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'Hey Mom, Guess What?'

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

An occasional series in which staff members share a recipe that we turn to time and again:

Of all the things I worried about when my son went off to college, the three words he said to me on the phone a month later were not among them.

"I'm a vegetarian," he informed me during one of our weekly phone calls. He wanted me to know, he added during the stunned silence that followed, because when he comes home for Thanksgiving he won't be eating turkey.

Actually, no one in my house will be eating turkey. No one in our family likes turkey, except for me, and, frankly, my opinion counts about as much as Ralph Nader's did in the last election. What everyone does like -- or did before my son's culinary conversion anyway -- is duck. Last year for Thanksgiving, I gave up on turkey and made everyone sauteed duck breast fillets with a cranberry-wine sauce. They were a huge hit. My daughter and husband, in fact, already have begun lobbying for them again.

Fortunately, my son (so far) is not one of those vegetarians who insists that everyone else must change eating habits just because he has. "I'll just eat the side dishes," he told me. But there's that guilty-mom voice inside my head saying, "It's not enough. He needs something special, too."

Holidays, though, can be tricky. There are family traditions, and there's the newly minted vegetarian -- obviously, a potential for conflict. What's a (carnivore) mother to do?

The secret is presentation, says Deborah Madison, the queen of vegetarian chefs. Make a vegetarian dish that looks so special that everyone else will want to eat it, too. She provided a few suggestions. I gave one a trial run.

At a potluck brunch at a friend's house, I made a big platter of Indian rice pilaf, ostensibly for two of the guests who were vegetarian. The rice was a warm yellow and dotted with a colorful array of nuts, chopped vegetables and dried fruit. Chili peppers, ginger and garlic gave it some heat and oomph. I served it, never said the v-word, and everyone happily dug in. It's a lesson I'll repeat at Thanksgiving.

Neelam's Festive Rice Pilaf

Serves 4 to 6

Vegetarian cookbook author Deborah Madison includes this colorful, fragrant, one-pot rice dish in her upcoming book, "Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison's Kitchen" (Broadway). The recipe, she writes, originated with Indian cook Neelam Bata, who suggests serving it with plain yogurt to which minced fresh ginger, mint, cilantro and scallions have been added. If you're serving wine, Madison recommends a dry Pinot Gris from Alsace to stand up to the spices and fruit.

11/2 cups basmati rice


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