Even though I am not a vegetarian, I do appreciate the concept. Thus, nearly every week we try to have a vegetarian meal with no meat proteins. This time of the year, in mid-autumn, there are scores of vegetables available for us to work into our daily meals. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you, the secret to enjoying vegetarian meals is to make them as tasty and satisfying as possible.
There are quite a few challenges for making appealing vegetarian dishes. Over-cooked flavorless vegetables lead the list, but this is an easily avoidable problem. Flash frying or stir frying work well, as does careful blanching in simmering water.
Getting deep savory flavors without using meat is actually a lot less bother than you'd think. Fortunately there are quite a few good substitutes for meat protein that still provide that chewy satisfaction. Portobello mushrooms and the wheat protein "seitan" have become celebrated for their ability to mock meat.
Crunch is a highly desirable aspect to satisfaction, so fresh, raw fruits and vegetables can be called on as well as the whole universe of nuts and seeds. And finally, we all want to push away from the table with full bellies, so don't skimp on portions. Healthy cooking lets you pile high the dinner plate and not get that empty feeling an hour later. Pasta is particularly effective at giving you that pleasantly full feeling.
Here are some ingredients that experienced cooks like to use to boost flavor.
Miso paste can add an almost meaty quality to a dish, along with a good bit of saltiness.
Dried mushrooms are great; when you reconstitute them with hot water, you not only get a very nice mushroom, you get a wonderful broth as well.
Roasted jalapenos are very versatile, adding a nice kick of moderate heat to any recipe. And you can roast up a bunch at once, and keep them jarred in olive oil.
Smoked paprika is another source of mysterious, smoky flavor that suggests the best notes of barbecue.
Two other means of delivering savory umami to a dish are balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. With the saucy boys, a little bit goes a long way toward deepening flavor.
For brightness in a dish, one seriously under-used ingredient is citrus zest. Whether lemon, lime, orange or tangerine, the pure acidic flavors of the zest add an enormous amount of aroma and taste.
The internet provides us with thousands of great ideas, and here are a few we found.
I whip up a batch of palak paneer several times a year, and I always enjoy the spinach and cheese mixture. I came across a very similar recipe that looked very appealing. It's called "Emerald Dal" and essentially this is Palak Paneer with black lentils instead of paneer cheese.
diced onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeno, 1 cup total
1 tbs each of black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, garam masala
1 pound of washed spinach
1/2 cup fresh chopped mint
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 cups cooked black lentils
1. Melt a couple tablespoons of ghee in a large skillet, over medium heat.
2. Add one ingredient at a time the onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeno. Stir constantly and cook until onions are translucent.
3. Add the spices and continue to cook and stir.
4. Add the spinach one handful at a time, allowing it to wilt. Then add the mint and stir it well. Add the water.
5. When the spinach and mint have all cooked down, transfer the mixture to a food
processor and purée until it is smooth, but not over-processed.
6. Pour the purée back into the skillet. While the mixture is cool, add in the yogurt and stir well. Next, add in the cooked black lentils and as much salt as you care to.
Cook gently over low-medium heat.
7. Serve with steamed jasmine rice and naan bread.
I've become very fond of black beans lately. Farmer Tom McCarthy is my go-to guy, and his beans are legendary. Because they are fresh, you need to soak them overnight to get them tender enough for cooking. But once they're good to go, you have a lot of possibilities. Here's a very tempting recipe I came across.
Creamy Three Bean Stew
(inspired by Easy Cheesy Vegetarian)
1 tbs canola oil
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tbs minced garlic
1 small zucchini diced
4 medium white mushrooms, diced
1 can cannellini beans, drained
1 can black beans drained or 1 1/4 cup fresh, and soaked
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
chopped parsley for garnish
creme fraiche for garnish
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Gently sauté the onion and carrots until they are tender. Add the garlic, zucchini and mushrooms and cook an additional 5 minutes.
2. Add the beans, the tomatoes, tomato juice, and broth. Bring to a low simmer and cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes. Allow the liquid to reduce and form a thick sauce. Stir in the parsley and crème fraiche and serve warm.
Pasta dishes are almost by definition vegetarian. Here's an idea that calls upon that very perplexing vegetable, the cauliflower.
(inspired by Bon Appetit)
12 oz crimini mushrooms, stems removed
1 medium head of cauliflower, broken into florets
1/4 cups olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 tbs unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 mild chile, thinly sliced crosswise
1 tbs chopped rosemary
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 lb rigatoni
freshly grated parmesan cheese
finely chopped parsley
1. Pulse chop the mushrooms until they are finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl.
2. Working in batches, pulse chop the cauliflower until it is rice-like. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Using a heavy skillet, heat olive oil and 2 tsp, butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté gently for about 6 minutes, until golden brown. Add the onion and a little more olive oil. Cook for about 6 more minutes until golden brown.
4. Add the garlic, chile and rosemary and cook until the garlic slices soften and the skillet is quite fragrant.
5. Add the tomato paste and cook stirring the entire mixture constantly. When the tomato sauce darkens, add the cauliflower rice and cook for another 8-10 minutes.
6. Reduce heat to low and keep warm while you cook the pasta.
7. When the pasta is almost al dente, use a slotted spoon to transfer to the skillet along with about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add 1 cup parmesan cheese, and a little more butter. Increase heat to medium and stir constantly as the dish cooks.
8. Remove from heat and add parsley. Adjust the seasoning, and finally zest the half lemon on top of the pasta and toss.