Veg Out

By Anna Dantoni –

There are about 7.3 million vegetarians in America. I am not one of them. But, lately I find myself inching toward a more plant-based diet, partly because of health and weight-loss aspirations and partly because there are so many enticing new cookbooks devoted to vegetarian options.

Farmers markets are featuring fresh locally-grown produce like we’ve never seen before and celebrity chefs all across America ares becoming more adept at making vegetable melanges more full flavored and so tempting looking on the plate. Gordon Ramsey (a recent veg convert), Aldo Zilli, Pasquale Amico and Celia Brooks Brown are just a few international chefs and restaurant owners devoting their talents to coming up with signature sophisticated vegetarian recipes.

Lately, I’m a flexitarian, an eater who is choosing vegetables and fruits as my predominant food source while still adding meat and seafood to the mix, just not so much of it. Apparently, I’m not alone because about 10% of American eaters now say they are trying to follow a more vegetarian-inclined diet without eliminating their carnivore options altogether. In many households, vegetables are becoming the star of the meal, meat is the character actor in a supporting role.

If you’re open to exploring vegetarian dishes presented in uncomplicated and casual ways, The Best 30-Minute Vegetarian Recipes by Marie-Claude Morin could be a good place to start. A Canadian, Morin has written two other cookbooks and is a well known radio personality. Most of the 150 recipes in this paperback book (with nice full-page color photos) are also generally low in fat and sugar making them healthy as well as tasty, quick and easy. The book is divided into appetizers, soups, salads, main dishes, sides and desserts. The author is a mom and vegetarian committed to organizing family meals daily. But she doesn’t want to spend all day shopping and cooking so she streamlined recipes to get the preparation time down to just a half hour.

To save her readers time at the grocery store, Marie-Claude Morin believes vegetarian or flexitarian cooks should stock certain items in the pantry and she recommends you always have a stash of: pine nuts, almonds, sesame seeds, canned Italian tomatoes, legumes, pasta, vegetable bouillon, olive oil, onions, garlic, carrots and tofu. She calls these her miracle ingredients. Additionally, she says you’ll want rice, couscous, and tamari, which is a sauce made from soybeans that is thicker and richer in flavor than soy sauce. It boosts flavor and adds a golden brown color to many vegetarian dishes.

Once your pantry is stocked, you’re ready to leaf through the book and try recipes. The Best 30-Minute Vegetarian Recipes makes a good gift for a novice vegetarian cook, but it’s also a useful addition to any good cook’s library.

Mushroom Bites
(These appetizers are best served as soon as they are made)
10 mushrooms, stems removed
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 ½ ounces firm tofu, cut into 10 cubes
1 teaspoon tamari
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak mushrooms in water for about 15 minutes. In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Fry tofu and tamari, turn to brown all sides until tofu is golden. Stir in sesame seeds (they will stick to the tofu). Remove skillet from heat and transfer tofu to a bowl Drain mushrooms and pat dry. Return skillet to medium-high head. Saute garlic, drained mushrooms and lemon juice for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms start to brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place a cube of tofu on top of each mushroom cap. Secure together with a toothpick, arrange on a plate and serve.

Couscous Salad
(choose whole wheat couscous for extra nutrition)
1 cup couscous
2 green onions, chopped
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until the couscous has soaked up the juices and the flavors have blended.

Blue Cheese Salad
(make sure the cheese is crumbled into small bits so there is some in every
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup pecans
1 head radicchio, leaves separated
8 ounces spinach
2 Anjou pears, sliced
½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and toast pecans for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant and toasted. In a salad bowl, combine pecans, radicchio, spinach and pears. For the dressing, in a bowl combine blue cheese, oil, lemon juice and pepper. Pour dressing over salad and serve.

(The Best 30-Minute Vegetarian Recipes, by Marie-Claude Morin. Robert Rose, publisher. $24.95)

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