly fall into this category, and they may refuse to wear leather or fur or otherwise use items that rely on animal products. Some vegetarians choose their diets out of health concerns, believing a vegetarian diet to be lower in cholesterol and fat and higher in fiber than omnivorous diets. Still others simply dislike meat, fowl and fish, or feel they are too expensive compared to beans and grains.

My own reasons for being a lacto-ovo vegetarian shifted over the years I eschewed meat, fowl and fish. I started as a vegetarian because I was concerned about animal rights issues (I read Diet for a New Planet by John Robbins and was moved by the plight of animals who become our food). I was also interested in eating what I regarded as a pure diet, free of animal hormones. I believed that animals were a poor use of environmental resources; one pound of beef requires huge quantities of potable water and grain that could be used to feed humans. I was concerned that eating animals was hypocritical; I knew there was no way I could kill an animal, and I didn't want to eat meat only because I was able to separate myself from its reality. I had a boyfriend who was a vegetarian, and through him I saw that it was possible to both eat out and cook at home and enjoy a satisfactory variety of food.

Later, I became less concerned with animal rights, and my approach to environmental issues became less focused on diet. I continued my vegetarian diet out of health concerns and out of habit. I'd describe my vegetarianism to others as second nature: "If you know you don't like tomatoes, when you go into a restaurant and look at a menu you just mentally skip over anything that contains tomatoes. Meat is the same way for me, I just don't notice if I'm missing out on something by not eating it." I started eating fish about two years ago. I was trying to lose weight while continuing to frequent restaurants and the vegetarian offerings at most restaurants rely heavily on calorie-rich dairy foods like cheese. I also had started to wonder what I was missing by not eating meat or fowl as my interest in food began to border on obsession. I made the decisions to start eating meat again and to enroll in culinary school over a very short time span in early 2002. I still maintain a household free of meat and fowl foods, although I prepare fish often at home.

I never regarded the vegetarian diet as one defined by restriction. I think this view of vegetarian cuisine is an artificial construct. Being a vegetarian, for me, was far more about what I could eat than about what I didn't. My vegetarianism led me to explore international foods and try unfamiliar ingredients; my palate expanded rapidly and I learned to love many flavors that I might not have considered had I not changed my diet.

What is Vegetarian Cuisine?

The only defining factor of vegetarian cuisine is that it is devoid of meat, fowl or fish. Vegetarian cuisine is global, sophisticated cuisine. Vegetarian cuisine is also an ordinary omelet, pasta with tomato sauce, or a baked potato. Some international cuisines are particularly vegetarian-friendly, especially Indian and Thai cuisines.

Most recipes that do not center on meat and meat flavors can be converted to vegetarian recipes, but there are some things to look out for:

Stocks. Vegetarians and vegans will only consume vegetable-based stocks. Chicken stock is not a vegetarian food.

Fats. Vegetarians do not consume animal fats such as duck fat or lard. Butter is acceptable to vegetarians but not to vegans.

Common flavorings. Most major flavorings are vegetarian, but some contain fish or fowl byproducts. Worcestershire sauce contains anchovy, for example. (Vegetarian versions of Worcestershire sauce are available at natural foods stores.)

Common additives. Strict vegetarians and vegans avoid additives like animal-based rennet (derived from animal byproducts; a coagulant often found in cheeses) and carmine (derived from insect chitin; a red food coloring found in some fruit juices). Most natural foods stores carry cheeses made with a vegetable-based rennet, along with carmine-free juices. It can be difficult to ascertain which cheeses contain animal-based rennet through reading labels; if you are feeding cheese to a strict vegetarian, ask a knowledgeable cheese retailer for advice on rennet-free cheese. Some cheeses are labeled as containing vegetable-based rennet, particularly organic cheeses and cheeses sold in natural foods stores.

You could make your life insane by following these strictures to the letter if you are not a vegetarian but are trying hard to impress one. Your best bet is always to ask the person you're cooking for what you should avoid. If you are thinking of becoming a vegetarian and want to be careful about what you're eating, there are, referenced at the end of this presentation, Web sites and books with more comprehensive information about animal byproducts in seemingly vegetarian foods.

Accommodating a Vegetarian: Why and How

Perhaps you're a gleeful omnivore. You love your steaks and chops, you can't pass up foie gras or veal and you couldn't care less what happens to the animals who become your dinner. You're just happy with a hamburger or a slice of pepperoni pizza, or a roasted chicken or some fried fish. Then you make friends with a vegetarian, and before you know it you've invited your new friend over to dinner. Now what are you going to do?

You shouldn't hesitate to invite your friend over if you're the sort of person who likes to cook for friends. Most vegetarians will gleefully eat whatever you put in front of them so long as it contains no meat or fowl. Many satisfying meals can be assembled without meat. You can accommodate your omnivorous friends with the same vegetarian food, or design menus from which animal proteins can easily be omitted. For example, I've served the raisin couscous and chickpeas with cinnamon and caramelized onions I'll cover later to guests topped with cumin-rubbed salmon; those who didn't eat fish simply received a larger portion of the couscous and beans. This way everybody was able to eat what he or she wanted to and still enjoy one another's' company.

It's hard to believe, but vegetarians do not make their dietary choices for the purpose of annoying those around them. Vegetarianism is as respectable a dietary decision as any other, and it's a personal choice in most cases.

Stocking a Vegetarian Pantry

Without the animal proteins of meat, fowl and fish, most vegetarians rely on vegetable proteins like soy foods, whole grains and beans to round out their diets. To that end, the vegetarian pantry is an important part of maintaining a vegetarian kitchen.

In my house, we keep a collection of canisters and quart-sized Ball jars for holding whole grains, beans, flours and sugars. These canisters and jars can easily be refilled from the bulk bins at the natural foods co-op where I do most of our food shopping, and they are easily washed and reused once they're emptied. In addition to these containers, we keep a collection of reusable plastic containers that hold cooked beans and grains, which we store in the chest freezer. Maintaining these stores allows us to create vegetarian meals without much advance planning, seasoning and augmenting these basic foods with fresh vegetables and fruits to compose complete meals.

Which items should you stock in your vegetarian pantry? Shoot for an assortment of the foods you like to eat best. Most of these foods keep for a long time, although the longer you keep a product like brown rice or beans the longer you will have to cook the product to soften it and make it digestible. Purchase these foods from sources where the turnover is fairly rapid. Bulk foods sections of natural foods markets and ethnic markets are especially good places for buying whole grains and beans; they're inexpensive and turn over rapidly. If you're not sure how much you'll eat of a new vegetarian food, buy a smaller quantity. You can always get more if you get hooked on it, and by purchasing from bulk foods sections you shouldn't have to commit to too much of anything.

Here's some of what I keep in my pantry, which reflects the way I like to eat. Your pantry should reflect your personal tastes, not mine.

Canned foods

Tomatoes: peeled diced, whole, roasted

Beans: backup supplies of chickpeas, kidney beans, pintos

Artichoke hearts

Hearts of palm

Peanut butter

Grains

Rice: Basmati, short- and long-grain brown, jasmine, arborio/carnaroli

Pasta: Wholegrain spaghetti, semolina penne

Corn: White unbleached grits, ordinary yellow cornmeal, coarse polenta

Flours: Unbleached white, whole wheat, cake flour

Other: Bulgur wheat, Kasha (buckwheat groats), lentils

Dried foods

Raisins

Assorted berries, cherries, apricots

Tomatoes

Assorted mushrooms

Assorted nuts

Homemade breadcrumbs

Seasonings

Sea salt

Pepper in a grinder

Garlic, fresh

Tamari or soy sauce

Vinegars: rice wine, red wine, white wine, apple cider, balsamic

Assorted extra virgin olive oils

Peanut oil

Sesame oil

Chile-infused oil

In the Freezer

Cooked chickpeas, kidney beans, pintos, cannellini

Vegetarian stock

Tofu

Soy foods (veggie burgers)

In the Refrigerator

Milk

Butter

Parmegiano-reggiano

Eggs

Default Fruits and Vegetables

Carrots

Celery

Onions, white and red

Lemons

Salad vegetables

Potatoes

Notes on Vegetarian Foods

Most vegetarian dishes are familiar to omnivorous cooks. There are some foods, especially vegetarian proteins, which may be less familiar to the omnivorous. To that end, here are some notes on preparing a few common vegetarian foods:

Tofu. You may have had tofu at an Asian restaurant and wondered if you could get such chewy, flavorful tofu at home. Perhaps you bought a package of extra-firm water packed tofu from the refrigerator at your supermarket or co-op, and brought it home and sliced it and tossed it into a stir-fry at the last minute. When you sat down to dine, you realized that you had soggy, mushy white stuff that broke apart into disappointing curds distributed throughout the dish. While I like the custardy, ethereal nature of regular tofu (and occasionally eat it with nothing more than a sprinkle of soy sauce), I usually prefer cooking with the chewier sort.

Regular tofu must be dried as much as possible if it is to develop texture. Tofu that has been dried is able to absorb more flavors than regular tofu, and it has a pleasant chewiness that works well in all sorts of dishes. There are three ways to do this: press it, fry it or freeze it. To press tofu, slice it, squeeze all the liquid out of the slices, and weight it down on paper or cloth towels in a refrigerator. Change the towels daily. It takes about 3-4 days for it to get really dry and chewy, assuming it was squeezed out thoroughly before starting on the towels. Deep-fat frying tofu is the quickest method and a tasty one, but it can also be messy and introduce excessive fat into a dish. Most Asian restaurants fry tofu. Finally, you can dry tofu by freezing it as soon as you buy it; and defrost it as needed for recipes.

I prefer freezing, as it's ultimately the simplest method. I have found the aseptically packaged sort of tofu sold in the Asian foods sections of regular supermarkets does not freeze as well as fresh tofu; it separates into disappointing shreds upon defrosting. I usually purchase the extra-firm tofu packed in water from the refrigerator case of my local market. Drain the water, squeeze as much water as possible out of the brick of tofu, slice if desired and freeze. (I normally slice and package the tofu slices into individually-portioned resealable bags for use on sandwiches.) When ready to use, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, on the counter for a few hours, or in a microwave for a couple of minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible before use.

You can purchase previously fried tofu at Asian markets. There are also baked, flavored tofus available for purchase in natural foods markets. These products can simplify stir-fries and sandwiches, but they're just as easily made at home.

Beans. These protein-packed foods are favorites in many corners of the world, and they're a centerpiece of the vegetarian table. Bean dishes can run the gamut from creamy and mellow to crisp and spicy. They're satisfying without being heavy. Properly cooking beans and eating them frequently can lessen the likelihood of digestive issues (such as excessive gas) when they are consumed. Beans are a cornerstone of ethnic cuisines from the middle-eastern chickpea to the Cuban black bean to the Indian lentil dal. Learning to cook them is an essential key to learning how to cook for vegetarians.

I consume a lot of chickpeas, cannellini, pintos and kidney beans at home. These beans form the basis of my style of vegetarian cookery. Chickpeas are especially versatile and are equally at home in a spicy curry, mashed into a rich hummus, or tossed with brown and wild rices for a fall salad. Cannellini, white Italian kidney beans, are delicious mashed into a dip with high-quality olive oil or cooked with vegetables and topped with fried sage or thin ribbons of mint. Pintos are easily mashed and served in tortillas for a quick dinner. They are excellent when combined with kidney beans as the basis for a vegetarian chili. I also like to cook kidney beans with chile peppers and serve them atop a large salad with tortilla chips on the side as a cool summer dinner. Leftovers of any of these beans get pitched into a plastic container with some spicy vinaigrette stored in the refrigerator. These marinated beans are great spooned into pita breads with mustard, lettuce and red onion for lunch, or served atop a salad with goat cheese toasts on the side.

Canned beans are readily available and reasonably inexpensive convenience protein foods for vegetarians and omnivores alike. However, many canned beans are mushy; some also suffer from excessive salt. The best canned beans have a slightly crisp aspect to them. I have found several of the organic brands on the market to be of better quality than the mainstream and store brands, and am especially fond of Westbrae beans. Just the same, I only rely on canned beans as a backup for dried beans.

Dried beans are even less expensive than canned beans, and they are easy to prepare although they do require advance planning. By cooking dried beans, you can exercise total control over the degree to which they are cooked, their salt level, and ultimately their quality. Many beans are available in dried form that are difficult to source in cans. Dried beans are not difficult to prepare and, if you have a freezer, can be just as convenient as the canned variety.

Purchase dried beans from natural or ethnic markets where there is likely to be a high turnover; supermarket dried beans may have been on the shelf for years without selling, and older beans require lengthier cooking and may taste stale.

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Dried chickpeas fresh from the market.

The first time you purchase dried beans from a source, I recommend you purchase only a small quantity and prepare them at home shortly after purchase. This way you can see whether or not the beans are relatively fresh. Once I purchased some dried beans from a bin that had an insect infestation; had I not started soaking these beans immediately upon returning home, the infestation could have affected foods in my dry storage area. I no longer purchase beans from that particular source.

Empty the dried beans into a colander or bowl-shaped sieve, rinse them, and sort through them.

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Rinsing and sorting through dried chickpeas.

Discard beans that are damaged and any stray pebbles or other materials that may be mixed in with the beans. Some people find it easier to sort beans on a white plate, where the contrast between the plate and the beans makes it easier to find imperfections. Soak the dried, rinsed beans overnight in a large container holding enough water to cover them by at least three inches.

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Rinsed, picked-over beans, settling in for an overnight soak.

They will swell and soften through soaking, and the beans will appear much larger after they are completely soaked.

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The next morning, the beans have plumped up nicely. I poured off a little bit of scum that was floating at the top so you could see how the beans look in the picture; a little bit of scum is normal after soaking.

Discard the soaking water and rinse the beans. Drain and put in a deep pot. Add enough fresh, cold water to cover the beans by three inches and place the pot on a stove.

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Soaked beans, covered with fresh water and ready to be cooked.

Bring the beans to a simmer over medium heat. Foam will often rise in the pot; use a ladle or skimmer to skim off and discard this foam.

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This was only the beginning of the foam that appeared as I cooked the beans. Most of the foam appears early on as you're cooking the beans, just as they're coming to a boil.

Simmer the beans gently until they are tender enough for your liking; do not boil the beans over high heat, as the agitation may cause the skins to separate from the beans. (Some skins will inevitably separate from a few of the beans; I normally skim these skins off and discard them.) The amount of time required varies depending on the type of bean, the conditions under which it was stored, and how fresh the dried beans are. Most beans cook in one to two hours. I stir the beans periodically as they cook; I can feel with the spoon how the texture of the beans change as they cook, and as they feel softer when stirred I start tasting them. I cook most beans until they have lost some but not all of their crispness.

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I believe the best way to check bean doneness is to taste the beans. Just spoon out a few, let them cool a few seconds, and sample away.

When I started cooking dried beans I cooked my beans until they were completely soft, because I was accustomed to the softer texture of canned beans. You can always return previously cooked beans to the pot for more cooking when you're ready to use them, especially if you will be mashing them into a soup or spread. Drain and discard the cooking liquid.

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The finished product: plenty of tender, tasty beans.

Allow to cool before refrigerating or freezing beans.

There are also quick-soaking methods for those times when you're less organized or more time-compressed about cooking your dried beans. Rinse and sort dried beans and place in a deep pot. Cover with at least three inches of water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Shut off the heat and let rest for one hour. Drain and cook as usual, using fresh water.

Do not combine different types of dried beans as different beans require different cooking times; recipes that require multiple types of beans should be followed using beans cooked separately. Do not salt the beans while they cook, as this may toughen them. Quicker-cooking beans, such as lentils, do not require soaking before preparation.

You can prepare large quantities of dried beans, portion them and freeze them for future use. By doing this with your favorite beans, you can enjoy the same convenience as canned beans with the benefit of controlling the degree to which your beans have been cooked. I normally keep several types of cooked dried beans in the freezer for easy use in recipes; just defrost and use.

Lentils are similar to beans, but they cook quickly and require no soaking time. All lentils should be rinsed and picked over to remove foreign objects before cooking. Most lentils cook in about 30 minutes from their dried state, making them the convenience foods of dried beans.

Select Vegetarian Recipes

The following are some vegetarian recipes you can prepare for your friends and family. These dishes can be paired with meat, fowl, or fish dishes for omnivores. Most can be easily adapted to vegan diets.

Some of these dishes are interpretations of ethnic dishes. While I cannot vouch for their authenticity, I guarantee they are delicious.

Tofu Satays with Peanut Sauce and Thai-Style Cucumber Salad

Tofu:

1 1-lb. package extra-firm tofu, prefrozen and thawed, squeezed dry

1/2 c coconut milk

2 large shallots

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper

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Everything you need to make a great tofu dish. The package of tofu you see here was pitched into the freezer without draining or squeezing before use. It's better to get all of the water out before freezing as described above, if possible.

Peanut Sauce:

1/2 cup vegetarian broth, preferably homemade

1/4 cup peanut butter

2 tsp honey

Juice of one lime

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp red thai curry paste

Thai basil

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Ingredients for peanut sauce. The bowl contains some homemade vegetable stock.

Salad:

1 large or 2 small cucumbers

½ small red onion

Minced jalapeno pepper, to taste

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp sugar

Salt

Bamboo or metal skewers; if using bamboo pre-soak the skewers in water for at least 1 hour.

Cut the tofu into large chunks and thread the chunks onto the skewers. Cut the shallots and garlic into large chunks and place in a small food processor. Process until minced. Add the rest of the satay ingredients minus the coconut milk. Process until the mixture forms a smooth paste. With the processor running, add the coconut milk in a steady stream. Process until uniform. Place the skewers into a shallow dish and pour the marinade over, turning the skewers to coat. Let the tofu soak for at least 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

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When soaking the tofu in the marinade, make sure all of the tofu gets wet. Turn and baste periodically. The more marinade you can get soaked into the tofu, the better it will taste.

Preheat a hot grill or a broiler. Cook the skewers until tofu is browned around the edges, 4-5 minutes per side. Serve with peanut sauce and cucumber salad.

Peanut Sauce

Combine peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, and honey. Heat broth in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in peanut butter mixture until uniform and smooth. Place in serving dish and garnish with julienned basil. Serve warm.

Cucumber salad

Peel cucumber. Cut in half and scrape out seeds. Slice thinly, using a mandoline or a knife. Cut red onion into thin ribbons. Toss cucumber with red onion. Mince jalapeno and add to salad. Combine with salt and sugar and toss. Add vinegar and toss. Let chill for 30 minutes before serving.

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The satays, peanut sauce and cucumber salad make an excellent starter or hors d'oeuvre for parties.

Chickpeas with Cinnamon and Caramelized Onions

This dish is based on a similar dish with lentils on the menu at Mama Ayesha's in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC.

1 tbsp butter or olive oil

1 cup thinly sliced onions

2 cups chickpeas, cooked

½ cup vegetable broth

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, the highest quality you can find

Salt and pepper

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The chickpeas are flavored with very few ingredients, but the resulting dish is surprisingly elegant.

Warm half of fat in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and reduce heat to medium-low. Season with salt and pepper. Cook slowly until caramelized, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes. In a separate pan, warm remaining fat over medium heat. Stir in remaining ingredients and raise heat. Add more salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over raisin-almond couscous, topped with caramelized onions. A good accompaniment for this dish is some cooked haricots verts topped with lemon zest.

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The chickpeas and the couscous, with haricots verts topped with lemon zest.

Raisin-Almond Couscous

½ cup raisins

½ cup boiling water

1 cup whole wheat couscous

1 cup vegetable stock

1 tbsp butter or olive oil

Salt and pepper

¼ cup slivered almonds

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Everything you need for the raisin-almond couscous. Couscous is extremely fast-cooking; the whole-wheat version is worth seeking out.

Place raisins in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over raisins and let rest until water is cool. Drain raisins, reserving water. Combine water and stock and measure; add additional stock or water to ensure there is 1 ½ cups of liquid. Place in small pot with butter and bring to a boil. Add couscous, raisins and salt and pepper; stir. Bring to a boil again, lower heat and cover. Simmer until all liquid is absorbed by the couscous, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to stand 5 minutes. Heat a small dry saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add almonds and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant. Stir into couscous and serve.

Tomato and Zucchini Tart

For this dish, I have given basic directions for making a savory tart shell. This shell can be made a day in advance; the dough can also be made well in advance if needed. If you don't want to take the time to make your own pastry shell you can use purchased pie or quiche shells for this dish; just make sure they contain no lard.

The look of this tart really pops if your tomatoes and zucchini are the same size. Roma tomatoes tend to be fairly uniform and are slim enough to go with zucchini that aren't enormous (I think slimmer zucchini are tastier). I chose heirloom tomatoes from my area farm market for flavor, which made for a less attractive but more delicious tart.

This is one of my favorite dishes that I learned while studying for my culinary degree at L'academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD.

Tart shell (pate brisee):

8oz flour

½ tsp salt

4oz butter, cold

7-8 tbsp ice water

Tart filling:

½ cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Sea salt and white pepper

¾ cup gruyere

½ bunch basil

Tomatoes, number depends on size; I used 4 medium tomatoes

Zucchini, number depends on size; I used 3 medium zucchini

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A finished tart shell, alongside the remaining ingredients for the tomato-zucchini tart. I sliced some zucchini rounds extra-thin to use for the center of the tart.

To make the tart shell, Measure flour and salt into mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Cut the butter into ¾ inch cubes and add to flour. Cut butter into flour using the mixer on low speed until dough resembles sand. Spoon in water one tablespoon at a time with mixer running, scraping sides periodically, until dough is barely combined. If you are making this dough in humid weather you may need less than 7 tablespoons of water; in extremely dry weather you may need 8 or more. Stop mixer and pull dough onto a floured surface and into a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill 30 minutes (or more).

Grease and flour a 2-piece tart pan. Roll out dough on a well-floured surface until it is large enough to overlap pan diameter by ¾". Fold dough into quarters and carefully lift and move over tart pan. Unfold over pan and carefully press dough into pan. Prick finished shell with a fork and weight with pie weights or a parchment paper circle filled with dried beans. Bake in a 350 degree oven until barely brown around upper edges; remove weights or parchment and beans and continue to bake until the shell is barely cooked through on the bottom.

To finish tart, mince garlic, julienne basil and shred cheese. Slice tomatoes and zucchini thinly; try to keep the slices as uniform as possible. Combine oil, garlic, and seasonings. Line tart shell with half of cheese. Add half of basil. Brush vegetables with seasoned oil and layer in tart.

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Here you can see the prebaked tart shell has already been brushed with seasoned oil and sprinkled with cheese and basil. Start layering the oil-brushed vegetables carefully. You can do equal numbers of zucchini and tomato slices, or you can use different proportions of sliced vegetables. I used two slices of zucchini for each tomato slice.

Brush top of vegetables with more oil. Sprinkle with remaining basil, season, and add remaining cheese. Bake tart at 350 degrees until zucchini is soft, 8-10 minutes.

I served this tart with a salad and some cold chickpeas tossed with vinaigrette and some diced vegetables.

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A summery vegetarian meal, clockwise from front: tomato-zucchini tart, chickpeas in vinaigrette, a salad and salad dressing. The tart is quite versatile; serve a thin wedge alongside a small salad as a starter, bring it along on a picnic, eat it hot or cold. It's good no matter how you serve it.

An Indian Menu, from Suvir Saran

I asked Suvir Saran, moderator of the India and Indian Cuisine board on eGullet, to contribute some Indian recipes to this course. Indian cuisine is heavily influenced by the vegetarian diets of a large percentage of the Indian population, and Indian restaurants are popular destinations for vegetarians living in the US and the UK. Here are the three recipes he gave me, which can be served separately or together.

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The components of a great Indian meal: rice pilaf with peas and potatoes, a multi-lentil dal, and cucumber raita

Rice Pilaf With Peas, Potatoes And Whole Garam Masala

Tahiree

Suvir's Notes: I inherited this dish from my father’s side of the family who came from the state of Uttar Pradesh in the north of India. (Garam masala of this blend is a typically north Indian spicing.) Panditji used to make it for our family when we needed a break from rich foods: it is both refreshingly clean tasting and savory because there is very little oil in it and the spices nonetheless add great flavor. Growing up, we ate this with a simple onion and tomato raita, lots of papadum and a green chutney with mango. Now I put out some yogurt and tomato chutney with the rice and that’s it. It can also be served alongside most other dishes and will enrich most any menu.

I also make this with cauliflower in place of potato, or even with both – use the smallest head of cauliflower you can find and cut it into medium florets.

2 cups basmati rice

4 1/2 cups cold water

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 inch cinnamon stick

3 whole, dried red chilies

4 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

8 whole cloves

10 black peppercorns

2 medium red, boiling potatoes (about 3/4 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch squares

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 fresh, hot green chili, stemmed and cut into half lengthwise (optional)

10-ounce package frozen peas

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3/4 teaspoon garam masala

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the rice and water in a bowl and soak for 20 minutes. Drain the rice and reserve the water separately.

Combine the oil, cinnamon, red chilies, cardamom, cumin, cloves and peppercorns in a large, oven-proof casserole over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cinnamon unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes.

fryingricespices20_DCE.JPG

Frying the spices for the rice in oil. This technique is used for all three Indian recipes.

Add the potatoes and cook, stirring, until the edges are translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the turmeric and green chili and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the peas and cayenne and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the drained rice and cook, stirring, about 1 minute.

cookingrice21_DCE.JPG

Adding the rice in with the other ingredients. It's important to stir so the peas and the rice are distributed.

Add the garam masala, salt and reserved soaking water and bring to a boil. Give the rice a stir. Then turn the heat down and simmer vigorously, covered, until the water is entirely absorbed and the rice cooked through, about 10 minutes. 5 minutes into the cooking, uncover and stir gently (so as not to break the rice) to distribute the potatoes and peas evenly throughout.

Put the casserole in the oven and bake 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes at room temperature. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve hot.

Mixed Dals With Tomato, Garam Masala And Curry Leaves

Panchkuti Dal

Suvir's Notes: In India, we would cook this dal for a special party or fancy weekend dinner. I like to think that the idea of combining five different dals in one recipe may come from a tradition that women follow in India of wearing a grouping of five jewels – emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds and jade. You can substitute dals in this recipe, choosing only two or three out of the five (just be sure to end up with a total of 2 1/2 cups) or use one dal alone but the combination of different dals gives this dish a particularly rich and deep flavor. And the use of two tempering oils weaves in a complex layering of spice.

Rochelle's Notes: I was unable to source curry leaves and asafetida, so I prepared the dal without them. I used yellow split peas and tiny orange lentils instead of the full assortment of lentils. The resulting dish is aromatic and scrumptious.

1/2 cup pink, split lentils (dhuli masoor dal), picked over, washed and drained

3/4 cup yellow split peas (channa dal), picked over, washed and drained

1/2 cup yellow mung beans (moong dal), picked over, washed and drained

1/2 cup yellow lentils (toor dal), picked over, washed and drained

1/4 cup hulled black gram beans (urad dal), picked over, washed and drained

8 cups water

Salt

1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped

1/2 tablespoon garlic paste (2 to 3 cloves, mashed)

2 fresh hot green chilies, minced

1 tablespoon garam masala

1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomato

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves (about 1 cup firmly packed leaves), chopped

TEMPERING OILS

4 tablespoons canola oil

6 fresh or 10 frozen curry leaves, torn into pieces

1/2 tablespoon garlic paste (2 to 3 garlic cloves, mashed)

1 1/2 medium red onions, finely chopped

1 inch cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

3 whole cloves

1/8 teaspoon asafetida (optional)

Put all of the lentils in a large saucepan with the water and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil and skim well. Add the onion, the garlic paste and the chopped green chilies. Turn the heat down and simmer, partially covered, until the dal are tender, about 25 minutes. Add the garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne and give the dal a stir. Simmer, partially covered, 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer 15 more minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, half of the fresh cilantro and taste for salt.

For the tempering oils, combine 3 tablespoons of the oil, the curry leaves and the garlic paste in a small saucepan or kadai over medium-high heat until you smell the garlic, about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook until it turns translucent, 1 to 2 more minutes. Scrape this into the dal. Heat the remaining tablespoon oil with the cinnamon stick in the same saucepan or kadai over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until it unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the whole cumin and mustard seeds, the cloves and the asafetida and cook, stirring, until the mustard seeds crackle, about 1 minute. Dump this mixture immediately into the dal and stir. Let stand a few minutes to infuse the dal with the perfumed oil. Spoon into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the rest of the cilantro. Serve hot.

Cucumber Raita

Kheere Ka Raita

Suvir's Notes: This is the most common raita in India and one that is probably familiar to most Americans. Cucumbers are particularly cooling to the palate in the heat of the summer. As a child, I remember feeling comforted if I could at least find a cucumber raita on a restaurant menu – the others all looked too exotic!

My version of this well known salad is a pachadi, that is, a southern Indian style raita tempered with a spiced oil. To simplify, omit the tempering oil, and add some crushed black peppercorn, pinch of cayenne and a pinch of garam masala.

Rochelle's Notes: The simplified version of this dish described above is delicious, especially if made with a high-quality whole-milk yogurt.

2 1/4 cups plain yogurt

1 large cucumber, peeled and shredded

2 fresh, hot green chilies, seeded and finely chopped

TEMPERING OIL

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon hulled, black gram beans (urad dal)

12 fresh or 16 frozen curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon asafetida

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Whisk the yogurt in a bowl until smooth and lightened. Add the shredded cucumber and the green chilies and stir.

In a small frying pan or kadai, combine the oil, mustard seeds, dal, curry leaves and asafetida over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until the dal turns a golden brown color, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour over the yogurt and mix well. Chill well and stir in the salt just before serving.

Resources

The Web is full of resources for vegetarians and those who feed them. One of the best resources is VegWeb (www.vegweb.com), whose archive of vegetarian and vegan recipes heavily influenced my menu planning. The Vegetarian Resource Group offers many informative articles on their website (www.vrg.org). VegSource (www.vegsource.com) also provides an impressive index of recipes.

There are several vegetarian magazines on the market. These magazines tend to be heavy on natural health and environmental subjects as well as offering recipes and other food-related articles, and they are generally not chef-driven. Vegetarian Times (www.vegetariantimes.com) is probably the best-known of these publications. Veggie Life is also available on many newsstands, and Natural Health covers many vegetarian subjects within its pages. I have found these publications to be long on healthy food ideas and short on tasty food ideas, but they are worth scanning for the occasional menu concept (especially for newer vegetarians).

Books are probably the best resource for vegetarians and those who feed them. The single best book on the market is Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is a treasure trove of advice on preparing whole grains, vegetables, and other vegetarian foods in delicious and authentic form. I am also fond of Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, a book which gleans some of the best vegetarian dishes from global cuisines.

The Moosewood Collective, worker-owners at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY, publishes some of the most-recognized and best-selling vegetarian cookbooks. Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, a germinal volume originally published in 1977, was not published by the collective but was responsible for raising the awareness of vegetarian cuisine in the US. This was the first vegetarian cookbook I owned, and I cooked my way through most of it in the early years of my vegetarianism. It is a good resource for starting vegetarians. I have had limited success with subsequent Moosewood cookbooks, but they have many fans in the vegetarian population and are worth investigating.

+++

Rochelle Reid Myers is a graduate of L'academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD. While a student at L'academie, she learned French techniques with fruits and vegetables, and she gained an appreciation for the importance of seasoning and cooking with fat. She was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for nearly a decade and currently maintains a meat- and fowl-free kitchen. She resides in Takoma Park, Maryland, where she purchases most of her food from a vegetarian co-op and a local farmer's market.

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