What is it about cooking for vegetarians that stumps so many carnivores? Even those who make a sublime split pea soup or divine dal curry suddenly feel compelled to reach for the safety of Boca burgers.
Truth is, vegetarians and omnivores can dine happily together, on the same glorious feast. When planning a dinner party that includes both vegetarians and meateaters, it's best to banish any lingering whiffs of 1970s vegetarian restaurants, with their Birkenstock-wearing servers and mushy beige food, and focus on the wow factor.
And today, that couldn't be easier.
Consider aromatic, curried vegetables nestled against the black grains of forbidden rice, an exotic grain favoured, according to legend, by the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. Or a hearty stew of toothsome farro, flavorful lentils and vivid orange sweet potatoes or butternut squash that gets a tangy zing from lemon zest and Greek yogurt.
In short, create a menu that offers nothing but gustatory temptation.
"I don't come to the table as a vegetarian," says Marie Simmons, the Richmond, California, food writer behind Fresh and Fast Vegetarian (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages, $17.95). "I come to the table as someone who loves big, bold, robust flavors - curry, paprika, orange zest, lots of herbs - and I believe in abbondanza."
That's the Italian word for joyful abundance. Simmons' philosophy is that if you heap your table with beautiful, aromatic food, even die-hard steak lovers will be too delighted by the bounty to notice the absence of rib-eyes.
The issue isn't that traditional meat-eaters are antivegetarian, Simmons says.
"It's a fear of tofu," she says. "And they're afraid they're not going to get enough to eat." That's not a problem at Simmons's home, where vegetarian entrÃ©es are combined with sumptuous side dishes.
When she's entertaining a mixed crowd, those sides include a crisp green salad, goat cheese-topped crostini and roasted Idaho or sweet potatoes, lush with melting cheese.
"Confirmed omnivores," she says, "are big potatoes people."
What Napa Valley food writer Janet Fletcher looks for in a vegetarian entrÃ©e are the exact same things she seeks in any entrÃ©e - flavour, texture, heartiness and visual appeal. And, of course, how it pairs with wine.
For heaven's sake, says the James Beard Awardwinning journalist, "you don't need to announce you're serving a meatless meal." Just think creatively.
"Dinner does not have to be animal protein, a starch and a vegetable," says Fletcher, author of Eating Local (Andrews McMeel, 306 pages, $35). "Americans are not protein-deficient."
CORN RISOTTO WITH SUMMER SUCCOTASH
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio or other medium-grain white rice
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine Coarse salt
3 cups fresh corn kernels from 6 ears (or canned or frozen corn)
1 cup creamy, mild feta or fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup diagonally sliced ( 1/4 inch) green beans
1 garlic clove, grated
2 cups diced (1/2 inch) tomatoes
1/4 cup loosely packed, torn basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet until it is hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Add 1/2 cup onion and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat until tender, 5 minutes.
2. Add the rice and stir until coated with oil. Add the water, wine and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, stirring once. Cook, covered, over low heat, stirring once or twice, until creamy and tender, 12-15 minutes.
3. Stir in 1 cup corn and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Fold in 1/2 cup cheese.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet until it is hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Add the remaining
1/2 cup onion and cook, stirring, until tender, 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups corn, green beans and garlic, and cook, stirring, until the green beans are crisp-tender, 5 minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes, basil, a pinch of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper to the corn mixture.
6. Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls. Top with the succotash and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
COCONUT CASHEW CURRY
Note: This colorful curry is delicious served with black Forbidden, Bhutanese red or brown jasmine rice. Feel free to vary the vegetables with the season.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 cups unpeeled eggplant, diced in 1/2-inch cubes
15-16 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups 1/2-inch cauliflower florets
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup green beans, cut in 1/2-inch lengths
2-3 tsp minced, seeded jalapeno pepper
1 Tbsp minced, peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbsp Madras curry powder
1 garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
13.5-ounce can regular or light coconut milk
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, roasted, unsalted cashews
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until they are a shade darker, 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and chickpeas; cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
2. Add the cauliflower, onion, carrot, green beans, jalapeno, ginger, curry powder, garlic, salt and turmeric. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes.
3. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the sauce has thickened and the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
4. Spoon the curry into a large bowl or over a platter of rice. Sprinkle with cashews and cilantro and serve.
- both recipes from Marie Simmons, Fresh and Fast Vegetarian (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages, $17.95)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 cup peeled, diced sweet potato or winter squash
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp Madras curry powder
2/3 cup semi-pearled farro
1 1/4 cups green or black lentils, picked over
6-7 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup Greek-style yogurt or crème fraiche
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions and sweet potato. Add a big pinch of salt and sautÃ© until the onions soften a bit, a couple of minutes.
2. Add the curry powder; stir until onions and sweet potatoes are coated and the curry is fragrant, a minute or so.
3. Add the farro, lentils and 6 cups broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. (If using whole farro, instead of semi-pearled, increase cooking time to 50 minutes.)
4. Taste and season with more salt, if needed. Stir together yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve each bowl of soup topped with lemon yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Heidi Swanson, Super Natural Every Day (Ten Speed Press, 250 pages, $23)
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