What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 28, 2006; 11:00 AM

Calling all foodies! Join us for a vegetarian edition of What's Cooking , our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel .

A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), O'Donnel spends much of her time in front of the stove or with her nose in a cookbook.

Catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page.

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Kim O'Donnel: Hello out there! Welcome back if you're a regular, and come on in if you're new to this monthly chew fest on meat-free cooking, eating and shopping.

Like me, I bet many of you are a-chooing through one of the worst allergy seasons in a decade. I feel like I've got a pollen scarf wrapped around my throat. But don't let that stop you from celebrating the new season. This Monday means May, and that means the jewels of the earth are beginning to surface their beauteous heads. In DC area farm markets, you'll have sightings of strawberries (wow! no need to buy from Florida), asparagus, those intense morels, green garlic and wild onions, aka ramps. This week's Food section features its annual

Guide to Farmers Markets

, by the way, if you're wondering what's happening in your neighborhood. Part of last night's din was a veggie treat -- garlic and ginger heated in a mix of canola and sesame oil, red pepper, then some chopped choi sum -- one of the bok choy relatives. Added a little soy and rice wine and topped that over rice. Cut up a cucumber and spritzed it with sesame oil and a little soy sauce. I love cukes w/rice.. it's a yin yang thing, I'm sure. Any recent discoveries you'd like to share? Do tell.

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Belmont, Mass.: What do you think of the new book "Grub" on urban cooking by Anna Lappe?

Kim O'Donnel: I have just heard about "Grub" and am eager to get my hands on a copy so I can share my thoughts. I understand this duo is on book tour and will be passing through DC in May. I'll let you know what I find out.

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Washington, D.C.: Are there healthy fast food options in the District for vegetarians for someone who doesn't want to resign themselves to salad? I love Soul Vegetarian, but it isn't exactly fast.

Kim O'Donnel: Since Tom Sietsema's chat has already come and gone this week (Wed at 11, by the way), I'll oblige. Couple fast thoughts come to mind: Quick Pita or George's Falafel in Georgetown for a superior falafel sandwich that sets you back about 5 bucks. George's has a tremendous, rose water-flavored lemonade, incidentally. Julia's Empanadas for a container of black bean soup or their gazpacho, as summer rolls in. Chipotle has a pretty darn tasty veggie burrito or 'burrito bol' without the tortilla...and if you wanna do carry-out for vittles over a few days, get in the car and head to Lebanese Taverna market in Arlington for a luxurious case-ful of veggie-friendly items. Carry-out Indian is also an option -- places like Curry Club (which I understand is now offering ready-to-go meals at Georgetown Yoga) or that Indian veggie places friends are always telling me about on K Street. Where's my veggie yoga pal Dave McG when I need him? He loves that place...hope this helps.

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Dinner party difficulties: This is going to sound like an LSAT-style logic problem, but I really do have this situation to deal with. For next Saturday night, I have invited three couples over for dinner. I knew all eat mostly vegetarian, so I had lots of ideas for what to make. Now that I've gotten e-mail replies detailing food preferences, I'm puzzled.

One person is severely lactose intolerant. Another person is allergic to eggs, dairy, soy and potato. One of the other guests has a deadly seafood allergy, which he says can be triggered even by fish sauce. One guest is pregnant and finds she can't tolerate anything spicy (and should avoid the usual pregnant lady no-no's like unpasteurized dairy products and undercooked eggs). One guest says he will eat anything but confesses to an irrational hatred of eggplant. I have celiac, so I can't eat anything involving wheat or gluten (although I will cook with wheat for others). The big question, of course, is what to serve.

I am open to the idea of making this a buffet-style or assemble-your-own-whatever style meal. Still, I'm in need of ideas for yummy, interesting dishes that harmonize well enough for the real chow-hounds in the bunch. And is it too much to ask that I want to ensure that everyone thinks the food that he or she does/can eat is delicious?

Any and all help you (and other posters?) can offer will be most appreciated.

Kim O'Donnel: Yikes. This is a graduate-school level question for sure! Before I get into ideas, one thought comes to mind: What if you made this into a potluck and each couple could bring a dish (with your guidance of course) that accommodates the specific dietary needs? You would provide the wine and the dessert and they take care of the rest. That aside: I'm thinking Middle Eastern stuff. You can do vegetarian grape leaves, fuls medames (fava beans), hummus, cauliflower w/tahini..., lentils w/pomegranate molasses...and everyone would be accommodated. Serve w/pita and get yourself your favorite gluten-free bread item. What think?

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New York, N.J.: Hi Kim,

I have been a vegetarian for nearly my whole life, and the thing I struggle with the most is getting enough protein in my diet. Because a lot of my meals consist of carbs and vegetables, usually within an hour or so of eating, I get hungry again. Do you have suggestions of ways to include high protein food in a vegetarian diet (I do eat milk, eggs, cheese, etc. -- just no seafood, poultry, red meat).

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Guess what? Unless you can tell me that your doc sez you're low on protein, I'm gonna say with a diet of eggs and dairy, you're definitely getting enough protein. Just because you're hungry within an hour of eating doesn't mean you're protein deficient. Americans get more protein to around the world. Add plant protein like garbanzos, black and white beans, lentils. Nuts are great. Dark leafy greens have protein, too. Maybe you need to eat more frequently? Good snacks are a handful of walnuts, which are also loaded w/antioxidants.

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Re: George's: A falafel sandwich is healthy? Not sure about that with the deep-frying. They do make pretty decent hummus sandwiches, though.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, it's not something you want every day, but it's a decent option. When food is quickly fried, absorption of fat is less. Falafels need about 90 seconds in hot oil. I make them at home and they are very light, in fact.

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College Park, Md.: Hi Kim, please help! I have a 9-year-old vegetarian son who, at the moment, is eating very little protein. He has developed a dislike for beans, chickpeas and most soy-type products, occasionally eats some tofu and yogurt, but drinks milk and eats cheese daily. Any suggestions for child-friendly recipes that are high in protein and iron? He dislikes whey protein in milkshakes, too. Thanks

Kim O'Donnel: The other night, roasted broccoli was on the menu -- that means brocco florets coated with a mix of olive oil, garlic, fresh ginger, paprkia or cayenne and roasted at 400 -- and I said out loud that this dish was tasty enough for a young eater to enjoy broccoli. Serve with rice, add some cashews and see what he thinks. Get him to help you with the broccoli, too; it will make him feel important.

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Olney, Md.: We just got back from Florence, Italy where we enjoyed "Ribolitto", a vegetable soup made with beans and "cavolo nero", which is also known as Tuscan Black Cabbage. Turns out, this wonderful deep dark leafy green is sold at Whole Foods as "Dinosaur Kale". I'm betting that many of the farmers markets will also have it. It is also delicious braised with garlic and olive oil and served over whole wheat pasta. Try it!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Olney, you're right; that kale (and lots of other varieties) is available at local farm markets. In spring, you see baby kale and Russian kale which you eat raw, even. A very quick sautee is all you need. Thanks for your travelogue, too.

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Arlington, Va.: I heard that buckwheat is really good for you and that Asian noodle dishes use buckwheat noodles. Do you know where I can get buckwheat noodles?

Kim O'Donnel: Buckwheat is very high in minerals, fiber and protein, yes. For an amazing array of Asian noodles, take a little joy ride out Route 50 and hit Han Ah Reum in Merrifield or Super H, in Fairfax for an Asian grocery experience extraordinaire. I go out occasionally and stock up on packs of noodles.

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Lady's Island, S.C.: Why do you think this American culture is so anti-vegetarian and equate vegetarianism with effete snobbery?

Kim O'Donnel: I think the situation is quickly changing actually, Lady SC. I started this veggie chat in 2001, I think, and the interest has exploded over the years. The questions I receive reflect not just interest but growing pains -- people in 'mixed' relationships (meat eater dating veggie, for example; veggie mom cooking for meat-eating kids) and so like any sociological phenomenon, time will allow for more acceptance, more integration, more 'normalcy.' There was a time when vegetarian cooking and dining was so ghetto-ized that the choices were insulting and often unhealthy. We still have a long way to go, but there's been a lot of movement. I'm not one to tell people what to do -- I eat meat. But I go without meat often, and I would recommend others to do the same. It's good for health.

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Falls Church, Va.: Tonight I am thinking about experimenting and trying to make a frittata as a compromise between my (lacto-ovo) vegetarian boyfriend and non-veg visiting sister. (1) Do you have a good recipe for frittata? (2) What should I serve as accompaniments? My boyfriend has a big appetite! (3) How do I know whether a pan is oven-safe? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Falls, maybe this will help: Frittat How-to Recipe/Video . Salad of mixed greens, with some fruit and nuts is nice and works well with the frittata. No plastic handles in the oven. Got a cast-iron job?

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Washington, D.C.: Curry Club also supplies to Boundless Yoga on U St!

Kim O'Donnel: Good to know. Thanks for adding to this thread!

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Del Ray, Va.: For the tough crowd, I agree that a Middle Eastern buffet would be great. I have done that with my vegan sister, and also Mexican works well. Big bowl of beans, salsas, salads, tortillas, rice, and assorted toppings can really be fun for a crowd, and you can make it fancier if you want -- i.e, roasted veggies as one option. I've found it really does work the best to do it self-serve like that, and it can look really pretty too.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Del Ray, thanks for chiming in.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm a carnivore who cooks for vegetarian relatives. I think the reputation of vegetarianism has improved as people have realized that you can do more than just steamed broccoli. With seasoning and proper preparation, veggies can be just as interesting as meat.

Kim O'Donnel: I agree, Alexandria. And the cookbooks out there are no longer stereotypically dated from hippie era. The choices are boundless at this point and extremely interesting.

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Rockville, Md.: Does America's obsession with protein date back to the potato famine in Ireland when many Irish immigrants came to the U.S? Since when did vegetarian or any Americans actually lack for protien? It's a myth, right? An egg or a potato a day is plenty of protien. Add a glass of milk (soy or regular) or a potato and you're getting more than you need. Right?

Kim O'Donnel: I don't know the answer re: source of American obsession, but really we are a culture obsessed with food, a culture that has more choices than any other and yet we eat like crap. We worry about our weight, then we go nuts over Snackwells or some other pre-fab product in a box. We remove carbs from the diet like it's a pariah and yet we will down an entire bag of 'no-fat' chips made from Olestra. It's bizarre. Back to basics, people!

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Rockville, Md.: My wife and I are vegetarian -- both were for many years before we met -- and I wanted to put on the record to her parents credit that they threw us a vegetarian wedding (at a downtown D.C. hotel, no less) that was a real joy for us. I agree with your words about the growth of vegetarianism and its acceptance in our culture. Long ways to go but some good news happening here. P.S. -- One of my friends went to the lobby bar and ordered a steak (hilarious, we thought).

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your story, Rockville. Meat eaters really need to try going meatless once a week, and vegetarians need to understanding of the growing pains of die-hard habits of their meat-eating counterparts. Food is incredibly personal and often political, and it means many things to each of us on levels that we can't always articulate. With such complexities, we as a culture need to chill a bit, allow for different taste buds and be respectful of dietary differences and let the story unfold.

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Daughter of Olney, Md.: Kim, it was nice to see my mom posted (hi mom!)- but she left out the best concept she brought back from Florence: Cannellini beans lightly sauteed in olive oil with s and p and rosemary. We had them with whole wheat pasta and penne for dinner a few days after she got back. And, apparently, Tuscans are known in Italian as "bean-eaters." Love the chats -- bringing families together across the Internet ...

Kim O'Donnel: I love this! Virtual vegetarian love!

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Boston, Mass.: I'm so glad you're doing this chat! I'm a "trial" vegetarian -- figured I'd give it a month and see how it goes. The problem I've had so far is that a lot of the vegetarian recipes I've found have involved either (1) lots of complicated cooking, or (2) mushrooms, both of which I hate. Do you have any simple recipes? Microwave-friendly maybe? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Boston, instead of going full throttle, why not try it gradually? Once or twice a week, go meatless. This gives you time and emotional space to work through the transition. It's an emotional thing, believe me! So what if you hate mushrooms? I'm allergic to them. Don't include them. For beginning veggies, I always recommend Jeanne Lemlin's books, and as I recall, easy and mushroom-minimal.

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Re: party difficulties: Forgot to add, pakoras or chick pea or mung bean salad for appetizers.

Kim O'Donnel: Pakoras are my fave and such much fun for a party! I have a video too for these if anyone is interested....

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Kid-friendly food: Two ideas for the vegetarian child:

(1) You might want to try the Macaroni and Cheese Soup recipe (so delicious!) in Nava Altas's cookbook Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons. It has a base of pureed cannelini beans that become unnoticable, include broccoli or some other good cheesy soup vegetable. But make sure you adapt the recipe by NOT trying to melt the cheese in the same pot as the soup (gets too stringy & doesn't incorporate well) and (if you expect leftovers) keep the pasta out of the soup until it gets to the table.

(2) Find good vegetarian "meatballs" at the grocery store. Can't remember the brand I've used, but they are devilishly good & make a great kid friendly meal with pasta.

Kim O'Donnel: Superb ideas. Thanks for chiming in.

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Falafel follow-up: What's the secret to fried food that's still light? Mine always ends up greasy and nasty ...

Kim O'Donnel: Temperature of the oil. It's gotta be really hot, nearly smoking, in order to do its magic without seriously penetrating and loading down the food. I use canola oil or peanut oil. Slotted spoon for lifting out, draining on towels before serving.

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Udon: Hi Kim,I just bought some udon noodles I found in a Chinese market. Any basic ideas on yummy, after-work meals I could make with them?

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I've been kicking a cold all week, and I made up a batch of udon noodles, veggie style for Wednesday night supper. Cooked up a bunch of noodles (remember to rinse under cold water after cooking or you'll have a goopy mess)...in meantime, I chopped up some garlic, ginger and half a chile. Cooked in oil , then added some red bell pepper, julienned snow peas and tossed to cook. Added some chopped bok choy, too. Created a sauce of soy sauce, black bean and garlic paste, rice wine lime, sesame oil, honey. Added to veggies, added a little stock (use whatever you like). Added rinsed noodles to the mix and stirred to combine and heat up. Served up in a bowl and topped with scallions and chopped cilantro. That should send you into orbit, darling.

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Fast Food Veggie: Nirvani is the Indian vegetarian place on K St. Java Green -- on 19th St. -- is also fabulous and fast. Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan is delicious as well. Making me hungry for lunch.

Kim O'Donnel: Nirvana, right? Thanks. And I've yet to stop by my friend Scottie's Amsterdam Falafel. Been meaning to do that.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Good morning. My husband and I have historically been non-veggie eaters. I would like to change this but am not sure where to start. Any recommendations on books that would have recipes that include lots of veggies? These wouldn't have to be vegetarian; my husband would not be pleased to not only have to eat veggies but be deprived of meat at the same time! Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Get your hands on "12 Best Foods Cookbook" by Dana Jacobi. It's got lots of veggie-heavy recipes, but some do contain meat. This would be a great start. I also think Deborah Madison's book, "Local Flavors" does a fine job of teaching seasonal cooking but integrates fair share of veg as well as meat. Good luck, and keep me posted.

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Re: America's contradictory obsession w/food ...: I am a vegetarian who cooks tons of ethnic food -- lots of Indian, East-Asian inspired, South American ... needless to say, I make lots of rice. I also LOVE good, authentic ethnic food and I CANNOT do brown rice. I believe that whole grains aren't just another American fad -- they really are nutritious, I'm sure -- BUT ... can somebody justify me and say that brown rice simply can't sub for white in some of these dishes ...

Kim O'Donnel: Guess what? White rice is eaten around the world, where cholesterol levels are often much lower than they are here. Don't worry about the brown rice if you're not into it; the dehydrated stuff like Minute Rice is what you probably want to avoid. You're still getting good nutrients eating white rice, so don't worry about it.

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Anti-Vegetarian: To respond to questioner about the U.S. being anti-vegetarian, I think that's totally untrue. My husband is vegetarian and it's so much harder to find vegetarian options when we travel over seas than in the U.S. Even places in Asia, where people eat a lot of vegtables, being vegetarian isn't as common as one would think. That said I think its easier in some parts of the country to find options more than others. We always have trouble finding options in Savannah, for example (mention that city because we go there a lot), even the veggies seem to have bacon in it.

Kim O'Donnel: Thing is, meat holds different values in different parts of the world. When I spent time in Zambia, for example, the family I stayed with just didn't have money to eat meat on a regular basis. Places to eat would feature meat because it was considered a treat from what you might get at home. Each place is different and according to how people eke out their daily lives. In this country, we have so many choices which creates the difference in vantage point.

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Washington, D.C.: I am a vegetarian girl from a Northern Italian family who LOVES polenta. Needless to say we do NOT eat polenta with cheese or tomato sauce -- meat is the standard accompaniment. What's a good vegetarian substitute for sausage or other meat? I'm willing to try fake meat products, if they won't disappoint me ...

Kim O'Donnel: Try the Gimme Lean brand of sausage and beef, available in a tube in refrigerated section. To me, this is the closest to the real thing.

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Washington, D.C.: I've tried a couple Vegetarian cookbooks, and I wasn't really thrilled with the dishes. Any suggestions for a veggie cookbook that has yummy and fairly-easy-to- make dishes? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: As mentioned earlier, Jeanne Lemlin's titles...Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian for Everyone" and "Fresh Food Fast" by Peter Berley, to name a few...

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Re pans in the oven: Robert Wolke's column Wednesday on non-stick pan safety says that you shouldn't broil with it; probably to be safe you might not want to put it in the oven, either. I agree, cast-iron is great -- enameled cast-iron if you can afford it!

washingtonpost.com: washingtonpost.com:Keep Your Cool When Using Teflon (Post, April 26)

Kim O'Donnel: Great tip, dear. You can never go wrong with cast-iron.

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Centreville, Va.: Do you have vegetarian suggestions for people who bring their lunch to work?

Kim O'Donnel: Soup is a great portable lunch -- gazpacho in summer time, lentils, puree of potato and leek. Black beans and rice is another goodie. A batch of home-made hummus carried in container, with cukes, carrots, peppers, whatever veg you like, and a pita. Heat up pita in microwave, spread on your hummus and add veg. Supersonic sandwich. If you need details on making hummus which takes all of 7 minutes to make, holler at me in e-mail: kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com

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Rockville, Md.: I've got some arugula I picked up at the farmers market

that I need to use today or toss. I'd hate to toss it, but I

also can't eat any more salads!

Any suggestions? I used up the rest of my spinach last

night by making some creamed spinach, topped with

tomato slices and baked in the oven. (I went a little crazy

this week at the market, I keep promising myself to

remember moderation this week)

Also...I bought some things that looked like big green

onions, tasted a little garlicky. Were they garlic scapes? I

don't know, but we ate them quickly they were so good.

Also bought some pea shoots, which my 3-year-old

devoured. Sure am happy to see spring arrive at the

markets.

Kim O'Donnel: Arugula is great with fruit, which mellows out its bitterness...I like oranges or pears or berries, even peaches.Some walnuts, even a little blue cheese. Make a simple vinaigrette of lemon or other citrus. You're done in five minutes. Those big green onion things could have been spring onions or green garlic...garlic scapes are curly and should be hitting markets within a month methinks...

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Riverdale, Md.: I've enjoyed Portabella mushroom and grilled eggplant sandwiches and would like to make at home -- can you give some tips on preparation and cooking?

Kim O'Donnel: That porto needs a little marinade action. You could do herbs and olive oil or offer more flavor action, like a jerk seasoning or pickapeppa sauce...Eggplant needs to be slice thin, and I'd even consider doing a quick grill, then finishing off in the oven. Don't forget salt on all veg when griling, needs it. Goat cheese and roasted red peppers make great accompaniments for this sandwich.

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Kim O'Donnel: I've gone past the hour, so it's time to run. Great contributions by all, and I'm sorry I couldn't get to everyone. Feel free to e-mail (kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com) if you've got a burning question or check in with me during the regular Tuesay at noon gig. I'll be reporting from Monterey, Calif. in a few weeks reporting on the state of the sustainable agriculture movement, by the way, with info that consumers can use. In the mean, don't forget to eat your vegetables!

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