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Posts Tagged ‘vegan’

Vegetarian Dinner Crisis Averted: Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Pop quiz, hotshot. You’ve got people coming to dinner: Ms. Foodie Italian, Mrs. Foodie Indian-American, and Mr. Foodie Italian-Peruvian-Nerd. Two of them are vegetarian. What do you serve? WHAT do you serve?

Ok, so not exactly as pressing as saving a bus full of screaming passengers with Sandra Bullock at the wheel, but this was still the closest thing to a crisis that I had to deal with last weekend. I was not about to throw down anything Italian, and Indian too–my go-to vegetarian dinner party option–was similarly off the menu. I toyed with Indonesian, given the “I” theme that had developed, but then it got a bit chilly and the idea of gado gado and smoked tofu summer rolls seemed a bit premature.

Instead, at the suggestion of  dear friend and PassionFruits Edinburgh correspondent Lady Dae-Dae, I whipped up a lentil-based shepherd’s pie based very loosely on several recipes by Nigel Slater (English foodie institution) and Sophie Dahl (English foodie… something).

Yes, yes, I know I just wrote about my “African” sheperd’s pie, but bracketed by tapenade and goat cheese toasts, fennel apple salad, and a flourless chocolate torte, the lentil-based pie made a perfect, hearty centerpiece to a tasty, veggie-friendly meal that didn’t rely on any of my guest’s native cuisines.

While definitely savory and substantial enough to stand on its own, the shepherd’s pie would also be absolutely stellar as a side for lamb chops… but then, what DOESN’T go with a good lamb chop? In any event, though, it was such a delicious success that Ms. Foodie Italian refused to leave till she’d extracted a promise that I’d share the recipe–which I gladly agreed to, with the warning that I’d have to write it down first!

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California Dreaming: Chocolate Avocado Mousse

When I travel for work, I’m usually headed to a state capital. Unfortunately, seats of government are rarely located in the parts of a state that one’d actually want to visit–the view is particularly bleak when one invariably seems to end up at the Holiday Inn Express on the Airport Bypass Road. But since I’m there to, you know, WORK, this isn’t that a big deal except for on the dining out front. Of my colleagues, I have the highest restaurant standards. I do not consider frozen Sysco hotwings food, and woe betide anyone who suggests otherwise.

I’m also generally the bossiest person, and the youngest, which makes me comparably adept at using the Internets on my phone (amazing!) to locate good restaurants and then chivvy everyone along for the ride. I’ve found that cross-checking Zagat, Yelp, and Chowhound recommendations gets a good list that doesn’t skew too old, too hipster, or too foodie. Even then, though, sometimes the road away from the T.G.I. Chilibees is a rough one, and I’ve had my moments of… compromise. (Graceful, naturally.)

Fortunately, my most recent trip was to Sacramento. And, while not as exciting as nearby San Francisco, California’s congenial climate and foodie culture meant that I had no problem mapping out the gustatory aspects of the itinerary. We had excellent ramen, Mexican food, and swanky Cali cuisine, but the most strinking meal was our lunch at the Magpie Café. After a smoke trout baguette, the most beautiful BLT ever, and a lushly lemony chicken salad, we felt we HAD to get the dessert specials. So, fennel blood orange ice cream sandwich it was, along with an avocado chocolate mousse.

Now, I generally turn up my nose at such hippie-dippie palaver, but everything else had been so good I figured the kitchen wouldn’t serve something that didn’t work. And lo, it was good. Dense and flavorful with no detectable avocado-y-ness, it’s more like a pudding or a pot de creme than a mousse, but very tasty regardless. And, as something of a lactard myself, it’s gratifying to have something so rich and delicious that doesn’t involve a bucketload of cream.

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Seasonal Swing: Fall Fruit Salad

So, because last weekend wasn’t going to be busy enough, I felt the need to have people round for brunch on Sunday. It’s a good thing I’m cute when I’m getting ready for parties or I’d be so, so dumped. It’s also a good thing half my guests bailed at the last minute; the ones that DID show up were HUNGRY.

Anyway, I planned on doing my usual brunch menu: Eggs Mornay, bacon, biscuits, asparagus vinaigrette, coffee cake, and fruit salad. But, with fall in the air, my usual fruit salad (pineapple, melon, kiwi, & strawberry layered in a glass bowl) didn’t really seem appropriate.

Instead, I turned to some slightly more seasonal fruit. The WF had some gorgeous Honeycrisp apples and Asian pears (on sale-sweet!), and I grabbed a pomegranate, some figs, and a couple of Bartlett pears as well. With a few toasted walnuts on top, I figured I’d be in business for a crunchy, sweet, seasonally-sensitive salad.

I did, however, need to address the whole oxidization issue, which kind of harshed my mellow. While it’s a fall salad, I didn’t want all my fruit to be straight-up brown and mushy. THAT’S not cool.

I figured that an acidic little dressing would help keep the fruit looking its best for at least a little while. Lemon juice was the obvious candidate, but I decided to cut it with boiled cider so all my lovely fall fruits would taste like themselves and not like… lemon. And flavor-wise, this worked out really well. The boiled cider lent autumnal nuance to everything and the lemon brightened and lightened as only it can. If you don’t have boiled cider on hand, I’m sure maple syrup–the REAL thing, if you please–would be lovely as well.

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A Vegetarian, a Lactard, and a Celiac Walk into a Bar…

No, this is not a bad joke (well, it probably is, actually…). But, if you swap in “our house” for “a bar”, you’ve got the dinner party guest list I ended up with not so long ago. Of course I didn’t realize this until I’d happily confirmed everyone and sat myself down to come up with a menu. You may have heard me cursing. Loudly. Once I regained my composure only to lose it again upon finding out that yes, most soy sauce DOES have gluten in it, I finally managed to find my happy place with my go-to “oh my god, he/she/they can’t eat WHAT?” cuisine: Indian.

While I don’t cook it that often–I have friends who have devoted serious energy to the art of Indian cookery and I’m just as happy to eat it at their houses–I find that it really works well with the panoply of dietary restrictions today’s hostess-with-the-mostest is liable to face.

First off, it’s eaten family style (at least in the U.S….), so people can pick and choose from the dishes that work for their particular particularities of palate and I can still be sure that everyone has SOMETHING to eat. Secondly, Indian has, by definition, a plethora of vegetable and pulse-based dishes that are friendly to even the most rigid of vegans. Read the rest of this entry »

Squash & Arugula Salad in a Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

Hard to believe that it’s been a year of blogging, but here we are with fall knocking on the door and I’m again contemplating my very favorite curcurbit, the butternut squash. Last year, it was medieval squash soup and fall pasta; this year, I got into the groove a bit earlier and worked up a salad of roasted squash and spicy arugula with a divine maple-mustard vinaigrette.

Inspired by a picture of something similar on tastespotting (don’t click through unless you’ve got a few hours to burn browsing…), I’m most pleased by the dressing. Just a version of my basic salad vinaigrette, swapping maple in for the honey coaxes out some lovely, lovely nuances in the squash and brings everything together.

Its things like that that convince me that maple as a flavor is sorely underused. People get burned, I think, by unpleasantly gritty maple candy and “pancake syrup” which has real maple syrup in it the way a bone dry martini has vermouth in it.  Real maple syrup has such a uniquely wonderful flavor, in addition to its sweetness. So much so that I kind of want to take a bath in this dressing. I’m sure it’s really good for the skin…

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It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Zing: Asian Potato Salad

I make no claims to authenticity on this yummy tasty novel–er, salad–save for that a more anodyne version of this dish is found in Korean salad bars and the lunchtime bento specials of many a D.C. pan-Asian restaurant. I mean, sweet potatoes aren’t even orange in Japan and Korea. But, well, that’s where the inspiration came from, though my version has a bit more verve, thanks to two kinds of ginger, two different alliums, and a little hot sauce.

I recently brought this, along with my more authentic sesame-dressed green beans, to a friend’s green card party where both were gobbled up with verve. The honoree, however, who is famed for carrying tiny bottles of Tabasco around in her pocket book, thought this was just divine. While it’s not that hot by any stretch, this potato salad has it all. The rich, complexly tangy dressing dances over the earthy, sweet potatoes in a most delightful way.

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Veggie Sunday Dinner: Parmesan Polenta & Eggplant Caponata

Inspired in part by a long-ago Martha recipe for a layered eggplant & polenta casserole that’s long been one of my go-to veggie recipes, I came up with this really rather tasty update for Sunday dinner with one of most militantly vegetarian friends (and his long-suffering BF). Happily, it was quite the hit and not one of us felt ill used by the lack of meat.

The polenta–homemade rather than from a tube as Martha dictates (which might suggest that Ms. Stewart’s standards are slipping)–gets a flavorful boost with parmesan cheese and, after being cut into half-moons, emerges from a quick saute crispy-edged yet creamy on the inside. Arranged in a pinwheel pattern and paired with a brightly tangy caponata, it makes for a handsome meat-free meal. Indeed, if one were just to serve the caponata–and the mixture of meaty eggplant enlivened with capers, tomato, and a touch of balsamic vinegar is definitely a worthy dish on it own–you’d even keep the vegans happy.

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Turning Japanese: Toasted Sesame Dressing with Green Beans

There’s a reason I’m calling this “Toasted Sesame Dressing with Green Beans” and not “Green Beans with Sesame Dressing”. It’s really about the dressing, which is so shockingly good I’m kind of kicking myself for not sharing it sooner, nevermind regretting all the times I’ve NOT made it since we returned from our Super-Ultimate-Numbah-One Trip to Japan last summer. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Using freshly toasted and lightly crushed sesame seeds is critical to this dish’s amazing flavor and texture. Unlike most salad dressings, it isn’t very acidic, and surprisingly I don’t miss the bite at all. The rich, toasty sesame is intensely delicious, and the supporting soy, mirin, and rice vinegar round out the flavor without overpowering it.

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