What's Cooking Vegetarian

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 26, 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.

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Kim O'Donnel: Hey folks, it's already that time of the month again, for our meeting of the meatless minds. For much of the country, fall is in full swing; temps here are crispy and with daylight saving time this weekend, the days are oh so short! A bite of an apple, a swig of cider, a spoonful of sweet potato -- they'll get you through. I am just realizing that Halloween is here next week --wow! I'll share some homemade candy ideas if that is of interest. Was at market yesterday, and I picked up a gorgeous head of cauliflower, local spinach (yay!) and a bunch of apples for crunching on as well as whipping up a batch of applesauce. Hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is just a month away. I'll be hosting a vegetarian Thanksgiving chat in coming weeks -- date TBD. And for now, let's hear what's on your meatless minds...

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Washington, DC: I've recently become a vegetarian for ethical reasons, but before I did so I was considering going to culinary school. Are there any well-respected vegetarian culinary programs, or should I go for a traditional program, do my best to deal with the lamb chops and lobsters, and then apply my skills to less sentient fare when I graduate? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, I will warn you that if you do a traditional program, your vegetarian sensibilities may be challenged, as you will be dealing with meat (and lobsters) on an ongoing basis. I know of one school with a vegetarian focus, and that's Natural Gourmet , in New York City. I've heard good things, but I don't know first hand. Locally, Mimi Clark offers vegetarian and vegan cooking classes for home cooks, and you may want to explore that route; she may be a good resource for you as well. Good luck.

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Bethesda, Md: I have two sons, aged 10 and 7, who decided six months ago to become vegetarian out of their love for animals. I have been going along with this, but I'm frustrated by what they eat. The "chickenless" nuggets and meatless meat products all seem to have one secret ingredient -- salt. I can get them to eat beans and tofu about once/week each, but that leaves me scratching my head with pasta and fake meats the rest of the week. Any fun, kid-friendly solutions you may have would be greatly appreciated.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Bethesda, your kids are definitely of the age to help you cook in the kitchen. I highly recommend getting them involved in the preparation of their meatless meals; their participation in the process will give them ownership and will undoubtedly harness interest and enthusiasm. There is a new book out on the market, "Food Adventures," which focuses on introducing kids to global flavors and ingredients. Although not exclusively vegetarian, the recipes may entice your boys (particularly when they see pics) and open their worlds beyond fake chicken nuggets. Cheers.

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Salt Lake City, Utah: Hi Kim!

I bought two lovely white eggplants at our last farmer's market of the year last Sunday. Any suggestions? I've never cooked with white, and am open to any flavors (and need to go by the grocery store, to boot).

Kim O'Donnel: Salt Lake, tell me the size of these guys. Are they egg shaped and quite small? If so, I might slice in half, brush with sesame oil, spritz with soy sauce and top with chopped ginger, garlic and even heat of a fresh chile. Roast at 375, until extremely tender. Fyi: eggplant has a way of not looking very pretty after it's been cooked, so take a mental picture of those babies before they hit the oven. Cheers.

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Cauliflower: Is there anything interesting to do with this veggie? I do have a beautiful, fresh head of it from the farmers' market and would like to do something other than steam or roast.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, I know you said you want other ideas besides roasting, but have a look at this idea, which is a Sicilian version of cauliflower, with raisins, pinenuts, capers (I know, recipe includes anchovies, but you can omit). Really delcicious. I also on occasion like to make my own cheese sauce, with a strong cheddar and mustard and allow to bake, with breadcrumbs on top. Other cauli ideas out there?

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Fairfax, Va.: Is there a distinction between decorative and "eating" pumpkin? What qualities should I look for when choosing pumpkin for cooking?

Kim O'Donnel: Yep, there is a difference. Look for kabocha, gold nugget, sweet dumpling and even those miniature pumpkins. These are all good for eating. You want hard skin that's free of blemishes and rotting or softening. A sugar "pie" pumpkin is one you can use to make a pie -- it's smaller, sweeter and less grainy than a regular jack o' variety.

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Re: cauliflower: Two suggestions: 1. Aalu-Gobhi, 2. Roast cauliflowerets (crisp-tender), lightly browned. Coat with thick yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! Thanks much for these ideas.

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Cauliflower: I don't have a specific recipe, but I love cauliflower boiled and then mixed with some creamed corn, coconut milk, and curry. Over jasmin rice, it's a very satisfying fall meal.

Kim O'Donnel: Another goodie for cauli...

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Apple Cider: How do you jazz up hot apple cider to make it a warm drink for a cold evening? I can think of cinnamon sticks ... anything else?

Kim O'Donnel: Um, rum? Bourbon? If booze isn't your thing, a few cloves might be nice.

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Cauliflower: Similar to your idea, I often do a cauliflower/mac and cheese baked dish, using a combination of two mac and cheese recipies in "Joy of Cooking," using cauliflower and pasta in a 1/2 and 1/2 ratio.

Kim O'Donnel: Yep. Maybe that's my weekend project...

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Silver: I was at a buffet once and had a Moroccan style stew with pumpkin, chic peas and a few other veggies. I want to make it at home, but I can't remember what the main/typical spices are for Moroccan food. It had a slight sweetness to it, but also a nice warmth in the flavors. In the end, I'll probably wing it, but it would help if I knew what spices and seasonings are the hallmarks of a Moroccan stews.

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting question, Silver. Actually, there's a spice blend called "Ras al-Hanut" which includes nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, clove and black pepper. These may get you where you need to be with your pumpkin stew. Keep me posted.

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Houghton, Mich.: My two-and-a-half-0year old is on a muffin kick, and I want to take the opportunity to get more veggies into him. I have zucchini muffin and carrot muffin recipes, but I'd like to have a basic sweet-ish muffin recipe I can put some pureed spinach or broccoli into. For some reason, he will eat just about anything in muffin or smoothie form, but since we live in the upper midwest, it's the time of year for muffins! Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: I would defintely try including sweet potato puree in your muffins. I do have some recipes for savory muffins, but I need to dig them up. Send me an email: kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com

If any of you have savory muffin thoughts in the meantime, share the wealth!

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Washington, D.C.: Calling all tea lovers! On Saturday around three, the Ritz-Carlton at 22nd and M will be having a Turkish Tea with Turkish "chai" and traditional Turkish pastries along with a talk on the origins of Turkish tea rituals. Call Maya at (202) 974-5566 if you have any questions.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. Sounds fun. I may have to check this out. Can you send me a press release, please?

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for veggie children: Harness their care for animals - you've got a head-start in

that they're interested in what they eat and where it comes

from. Take them apple picking, take them to farmers'

markets, get them talking to to farmers and how they

grow their food and why they grow it the way they do.

Fingers crossed, you can turn this into a real enthusiasm.

Only wanting to eat three or four things is not an unusual

problem for a parent, take heart in the fact that they're

actually interested in their food and should be willing to

engage.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your comments. I concur; getting the kids involved in the preparation of food as well as the shopping could have a huge impact on their interest level.

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Farmer's Market sighting: Just wanted to let y'all know: I just saw a little farmer's market across from Starbucks on Lynn Street in Rosslyn (a block down Wilson from the Metro). There were a few stands there, one had wonderful apples (Cortlands, other unusual types) and appled butter and cider, another baked goods, another wonderful root veggies. Just a nice thing to see when you go out for lunchtime coffee. And it is the sort of thing we should all support.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for the report, dear. It is indeed a nice thing when you go out for coffee and a thing we should all support. Get to know your farmers!

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Silver Spring, Md: Hi Kim - Bought a celeriac at the farmer's market and now don't know what to do with it. Thinking maybe a potato/celeriac soup. Help!

Kim O'Donnel: Celeriac, although a hairy knob on the outside, is lovely and perfumey on the inside. Very earthy. A puree with potatoes is definitely a possiblity; celeriac is also lovely mashed with potatoes as a side. I have also sliced it thin and made a gratin. Onions and garlic are good as part of your soup base,plus salt, pepper and some hearty herbs -- thyme or oregano, even sage.

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Re: apple cider: Grate some fresh ginger into the cider while heating. You may strain it later.

Kim O'Donnel: Now that's about the best idea I've heard all day! Many thanks for this one.

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RE Cauliflower: Saute some onion, chop up with some other veggies, and cook with a can of tomatos, adding any of the following kinds of spices/seasonings: vindaloo seasoning (the stuff from Penzey's is amazing and not too hot!), singapore noodle seasoning, curry, basil and parmesean, cumin and hot pepper. Adjust what you saute the onion in to fit the flavor you're going for. Toss in some beans (garbanzos, black, kidney, whatever) and have with rice, couscous or pasta for more of a main dish.

Kim O'Donnel: I am a big fan of cauli and chickpeas, so you got me already. I also love rolling cauli florets in a spice mix with some melted butter and roasting at 400 til tender. Lovely treat.

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Steubenville, Ohio: RE: Little guy who likes muffins.

Carrots, winter squash, oats, textured vegetable protein (TVP) could be added, Well-drained spinach but you might have to play with that one to get it right. Fruits of most kinds, too.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Steubenville. I like the idea of winter squash.

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Cauliflower: Makes a great chowder. Also it's wonderful mashed -- done well it tastes like mashed potatoes. Recently I dusted and cut up pieces with oil, curry power, salt and red pepper and roasted it.

It also works well with whole wheat pasta or in stews, esp. tagines.

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice indeed. Your second idea sounds like a variation on one of my favorites, mentioned earlier in the hour. Cheers.

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Sterling, Va.: Hey Kim. I LOVE pumpkin butter, but most of the varieties I've found contain a lot of added sugar. Do you have any suggestions for how to make a basic pumpkin butter at home? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Good question, and one I'll follow up on, Sterling. Stay tuned in coming days. Thanks for asking.

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DC: Hi-- just a comment to the frustrated mom in Bethesda. I am a long term vegetarian who is raising our son as a vegetarian. I found the book Raising Vegetarian Children (Stepniak/Melina) really great, despite my having been around the veg scene for a long time. Its aimed at a wide variety of parents-- those in both your and my situation, and has great recipes and ideas for making life with omnis easier for the veggies and vice versa. One thing to keep in mind is that this book contemplates raising strict vegetarian (vegan) kids, but isn't preachy to those who include dairy/eggs in their diet. I have to say kudos to you for being so supportive of them! Not all parents (mine included) have that capacity.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks so much for this tip, dear. Sounds like a great resource. I may have to get this myself.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi - Are there any healthier/lighter substitutions for shortening in recipes? Specifically trying to make a banana/apple bread that I'd like to lighten up ... Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I've successfully subbed applesauce for oil in baking, but haven't tried it with butter. Anyone out there who has?

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RE: Veggie Kids: My daughter -- now 17 -- stopped eating meat at age 10. This was great for me as a lifelong veggie who was caving in to pressure to serve meat. Just make wonderful vegetarian meals and they will come. They won't like everything but they will hopefully try enough to expand their tastes and before you know it they will be asking for roasted squash lasagna or black bean chili. Enjoy the bounty and feel good about your healthy new lifestyle.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your comment. It really does come down to food that is good -- and oh, it happens to be free of meat.

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Raleigh, N.C.: My au pair is a vegetarian, but my family is not. I'd love some ideas for yummy (and reasonably quick) veggie main dishes. There's only so much magic I can make with macaroni and cheese (even if it is homemade) and pasta!

Kim O'Donnel: This sounds like an opportunity for your family and au pair to learn from each other. Is she willing to learn and collaborate? That said, let's incorporate some lentils and other legumes into the diet so that everyone can be happy. First up: black bean quesadillas...

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NoLo, D.C.: Another great thing to do with celeriac is to julienne it raw and serve it in a remoulade (basically mayonnaise with mustard).

Hmm. Last night I had an extra egg yolk after using a white to help bread some goat cheese for frying, so I made a batch of mayonnaise that I couldn't decide how to use. I have a feeling I'll be picking up a celery root this afternoon at the 8th Street farmer's market!

Kim O'Donnel: Home made mayo is the only way to eat mayo, in my opinion. Sounds like you got dinner plans! Fennel would be nice as part this combo, too.

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Tailgater, D.C.: Hi Kim, I am hoping that you can help me ... I am an avid tailgater who specializes in breakfast. I've basically run the gamut of veg. breakfast items and I am looking for a dish that will WOW my game day buddies. The dish can either be made at home and reheated on the grill or better yet, it can be prepared at the game. Eggs and dairy are OK. Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: Got a cast-iron skillet? Make a frittata. Chop up all your veg before leaving home and keep in containers -- your choice of bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, herbs, cheese, even par-boiled diced potatoes. Olive oil in skillet. All vegg (hold off on herbs, cheese) go in to cook, season w/ salt and pepper. Pour in beaten eggs (estimate one per serving) and allow to set. Bring a lid to cover. Add shredeed cheese. Cut up like a pie. Serve with crusty hunks of bread.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: substitutions.

Apple sauce is good. Cut down on the extra sugars because it's sweet.

Earlier this week substituting with pumpkin or pureed black beans was mentioned (Lean Plate Club).

I've tried those, and my advice is don't waste your time and ingredients on them. The black beans in particular were terrible in my brownie mix!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in, Silver!

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Kid ideas: If they do cheese, there's always quesadillas and grilled cheese.

There's also eggs which you can do scrambled or omelettes with veggies.

Or try rice and other grain based dishes instead of pasta for a change. For my kids, I'll do a stir fry of several veggies and toss it on some brown rice or quinoa.

Kim O'Donnel: More goodies for the younger set. Many thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Cauliflower ideas --

- Gratinee the cauliflower with garlic, heavy cream, horseradish, and a topping of gruyere and bread crumbs

- Simmer with potatoes and sweated leeks and onions in a chicken stock; puree for a delicious, creamy soup. Add grated parmigiano-reggiano, sauteed wild mushrooms, or truffle oil to finish it off

- Chop finely and saute with bacon, onions, and kale; toss with orechiette

Kim O'Donnel: I love the idea of horseradish with cauli. Ooh, that sounds good, and it's so good for your lungs.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim! I'm in a salad dressing rut. Balsamic vinaigrette is a standard, and I've recently started experimenting with sherry vinegar instead of balsamic, and throwing some chopped shallots into the mix. Any other ideas for tasty homemade salad dressing?

Kim O'Donnel: Sherry vinegar is a nice option, glad you discovered it. I like sesame oil and rice wine, with some ginger, spritz of lime, even a little soy sauce as another option.

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B'more: About lightening up banana bread: My mother once accidentally omitted the butter entirely from our banana bread recipe...and it was great! We've never used it since, no substitution needed (ymmv, of course, depending on your recipe.)

Kim O'Donnel: good to know. Yeah, I've been tinkering lots w/ batters lately, using much less sugar than called for and pushing envelope with fats, so I agree, experiment and see what happens! Just take notes so you can repeat (or not) the next time.

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cauliflower: Thanks for all of the ideas! I've recently rediscovered it after having grown up with only boiled-to-death cauliflower. Now I've got a whole lot more ideas to try!

How about the same with broccoli?

Many thanks--

Kim O'Donnel: Well, brocc is a topic to be taken on next time we meet...or next Tuesday at noon, during the regular gig. It's already time to run, I'm afraid. Thanks for all the great cauli ideas and good cheer. I'm on Washington Post Radio tomorrow, by the way, at 2:20, feeding Sam Litzinger moron-proof applesauce with gingerbread. Type to you later. All best.

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