What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, May 25, 2006; 1:00 PM

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.


Kim O'Donnel: Good Thursday afternoon! Welcome to my monthly catch-up on all things meat-free, whether you're at market or table, or in kitchen. It's a great time of year to try your hand at vegetarian eating, even just a little bit, as I mentioned this morning in my brand spanking new blog, Savoring Summer . With a nonstop kaleidoscope of goodies from the earth, it's easy to do without meat more often than during those cold months. Summer kicks off this weekend, over the long Memorial Day holiday, and so our attention turns to outdoor feasting, keeping cool, eating raw (perhaps), sizzling up grills and packing up coolers. I'm looking forward to the long weekend pace of meandering through the farmers market and deciding on menus at a relaxed pace. Don't know yet what I'll be fixing, but I'm keen to get as much local lettuce as I can while it lasts. What about you -- what's on the agenda?


Alexandria, Va.: What would you say are the top 10 vegetarian restaurants in the D.C. metro area?

Kim O'Donnel: Are there 10 veggie restaurants to list? The scene here is still struggling compared to that in other cities. But for specifics, to be fair, I'd like to defer to Tom Sietsema, whose online gig is Wednesday at 11 a.m.


Capitol Heights, Washington, D.C.: Hello Kim! How does one start being a vegetarian? I would like to start for health reasons but I don't know where to begin. THANKS!

Kim O'Donnel: I think this is a perfect ice breaker for readers to chime in. How to start doing the vegetarian thing? Let them count the ways...


Alexandria, Va.: Hello,I like the fact that vegetarianism has become more accepted. I am a vegetarian for a variety of reasons, and I make fresh meals every day for my family. My family is not as enthusiastic as I am about my not eating meat. I don't prepare strange dishes (tofu is a four-letter word in my house, unfortunately) and occasionally do make meat for them, but I still hear a lot of complaints. Any ideas on how to win them over?

Kim O'Donnel: The scenario you describe about tofu being a four-letter word in your family is a common one. More and more families, couples, communities are tackling the issues of what it means to be in mixed company -- that is, meat eaters and vegetarians. As with many difficult sociological issues, vegetarianism has come a LONG way from its days in the culinary ghetto. Luscious cookbooks, scads of magazines, upscale restaurants are now all part of the mainstream which makes dining out or cooking together in mixed company a whole lot easier. Do you cook together as a family? This would be a great first step toward acceptance. Pick a recipe that is veggie and work together to make it, then discuss at the table. Could bring out major peace in the household.


Potato Salad: You know someone has to ask ... what is a good vegan potato salad that can be easily shared without snicker at an upcoming bbq?

Potatoes, green onions, mustard? Red peppers? Olives? Veggie sour cream?


Kim O'Donnel: I'm a big fan of mayo-free potato salad . The link provided takes you to how-to video/recipe I did a few years back. You don't need dairy and you don't need dairy fakes. A little reserved potato water is good for thickening, by the way. Have a look, see what you think.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Kim --

I love fresh ginger in stir-frys, marinades, tea, etc., but still haven't figured out the best way to keep it, especially after I've cut a chunk off. I usually just keep it out on the counter, and it works okay. How often do you buy ginger, and how do you keep it from drying up or molding? Thanks so much!

Kim O'Donnel: Alexandria, I know a lot of folks like to keep it in sherry in a jar or frozen, but because I use it frequently, I don't mind keeping it in my fruit bowl and chopping off dried parts before reusing. Molding is another story -- that could do with the age of the ginger before purchase as much as it does with the length of time it sits in your kitchen. By the way, next time you peel some ginger, try a teaspoon. It works like a charm.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I have a ricotta tart I'd like to make, and I was wondering if I could substitute skim ricotta for the whole milk ricotta the recipe calls for. I understand I'll lose some of the richness, but will it make a difference otherwise? Anyone have any experience with this kind of substitution? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: You will lose some of the richness, but I think you'll be okay. You might want to drain it out before using so you get rid of some of the water that accumulates. And please folks, chime in if you think otherwise.


Frederick, Md.: Shiso: What is it and how is it used in cooking? I saw a plant for sale in a garden center and it looked interesting. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Ooh, shiso leaf is lovely. Also known as perilla, it's a popular herb in Japanese cooking, used in salads, as garnish for sushi, to wrap food (a la summer rolls). I have a Korean pal who loves to wrap shiso leaves around balls of rice and then dip in something spicy. You should give it a whirl!


Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: With the closing of the great Indian Spices and Appliances near Ballston, where can I go to replenish my supply of spices? Hindu cuisine might be the greatest of all vegetarian cuisines.

Kim O'Donnel: It is a pity, I agree. There's the India A-1 grocery on Lee Highway, and there are a whole bunch of Indian groceries on New Hampshire Ave in Silver Spring, and I have pledged to get over there early this summer.


New York, N.Y.: for the ginger question -- keep it in the freezer! Works like a charm. You can grate the frozen piece of ginger and use it right away. incidentally, I have not peeled ginger in years. I just grate it with the peel on -- the peel stays on the back side of the grater, and the ginger goes through the holes.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, lots of cooks like to freeze the ginger. I suppose it would require one to have a neatly organized freezer, where you can find said ginger. Sadly, that is not the case in my kitchen...


Upstate N.Y.: Hi Kim. I thought of this question the last time I marinated some tofu for my veggie daughter. I know that with acidic marinades you shouldn't leave meat (or especially fish) in them for too long or they get mushy. Is the same true for tofu? What's the maximum time for marinating tofu in a marinade with lots of acid such as lemon juice?

Kim O'Donnel: Great question. In both cases, you're dealing with protein, but with tofu, it's plant protein. I've never marinated tofu for more than a few hours, so I'd love to hear from readers who do overnight tofu stints or such.


Washington, D.C. : I wasn't able to participate in the last chat, but I would like to weigh in on one issue: the acceptance of vegetarianism. I agree that this transition was very slow coming, and I welcome it. But as an omnivore who eats more vege meals than meat-based, I have a request to veggie-type: please show some tolerance toward meat-eaters. I really think this cuts both ways, but respecting each other's choices (i.e., not lecturing, judging, etc.) is the best way to go for everyone. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: The only thing I'd like to add is that we need to be accepting on both sides of the culinary fence. Vegetarians need to tolerant of meat eaters and meat eaters need to cut vegetarians some slack. We've all gotta get along, and we all need to be more open minded, as one day we may wake up and your kid decides to be a vegetarian or you fall in love with a vegetarian or the next president is a vegetarian. You get the idea...


Starting to be vegetarianism: I had to start gradually. I would make a few fully veg meals a week, and gradually increased it as I learned more things to make until I cut meat out altogether. It took a while to have a good supply of recipes to fall back on without getting bored eating the same things all the time. With plenty of GOOD recipes, I find I don't miss the meat.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. I would add to this the idea of doing what feels good. If you're making transition and are just dying for a burger, don't deprive yourself and be miserable.


vegetarian starter: This may sound really lame, but the easiest way to "become" vegetarian is just to try to eat more things other than meat: vegetables, yes, but more fruits, whole grains, pastas, etc. Ethnic foods have a wealth of dishes that are quite tasty but leave out the meat, for example. And don't think of it as leaving things out, but rather expanding your palete to include a variety of foods you never knew existed!! And don't let summer and BBQ's bring you down -- grilled portabello mushrooms are fantastic, as are grilled peppers and other veggies. And, if you really really want that burger, boca and other versions of veggie burgers exist so you don't feel like you're restricting yourself when everyone else digs in on the burgers and hot dogs. Just challenge yourself to try new things -- you may not like the taste of all the new vegetables/spices/dishes you try, but at least you know there's more out there! Good luck!

Kim O'Donnel: Great tips. It really is about going outside the box. Food is tied to our emotions, and we need to be aware of how changing our historical diet can make us feel.


Honolulu, HI: I've been watching Top Chef on Bravo and I'm trying to make one of the recipes from the show that calls for a mysterious ingredient. It's for a Moroccan influenced cubano sandwich with curried pork and chutney, and I am supposed to finished the pork in date syrup, but I cannot find any locally. Any ideas for substitution? I do have dates, and I do have maple syrup, but no date syrup. Thanks for your help!

Kim O'Donnel: Date syrup. Hmm. I think I'd probably hit up a Middle Eastern grocery. Got any of those in Honolulu? I might also try a Chinese store, as I have a hunch it's got some Chinese origin, also an Indian store. Tell us about the ethnic markets in Hawaii. Haven't been yet, but really eager to come and eat there.


Washington DC: To start a veggie diet, you shouldn't feel guilty about

starting slowly. A few times a week, then increase once

you are satisfied with a good selection of veggie meals to

keep you going from week to week.

Almost every ethnic group (Italian, Asian, Latin and even

African American soul food) provides plenty of veggie and

vegan options if you think about it. Folks who think soul

food is all chicken grease and pork fat, should try collard

greens cooked in olive oil, grits, nutricious and delicious

yams (w/vegan butter or cinnamon), etc. Keep true to

your "roots" pun intended and stay healthy.

Kim O'Donnel: More thoughts on making the transition to veggie land...


Vegan Potato Salad: I'm partial to a french-style potato salad. Sprinkle some white wine or vermouth over the cooked (and still warm) sliced or cubed potatoes and stir until they absorb it. Then throw in a bunch of finely chopped shallot and top with a mustard vinegrette (a lot of mustard, a little white wine vinegar, S & P, a bunch of olive oil). I never miss the mayo.

Kim O'Donnel: I never miss the mayo, either. Mustard vin is definitely the way to go, I agree!


Washington, D.C.: I am packings some delicious homemade muffalettas for a picnic hike tomorrow. Two fellow hikers are newly vegetarian--what would you put in the sandwich with the requisite olive salad and peppers to sub for the cold cuts? I'm thinking maybe grilled or roasted eggplant? Any other ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: Eggplant is a grand idea...and maybe you could roast those peppers for a flavor punch. You could also grill some portobellos...is cheese allowed for your group? Feta or goat cheese here would be superb.


Edmonton, Canada: Good afternoon, Kim! The weather has turned around here in Canada and we've been 80+ and sunny all week. We had a group over last weekend for a barbecue and it turned out great. Steaks and chicken for the meat eaters, and I made a carrot/raisin/sesame seed slaw and a dijon potato salad from "The Clueless Vegetarian," and homemade baked beans from "How it All Vegan." Also had corn on the cob, dinner rolls, and fruit salad. I made myself a veggie burger but didn't really need it with all the other good stuff. I also bought champagne, just for fun -- it was a hit!

What veggies are you looking forward to grilling this year? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: The timing of your note is fortuitous, Edmonton, as it's a good illustration of a scenario that includes both meat eaters and veggies...Nice going. Me, I love grilled pineapple. I know, not a veggie. I also love grilled onions, potatoes, corn and peppers...Oh yeah.


Seattle, Wash.: I made some olive tapenade the other day (kalamata and nicoise olives plus some sundried tomato, capers and EVOO) and have quite a bit left over. Any suggestions for how to use it in veggie dishes? I've been eating it with bread/crackers and would like to use it as an ingredient rather just as a spread.

Thanks! I've been lurking on this chat for the last six years and love the veggie edition.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Seattle, I guess you know I love your town and will be headed back there later this summer for more good eats. As for your tapenade, I like with grilled mushrooms...and eggplant...You also could add some to short pasta and enhance it with some roasted red pepper to enhance...thoughts anyone?


Arlington, Va.: Can't we all just get along ...

I know that many people think that vegetarians tend to be belligerent, vocal about their choice (and this probably is the crux -- people talk about choices they've made that they think are important; but non-veg people probably never chose how to eat; Atkins dieters behave just as people describe vegetarians), and so on. Tell the truth though, I've never waved a leek in the face of someone eating steak but I have had steak waved in my face while eating leeks.

Kim O'Donnel: If we were all the same, life would be very dull. So I say celebrate the differences and learn from someone whose dinner plate looks different than yours. Onward!


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I was attempting to make a white bean dip over the weekend in the food processor. I put in white beans, salt, pepper and then put in some olive oil. It ended up being a mix of pulsed beans rather than a nice smooth dip. Did I need more oil? I also added some lemon juice. What is your secret for perfect bean dip? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: More oil,yes Lemon juice, good. I like to add a peeled roasted pepper for color. Rosemary, garlic and paprika nice here too. Add a few ounces of water if things are not smoothing out. Keep me posted.


Baked Tofu: Hi Kim,

About one year ago, I wrote in asking about alternative to my over used stir-fry tofu recipes. You gave me the fab idea of baking tofu in a bbq sauce/soy sauce/oj/garlic/ginger/shallots concoction (plus or minus a few ingredients). I finally mustered up the courage to make it and it is delicious! Dear lord the house smells great, it's so simple, great with greens and i feel like a million bucks after eating all that protein.

Thank you for being such a great resource and for inspiring veggie greatness everywhere!

Kim O'Donnel: Great news. I wonder if it was from "Passionate Vegetarian" by Crescent Dragonwagon. She's got some great tofu marinades. Keep it up, dear.


Washington, D.C.: I'm going out of town and I'd love to use up the veggies in the fridge before I leave. Would these ingredients make for a happy puree soup?: spinach, mushrooms, potatoes, shallot, garlic, cream? Sautee all first, then puree with cream and a little broth? What herbs can I throw in? Would a splash of wine or vermouth help or hurt? Oh, I also have a parmesean rind somewhere. And scallions.Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Actually, if you boil the potato, with shallot and garlic, you don't even need cream. Pureed potato comes out super smooth, particularly if you add some of the reserved water. Mushrooms could be sauteed with herbs and used as garnished. That would be niced. A splash of wine would be nice, yes. Scallions for garnish too.


too much tapanade: I wish I had this problem! You can try layering it in with a vegie lasagna, to take the place of crumbled sausage or ground beef...

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! Thanks for chiming in.


Washington, DC: For the wannabe vegetarian, I concur: go gradually. There is no quicker route to failure than to try and change your lifelong eating habits overnight. Start by simply increasing the number and variety of veggies in your diet. The rest will follow before you know it.

And in honor of the holiday weekend, a version of Deborah Madison's Bachelor Sandwiches:

Marinate strips of tofu in worcestershire sauce and chopped rosemary. Grill with portobello mushroom caps and sliced red onions. Serve on rolls (we like focaccia) with a mixture of dijon, mayo (sorry, Kim), and minced garlic. You won't miss the barbecue.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks (and I forgive you for mentioning mayo)...


Ginger: If I have a nice big piece I peel it with a potato peeler then crush it like garlic in my garlic press - works great!

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting...thanks for adding on.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, thanks for the chats!

I'd like to make a batch of a tasty, healthy (non-lettuce based) salad on a weekend and pack for lunch a few days the next week. It needs to be able to last in the fridge for a few days, but I have access to a refrigerator at work, so that's not a concern.

Any thoughts - either a recipe, or a good source to find a recipe that would fit the bill?

Kim O'Donnel: Chickpeas. Lentils. Black beans. They all make wunderbar non-lettuce salds that you can transport. Lentils are especially great because they require zero soaking time. See what you think of this goodie -- Lentils, Syrian style .


Courthouse: Hey Kim, Not sure if this is a "veggie" question per say, but I'm looking into doing a cleansing diet for a week or two. I was wondering if you could recommend some "replenishing" meals or direct me to info on cleansing, if you know of any. I've seen a lot of different things out there on cleansing diets that don't seem very responsible. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I don't have cleansing diet info on hand, but it's certainly something I've thought about doing. Juicing is a great way to detox the system, while still giving your body the nutrients it needs. I strongly recommend you touch base with a doctor, conventional or holistic for some guidelines and resources that will help you prepare.


Tapenade: Stuff it in a burger, meat for those that you are near and dear to that may lean that way, or in that grilled portabello? Grilling is the best way to get the smoky oloive flavor.

Kim O'Donnel: A lovely two-fer. Thanks dear!


Washington, D.C.: Hey, Kim! This is not necessarily a vegetarian question, though it might turn out to be one. Do you have any suggestions for cookbooks on baby food? I was thinking of that as a gift for a new mom friend and haven't been able to come up with anything I liked so far. Any suggestions would be most welcome -- Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: A great question. Off the top of my head, I don't know of tried-and-true baby food titles. Folks? Any goodies we should know about?


Getting along... aka, it's not about you: A nonvegetarian chiming in on the issue of tolerance. I think a lot of the arguments around food choices boil down to people wanting to be "right" or "in charge." If I eat meat, and you don't, you are somehow subtly indicting me and I have to fight back and tell you want to do. If you are on South Beach or Atkins and I am not, you are subtly questioning my big pile of mashed potatoes and telling me I am going to get fat. If you don't eat any meat, you're never going to et any protien. If you don't take a multivitamin... blah, blah, blah.

Why do I care what you eat? It has nothing to do with me. I am me, you are you. Our bodies are different, our tastes are different, our religious beliefs, ethnic traditions, etc. are different, our needs are different from time to time. Cooking together (presumably) means you like and respect the person and want to get along. So do it and quit griping. If you are in a restaurant... order what you want, and let people order what they want. Just enjoy!

I see this in a lot of places, and I often think that what we rage about indicates some fear or discomfort in ourselves. I know I had to struggle a bit when I was working on losing weight, and going slow by steady, then a girlfriend did the Atkins thing and dropped pounds very rapidly. I am not comfortable with the Atkins approach at all -- but it was her choice, not mine, and I had to tell myself that, because I knew my snide remarks to her had NOTHING to do with her and everything to do with me and my own food guilts.

Just a few thoughts. Shared food is supposed to be an act of communion and fellowship.... not a side show for control freaks.

Done ranting now.

Kim O'Donnel: You touch on an overarching issue that has seeped into every crumb of this culture. When I travel, to both developed and developing parts of the world, these debates or conversations or line of thinking never come up. In this country, we have the luxury of choice. Choice makes us crazy -- not always, but often. We tend to lose sight of what's important when we have so many choices. Ever find yourself fall into a coma of indecision in the cereal aisle at the supermarket? Thanks for your thoughts.


Kim O'Donnel: It is time to run already. Thanks for some great bits to chew on, and check with the blog , as I may expand on some of these seedlings. Enjoy the first weekend of summer, and check in Tuesdays for the regular gig and then back at the end of June for more veggie-centric stuff. All best.


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