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What do vegetarians eat, anyway? February 27, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ll bet a lot of people whose meals revolve around meat (whether it’s charbroiled steak, rotisserie chicken, pepperoni pizza, a gyro or Philly cheesesteak, burger or hotdogs, spaghetti and meatballs, salmon or sashimi) have asked themselves this question at least once.

Maybe they picture an underfed twentysomething perched over a dinner salad with tuna. (Oh, wait: Tuna isn’t vegetarian.) Or a hippie-era, Birkenstock-clad idealist eating gorp, granola, and other leaden, tasteless, gluey, brown “health” food. (Hey, those whole-wheat sourdough pancakes are good for you!) Eeewww!!!

Folks, I swear, it ain’t necessarily so. I’m a vegetarian, but my beloved partner, our friend Ben, is an omnivore. For him to give up meat when he eats at home with me, the food has to be colorful, flavorful, with great texture and aroma and plenty of contrast in the dishes: in other words, good. I refuse to eat colorless, lumpy, leaden brown food in the name of vegetarianism either. So what do we eat around here?

The answer is simple if you love rich, decadent, satisfying food as we do, and that answer isn’t a cheese hoagie from Subway or a baked potato and salad from Wendy’s. Instead, I draw from the world’s cuisines to make delicious, fabulous meals, using the best and freshest ingredients I can find and making sure I balance “diva” ingredients with hearty, satisfying “supporting stars” so the food is filling as well as flavorful. Let’s look at some examples:

Lycopene, found in tomatoes and in greater quantities in tomato products like tomato sauce and tomato paste, has been shown to be a superhero in the war on disease. I make a thick, rich tomato sauce packed with crushed tomatoes and tomato paste but also bringing the cancer-fighting team of garlic and onion, and plenty of them, to lycopene’s aid. Because I want a thick, rich sauce, I add green bell pepper, tons of mushrooms (with their great healing properties), sauteed eggplant, and diced zucchini to the mix along with tons of herbs, extra-virgin olive oil, hot sauce, and red wine. By cooking it over low heat for hours, my sauce becomes rich and chunky, with great body and flavor. Nobody’s going to take a bite and say, “Eeeewww, is that zucchini in there?!”

But the real beauty of this rich, chunky sauce is its versatility. You could serve it on spaghetti one day, fold it into a lasagna the next, and use it as the tomato sauce on a pizza the third day, adding incredible richness and body. No complaints about leftovers here!

On other days, I might make chili, refried beans, or bean burritos with all the toppings: fresh-made guacamole, red and green salsa and pico de gallo, shredded cheese, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions (scallions), sliced black olives, sliced jalapenos. I’d add hot taco shells or tortilla chips if I wasn’t making burritos, so everyone could make or dip their own, and provide a pitcher of margaritas, palomas or sangria.

Then again, I could make roasted veggies: slices of sweet potato and quarters of new potatoes or whole fingerling potatoes; mushrooms; quartered sweet onions (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) or whole cippolini onions; thick asparagus sections or artichoke hearts or green beans or cauliflower florets or Japanese eggplant slices. Roasting brings out the marvelous, caramelized flavor of veggies (and fruits, for that matter); all you need is to drizzle them with premium olive oil like Hojiblanca, sprinkle on some Mediterranean herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme, add a generous sprinkling of sea salt, Trocamare or RealSalt and fresh-cracked black pepper, and let the heat work its magic. I like to serve roasted veggies over rice and accompany them with a super tossed salad to balance the richness.

Indian food is yet another way to add variety and incomparable flavor to a meal. I love to make dal, a thick, porridgy mixture of lentils, chillies, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and spices that is just perfect served with basmati rice, palaak paneer (a spinach and Indian cheese dish), raita (a yogurt-based condiment that cools the palate), and various chutneys and sauces. If I’m making food for a special occasion, I’ll add a curry, or at least curried carrots, some garlic naan (Indian flatbread, think super-great pita), and some appetizers like pakoras and samosas.

This really just scratches the surface. Stir-fries, Thai curries, and yummy special-occasion takeout (veggie tempura rolls and ma po tofu, anyone?) are always out there. There’s so much more to explore and enjoy.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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