What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Thursday, March 29, 2007; 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.

You may submit a question before or during the show.

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


Kim O'Donnel: It is a beautiful spring day here in Washington, and my sinuses are going bonkers. Welcome to the spring party, people! Pollen aside, spring is exhilarating, brimming with possibilities. Slowly but surely, those early crops will make their debut, and best place to keep tabs is your local farm market. This weekend, lots of folks will be making preparations for Monday and Tuesday night seder dinners, which overlaps slightly with days leading up to Easter. And then of course, there's April Fool's Day on Sunday, and I'm thinking a fruit fool would be most appropriate (hint: check tomorrow's blog for the foolish details...) And now, let's hear your veggie-licious thoughts...


Midwest: Can you recommend any great grilled veggie recipes now that the weather is finally warming up? (Anyhting but meat is ok.) I'm tired of the same old grilled portobellos and pepper/onion/zucchini mix.

Kim O'Donnel: I highly recommend you get a copy of "The Vegetarian Grill" by Andrea Chesman. She's got tons of ideas -- grilled fennel and okra, for starters -- and goes way beyond the skewered approach.


Adams Morgan: I'm a long-time veg just diagnosed with celiac (can't tolerate gluten). This should be no problem at home, and I'm not even concerned about restaurants, where I'm used to asking questions and negotiating ingredients.

I am concerned about eating at other people's houses. I have always said, I'm veg, can I bring something?, but usually hosts decline and go out of their way to make a veg meal. I hate the idea of listing all the things I now can't eat--it seems so ungrateful--esp since pasta, bread, soy sauce (which all have gluten) etc are such common ingredients. Any suggestions about handling this suavely for a night or a week at somebody else's home? thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I would definitely let your hosts know that you have celiac, which is no joke. This autoimmune disease is worlds apart from dietary preferences. If they're good friends, they'll understand, and I'd work on collaboration. I can't imagine someone saying no after hearing of your news. Good luck.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Kim!

Thanks for all your wonderful work! The last time I cooked black beans, I saved and froze the bean-cooking water because I keep reading (in Madhur Jaffrey, Mark Bittman, etc.) that it has valuable cooking uses... But, well, what are they? I thought of risotto (because I'm reluctant to use up my dwindling supply of veggie stock), but black bean flavor... risotto... it didn't seem right. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, pot liquor is great for cooking hearty greens, such as kale, collards, mustard...and would be useful in soups, too.


Bridal Shower Brunch: I'm cooking for a friend's bridal shower brunch on Sunday. Most of us who will be attending don't eat meat (but milk/eggs are definitely OK). I'm thinking a few frittatas or stratas. If the brunch is at 1:00 on Sunday, will I have best results with making the frittatas Sunday morning, or could I make them on Saturday and refrigerate over night? Or am I just better off preparing stratas Saturday, and baking them Sunday morning. I'm thinking maybe one with spinach & gruyere, one with potatoes (& maybe rosemary - not sure what cheese if any). Do you have any other ideas on good combinations to use? Or maybe some easy sides to go with the egg dishes?

Kim O'Donnel: Don't know how many guests you've got, but frittatas are pretty easy to put together; you can have two pans going in less than an hour. Stratas are definitely heavier, with lots cream, just fyi. Regardless of what you decide, I like all your combos, but a few more to consider are: leeks, mushrooms, fresh herbs, shallots, red bell pepper, asparagus tips...


Washington, D.C.: This is somewhat off-topic, but I have a question about preparing kosher foods. We are invited to a Passover celebration and have been invited to bring a kosher, unleavened dish to share. I found a good recipe online, but have a question about the food prep. We are not Jewish, so do not keep a Kosher kitchen and as I understand it, if our utensils and cookware have touched both meat and cheese (which I'm sure ours have), then they are no longer kosher. In order to prepare a kosher dish, should I purchase new utensils and cookware?

Kim O'Donnel: I'm assuming your friends know you're not Jewish and furthermore, don't expect you to follow strict Kosher standards vis a vis utensils and cookware. But what I'd do first, in your shoes, is to talk this thru with your pals. You may be putting more pressure on yourself than is necessary.


Up North: Hi Kim-

I would like to be vegan, or at least vegetarian--I don't like being sustained by animals. My problem is that, in the past, I couldn't sustain a healthy weight, even as a vegetarian. It doesn't matter how much I eat, or how much vegetable-based protein I get--no meat = skeletor. My question is for the vegans in this chat--did any of you have this problem, and what did you do with your diets to rectify the situation?

Kim O'Donnel: Hard to say, without knowing your activity level, your average intake and overall health. But let's ask other vegetarians in a similar boat...


Colorado Springs, CO: Kim - My husband is the cook in our family. I love aspargus (Thanks for the other day), but he does not know how to cook it except in one of those tall skinny things (sorry for being culinary illiterate) which we do not have.

Is there an easy way to steam it?

Kim O'Donnel: You can steam asparagus in the microwave, for starters. Or you can pick yourself up a bamboo or collapsible metal steamer that you place over a pot with an inch of water. But if you love the 'gus, why don't you guys try roasting it in a pan at 400 degrees? So good and easy.


Veggies on the Grill: Quick suggestions:

Acorn squash, brushed with EVOO, grilled cut side down for 20-30 minutes (until mostly tender), flip, fill reservoir with a mixture of butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Grill for another 5 minutes.

Any kind of fruit is good -- cut peaches, plums, apples. Just cut in half and place on the grill -- use foil to prevent sticking.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice, and I'll add sweet potatoes to this mix...


NW DC: Kim, we are joining in a relaxed breakfast with friends on Sunday, and have volunteered to bring some egg-based item to supplement other sweeter offerings. What can we pull together that can be done in advance with maybe a quick oven re-heat, that does not contain any dairy besides cheddar cheese (it's been a whole new world for some of our lactose-intolerant friends since they discovered they can tolerate the very low levels in some cheddar cheeses out there). Is a frittata possible or would that not keep well? What about a quiche with no dairy?

Kim O'Donnel: A frittata need not have any cheese whatsoever. Usually all I do is sprinkle some grated parm on top, and that's it. This could be a good option for you guys.


Re: Vegetarian Grills: I would like say that in addition to the tried and boring vege skewer the Midwest poster might consider making tandoori paneer, roasted polenta, stuffed zuchinni and veggie kabobs made of sweet potatoes, as options. Happy grilling!

Kim O'Donnel: All terrific ideas! And I love grilling marinated tofu on skewers, too.


Madison, WI: Hi Kim! My boyfriend, who has an appetite like a garbage disposal (though slightly more discriminating) needs to eat a fat-free meal tonight in preparation for a medical test tomorrow morning. We are fit and active people who love to cook, so normally I don't think twice about a glug of olive oil here or a pat of butter here. Now that they are not options, however, I can't think what on earth we can eat that will be filling enough for him and not too bland. Any brilliant ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: A baked sweet potato, with garlic and chiles, is totally fat free and would fill him up nicely. Make him a fruit salad for dessert.


RE: Up North: Protein, protein, protein! Try soy protein shakes and mix them up with bananas for extra nutrients and calories. Also, if your muscle mass is low, you may want to consider weight training to tone or bulk up a little. As we age, we all lose muscle mass, so start now to increase and maintain yours. It doesn't sound like your problem is a vegetarian one; you may just have a high metabolism and are prone to being slim, no matter what you eat. Definitely try to build the muscles up.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's one take on the skinny vegetarian...


20010: Vegan here. Responding to "Skeletor". I've had hypothyroidism since I was 14 (underactive thyroid) and have never any problems keeping on the pounds. Can't say I have too many vegan friends who have your problem.

Solution: Lots of body builders/fitness geeks are vegan. Some of the body building shakes are made with soy protein and are vegan. I forget which ones, but you'd probably find them online. Those will probably add some pounds on.

Kim O'Donnel: And another...


Veggies on grill: I grill everything that goes into my ratatouille, except the tomatoes and herbs - that's eggplant, onions, zucchini, yellow squash. Uses less oil, gives them a great taste, and cuts down on the heat in the kitchen.

Kim O'Donnel: Terrific idea. Grill some flat bread, and you've got the makings of a whole meal...


Washington, D.C.: Hey, Kim! I'm trying to eat more lentils, recognizing that they're good for me. However, how do I know what kind/color to use when a recipe just calls for "lentils" and gives no hint of detail? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm...I suppose it would be green or brown, but gee, there are so many varieties of lentils, which figure prominently into the cuisines in so many other parts of the world besides this one. Do you have a specific recipe in mind? Holler if you can.


Alexandria, VA: Great grilled veggie idea - grilled lettuce. Use romaine, endive and raddicho - cut in half or quarters (leave bottoms on so they don't fall apart) drizzle with EVOO, salt and pepper and grill for 2-3 minutes per side, until they just begin to wilt. Then cut into bite-sized pieces, drizzle with a little more EVOO and balsamic vinegar. Delicious!!!!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed! I'm with you, Alex. This idea was mentioned in Tuesday's chat, specifically for bok choy.


Silver Spring: Hi Kim,

Do you have any suggestions for a recipe for pesto that doesn't use nuts/legumes? I have an allergy but was looking to try to make it for the first time. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Just leave the nuts out of that pesto, dear, and don't even worry about it. Are you allergic to all nuts?


Asparagus Lover in Arlington: Try grilling asparagus - yum!

Also, I usually boil mine in a large skillet. It only takes 5 minutes (or less) after the water comes to a boil. Remove it with tongs and garnish as you please. The key is to not over cook it and it will remain a little crispy. You can also add fresh herbs to your boiling water for a more flavorful asparagus. There's absolutely no need for one of those fancy asparagus cookers.

Kim O'Donnel: Good point, on how little time it takes to boil up some 'gus. Hopefully this will help our reader in Colorado...


Atlanta: I'm on a viciously tedious cycle of the same old things for dinner every night. As the only vegetarian in my family, and as the primary cook for reluctant "evening only vegetarians", I'm looking for some new ideas. If my family could eat chicken nuggets and corn every night they'd probably be in heaven, so I can't go too far out. For now, we eat pasta, vegetarian tacos, veggies and a protein, breakfast foods and pizza. So uninspired I'm embarrassed to see it listed out...

Kim O'Donnel: You need some group activities...for pizza, make your own dough. Try some egg dishes, like a frittata, and get the others to help chopping. Try some grilled combos, such as those suggested earlier in the hour. Beans and rice can be filling for burritos...or what about enchiladas? If you guys like pasta, check out Jack Bishop's books, which are veggie focused and offer tons of ideas.



Hi Kim, I love your chats, follow them every week, this is the first time I'm posting a query though!

We're going to the Kite festival this weekend, I want to take some make-ahead vegetarian picnic food. Any suggestions? I'm doing a PBJ for my 3 year old, but need something better for us much older people!


Kim O'Donnel: You could do some hummus and veg like radishes, carrots, romaine and wrap in a pita or lavash. Avocado sandwiches with red onion, hot sauce, and some hearty greens, on your favorite bread. You could make a pizza night before and take along cold, which is often my preferred way to eat it...


Arlington, VA: After years of being halfway through a cheeseburger on a Friday during Lent, my husband decided to give up meat for Lent. This is the second time he's done this; the first was a disaster because he hated everything I made for dinner. This time around, I made him be in charge. Although "vegetarian," in the sense that they lacked any animal proteins, I wouldn't exactly say our meals were full of vegetables. I think that I'd like to pursue a veggie-friendly diet (at least Monday-through-Friday), but it is hard to get him enthused about actual vegetables. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: This is a scenario I hear about more and more -- people who just aren't excited by vegetables. I'm always perplexed when I hear this, but one way to get excited by veggies is to go see how beautiful they are at your farm market. Take him with you! Short of that field trip, start integrating veggies into pasta, rice, even into eggs. Gradual is better than none at all.


Re: Skeletor: Don't be afraid of healthy, whole-food fats! Avocado on salads or in smoothies, olive oil, nut butters and seeds are all calorie dense and good for you. You'll be upping your intake of grains and greens anyway and cutting back on pizza and fries (hopefully), so it'll balance out. As a lifelong stick, I was very happy when I actually gained 5 pounds when i went vegan.

I'll also echo the comments recommending strength training. It'll increase your appetite and smooth out your revved up metabolism.

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


to Skeletor: nuts, nut butters, whole grains, olives, beans, dried fruit. All are calorie dense foods. Also, eat skim milk products (yogurt is excellent, but make it something like Stoneyfield that is low in sugar, high in probiotics and no animal hormones) and egg white omelets cooked in olive oil. I am a marathoner and former professional soccer player who has been a veg. since high school and keeping weight and muscle mass is not an issue. You do not want to fall into the habit of eating lots of unhealthy fats and low fiber carbs to keep weight on--you can do this!

Kim O'Donnel: More good counsel...


Grilling fruit in Alexandria, VA: Grilled mangos...ohhh, soo good. Topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream...even better!

Kim O'Donnel: Lovely! I will remember this next time...if I can wait that long to eat my beloved mango...


Glover Park, DC: When does okra come into season? I'm hoping to fry some up for a dinner in April...

Kim O'Donnel: In these parts? Not til mid/late summer...You will probably start seeing it come in from down south later this spring.


Beltsville, MD: I'm getting married on Easter Sunday. About 5-6 of my 25 guests are vegetarian. Can you suggest some easy make-ahead brunch dishes that I could have for vegetarians? The rest of the menu includes antipasto (vegie and meat), poached salmon, ham, aspargus, potato salad, sugar snap pea salad (if I can find some), tossed salad, and rolls/muffins.

I was thinking about making some lemon orzo with wilted baby spinach, feta cheese, and pine nuts.

Any other ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: First of all, congratulations! I had about the same number of vegetarians at my wedding fete recently. I like the idea of lemon orzo...You could aslo do something like zucchini boats, with tomato filling or with tapenade...stuffed peppers...


Asparagus in Dallas, Tex: For a treat with asparagus: blanch it, cool it in an ice bath for a few minutes, sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper, drizzle on some aged balsamic, and sprinkle with lemon zest. You'll be going back for more!!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, I agree, the simpler the better when it comes to asparagus. cheers.


For the veg wannabe who may not like vegs: When I became a vegetarian 10 years ago, people were shocked because "I didn't like vegetables!". It was a rocky transition, because while I liked some vegetables, I certainly didn't like many. So what I started doing was focusing on the vegetables I did like, in the kinds of dishes I liked (e.g., stir fry) and then experimented with adding other veggies. Fast forward 10 years and there are loads of veggies I now LOVE that I couldn't stomach before...and there are still some veggies I will never ever like. How anyone eats mushrooms, eggplant or squash is beyond me! Don't feel like you have to love all of them to be a vegetarian, and be willing to try new ones regularly. You may also find you like some veggies prepared one way but not another (e.g., raw but not cooked...that's how I like spinach) and that's okay.

Kim O'Donnel: Great advice for someone transitioning into a meatfree diet. Making this choice requires more creativity and planning, which may seem daunting at first.


Ny_NY: Motivated by the warm weather that we even had up here in NY, I decided to make a curry potato salad. I make a lot of indian food (veggie) generally so I have enough technique down to improv..

I boiled some potatos (new) and chilled over night. Yesterday I carmelized small slices of onion in some mustard oil and bay leaf and and added some brown mustard seeds and Kajoni (sp) and then tossed in some cut green beans and a jalepeno until crisp tender. I then added some homemade curry and a little salt. I mixed the potatos with some mediterrian style yogurt and then once the veggies cooled a little, mixed it in and chilled further. I also added some chopped hardboiled egg, but it is just as tasty without.. Eating it for lunch at my desk and it is faboo.

So glad warmer weather is here!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for sharing your lunch with us today, New York! Keep up the good work.


Intrigued: Can I ask for more info on the lemon orzo and zucchini boats? They sound like two great dishes for someone trying to do more veggies.

Kim O'Donnel: I'll leave the lemon orzo to the reader who suggested it, but the zuke boats I can speak to. Slice zucchini in half, lengthwise, and scoop out some of the flesh. Inside you can fill with breadcrumbs, herbs, garlic, shallots, chopped tomatoes...or you could try a pine nut thing, with tapenade and roasted peppers...cook in a 350 oven until fork tender.


Round Hill, VA: To Bridal Shower Brunch, I would recommend Sleep on It by Carol Gordon (you can find it on Amazon). It has a number of recipes for brunch dishes that can be prepared the night before. It has saved me many times.

Thanks for the great column Kim.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice tip, Round Hill. I'll have to check this one out.


fake meat: Hi Kim.

I'm looking for some good recipes to make my own veggie sausage, chick, bacon or other types of veggie "meats." Do you have any, or could you refer me to a good cookbook and/or web site?

Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: Off the top of my head, I don't know of a resource with tips on making your own faux meat. And I'm sorry to say I've never tested doing so. Let's ask others who may have tried this...


Re: Dietary Restriction: I would encourage the person to be open with their friends. I am fructose intolerant and there is a long list of fruits/veggies/ other food I can't have. Our friends have been great. Most will set aside a small amount of whatever they're making so its free of the items I can't have. People tend to be very understanding.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, communication is key here. It's your health, after all!


Arlington, VA: Can falafel be made and still taste okay without frying in an inch or two of oil? I'm thinking of either stir-frying or oven cooking them. I just hate getting burned by the splattering oil.

Kim O'Donnel: Honestly, if you stir fry your falafel, chances are greater of getting burned than by deep frying. Use a deep enough pan that minimizes the potential, and perhaps get yourself a long set of tongs to keep your hands at bay.


Portland, OR: Sweet potatoes with garlic and chiles? YUM! What kind of chiles?

Kim O'Donnel: Any old kind you like...whatever makes you happy.


Beltsville, MD: Thanks, Kim. That's right, you just got married too! Congratulations to you too!

I am thinking about sticking with the lemon orzo, just because it is so simple. Do you think that I can make this the day before and serve it at chilled or at room temperature? I am worried that the spinach will be complete brown.

Kim O'Donnel: I would cook spinach that morning, if possible...OR...do the lemon part that morning...


Kim O'Donnel: Hey, it's already time to go. Thanks for checking in and offering your good will to those in need of fresh ideas and ways of doing things. Take good care, and come visit me in the blog space in the meantime. Bye!


fake meat: Check out the book 'Vegan with a Vengeance'. It has recipes for TVP chorizo, tempeh bacon, tempeh sausage crumbles, and seitan, among others. And really, the whole book is terrific.

Kim O'Donnel: ah bueno! this is second time i've heard good things about this title. i must get my hands on it. Now, I'm really going...


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