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Vegetarian Dishes for Spring

A vegetarian favorite is zaalouk, a roasted eggplant salad that uses freshly chopped herbs and spices like cumin and paprika.
Rebecca Rosman
for NPR
A vegetarian favorite is zaalouk, a roasted eggplant salad that uses freshly chopped herbs and spices like cumin and paprika.

Any day now, Springtime is going to open the floodgates of brand new produce grown on Maryland farms, and we will be in for a treat. Of course I think it's a wonderful time for fresh vegetable, as well as a good opportunity for using up any of the produce you canned up last Autumn. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino notes, since a lot of us are eating vegetarian meals more often, this season plays right into that.

Let's start with breakfast. An eggy frittata is a great way to combine any number of ingredients. Let's whip up one with chopped asparagus, scallions, yellow onions, black beans and cherry tomatoes. In a dish like this, the beans act as

a fine meat replacement, giving bulk and bite to the dish. Seasonings would include

cumin, paprika, thyme and just a pinch of cayenne.

Since strawberries are just coming into season, try chopping up a handful and throwing them into a bowl of pancake batter. You can also pour some syrup into a sauce pan and add a handful of strawberry halves. Simmer over low temperature until the berries soften.

At lunchtime you can prepare a toasted caprese sandwich. Butter both sides of two slices of whole wheat bread, and pan fry them gently, turning once. Place on the open faces of the bread, and fry over low heat until

the cheese starts to melt. Lift the toasted slices out of the skillet and add slices of tomato and a few leaves of fresh basil. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and it's good to go.

There's no better time to make asparagus soup than Springtime. It's a very simple process that starts with sautéed onions and garlic. Once they are cooked, add trimmed and cut up short lengths of asparagus. Cook it all in vegetable broth and then purée the mixture in a blender. Add in seasonings and some rich cream plus a few drops of lemon juice for freshness. Garnish with a few asparagus tips and then, depending on the weather, serve it hot or cold.

Broccoli is starting to make an appearance, and here's a quick idea for lunch.

Chop up a head of broccoli and blanch it in hot water. Sauté a chopped up medium onion and when it is softened, stir in some minced garlic and cook a few seconds more. Drain the broccoli and add it in. Season with salt and pepper and pour in some cream. Stir and let it simmer as you sprinkle in a few tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. Cook until the cheese is melted. Meanwhile cook up a pot of penne pasta. When it's done, drain it and pour the creamy broccoli sauce over it.

For dinner, you'll want something hearty and satisfying. While some folks may make chili con carne you can prepare a delicious meatless version based on lentils. This is a stew that uses cooked brown lentils, navy beans, onions, yellow peppers, tomato and garlic. Cook it all in a vegetable broth and season with cumin, red pepper flakes, and chili powder. I'd serve it with cornbread.

Finally, for dessert is there anything nicer than strawberries and cream. For a little added flavor, cut up the strawberries and soak them in a bit of sweet sherry.

Stir a few drops of vanilla into your heavy cream, and simply pour it over the berries. If you've got some mint growing, toss a sprig on top.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.