What's Cooking Vegetarian

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

Catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page. For daily dispatches from Kim's kitchen, check out her blog, A Mighty Appetite.

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Kim O'Donnel: Hello, and welcome to this month's confab on meat-free eating, cooking and shopping. In today's blog space, I compiled a list of intriguing vegetarian and vegan blogs, and I welcome you to add your faves and raves to the list. It's a big blogosphere out there, and it only keeps getting bigger. As a result, first-hand reports are particularly useful. Spring is slow to spring, but it's slowly showing its beautiful face, and I'm curious about what you're discovering at market and what you're waiting for with anticipation. Just think, Memorial Day weekend is just a month away! Summer, before you know it. And now, it's your turn. Tell me what's turning your bellies on.

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Dayton, Ohio: Kim -- how does one make vegetarian risotto? The vegetable broths I've purchased all taste fine in soup, but I don't know about using them in risotto -- they tasted too green and earthy. Is there a simple veg stock I can make at home that will work here? Or cut the broth 50-50 with a good crisp wine?

Kim O'Donnel: Funny, Dayton, was just making a veggie risotto last night, and made my own stock on the spot. You can put the dark part of cleaned leek into a pot, with some parsely sprigs and maybe a whole peeled clove of garlic, and add water to cover. Bring it up to a boil, then allow to simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes. If you want it to be sweeter, add a carrot. Celery can work, too. That wine will come in handy, though, at beginning, just after you've added rice. Add 1/2 cup and allow to boil off a bit, then start adding stock. P.S. I will detail my veggie risotto in blog next week.

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Baltimore, Md.: I'm in charge of organizing a picnic for 100 people this summer, and I need to plan a couple of vegan dishes (I'll be hiring a caterer, not cooking it myself). Last year we had baked beans and a pasta dish with a tomato sauce, in addition to the meat dishes. I'm looking for ideas for more interesting vegan dishes to serve on a hot summer day.

Kim O'Donnel: Gazpacho is a great dish for a large group and so cooling on a hot summer day. I might also consider veggie sandwiches, with a white bean spread and cukes, lettuces, or avocado...or hummus...or silken tofu that's whipped and seasoned with scallions and herbs. I love cold bean salad, either black eye peas or white beans, with any combo of summer veg, herbs, citrusy vinaigrette.

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The 30-Day Vegan from Reston, VA: What timing! Last week, a vegan work colleague of mine dared me to go vegan for 30 days, and I accepted the challenge. On Monday, I started a vegan diet. Being a huge lover of red meat, white meat, the other white meat and fish, this has been the single most difficult thing I have done. I feel like I am going through some detox phase only after 3 days. However,I have to say that completely going vegan has opened my eyes to a whole new culinary world of ingredients and prep methodologies and has more importantly given me pause to think about what actually goes into my body because I am now forced to read labels! This also offers me a great opportunity to challenge myself to make something of high quality with a artful presentation.

My wife and kids are a no-go on this, and since I am the chef in the family I make two styles of lunch and dinner every night. They end up eating my main course as sides. I truthfully can't say it's been fun yet, but continues to be an invaluable learning experience --something which has already made me a better chef at home and for my friends. Plus, I am also learning where the good vegetarian/vegan restaurants in the area are and will experience them as well ...

Kim O'Donnel: I think we need to talk. This would be a great blog post. E-mail me: kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com

And P.S.: A big A for effort. I think adventures like these are always eye opening.

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Washington, D.C.: Looking for good appetizers (vegetarian) to go with champagne? Any easy suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Sparkling wine, in my opinion, is one of the kindest, versatile bevs. It goes with everything, and is particularly useful when you want to do a app variety as you describe. How many folks are feeding?

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Washington, D.C. : A veggie What's Cooking, what a great idea! I hope it's the first of many. I've been an on again, off again vegetarian for years. Currently trying to keep 90 percent or so of my diet vegan. In front of me right now, I have a vegetarian plate from a well known downtown DC restaurant that's just blah! Aka, no butter or milk in the mashed potatoes, but no spices, herbs, substitutions either. Which "regular" restaurants in the D.C. area offer really good vegetarian options without loading dairy or fat?

Kim O'Donnel: Actually, the vegetarian version of this chat has been going strong since 2001! Glad you could join us. A good vegetarian friend who's married to a vegan loves Sunflower in Vienna. They eat there regularly. There's also Vegetate on 9th Street. These are decidedly veggie and vegan-friendly, tho. But I'm more comfortable deferring to food critic Tom Sietsema, whose ear is to the ground 24/7. Be sure to check in w/ him every Wednesday at 11am.

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Haymarket, Va.: Hello Kim,

I would like to ask if you have any menu/recipe suggestions for a family wanting to try a vegetarian diet for the month of May using fruits and vegetables in season. Thank you in advance we have cookbooks but nothing appealing.

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, a lot of veggie adventurers today! Very exciting. Yesterday's blog post on spring produce at farm markets includes a list of reliable books that are seasonally oriented. I would also look at the veggie blogs mentioned in today's blog, as many of them are updated daily and offer new ways to spice up the meatless table. Cheers, and keep me posted on this project.

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NYC: Vegan picnic idea

Why not a new potato salad with veganese or soy yougurt, green beans or fresh peas, sauteed onions, curry powder and some chopped jalepeno?

I am not a fan of mayo, but like veganese and make this version often, or mix with regular greek yougurt as I am not vegan, but it is tasty, filling, and different

Kim O'Donnel: The vegan picnic ideas are starting to roll in...you can also do a mustardy/olive oil potato salad, lots of lemon, scallions, herbs...

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Washington, D.C.: I have a great recipe for vegan corn fritters, but have one complaint. There really isn't a binding agent, and the fritters stay a little soft. Besides the veggies, the main ingredients are silken tofu and flour, I use spelt. Any suggestions to bind them a bit in a vegan way?

Kim O'Donnel: You may want to try those EggReplacers, which I know come in handy for fritters and other fried stuff. Other vegan binding thoughts for this reader?

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Washington, D.C.: To the person looking for veggie appetizers to go with champagne, white bean dips with herbs such as sage or thyme work really well, as to pates. A nice mushroom pate would work well.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed...I was also thinking of a blue cheese and walnut mix inside endive leaves...so glam...

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Washington, D.C.: Kim,

For the vegetarian risotto maker, I'd also add that your add-ins are really important. Finely slice some onion and caramelize the heck out of it. Stir your dry rice into that and cook for a minute, and then begin your deglazing and cooking. You'll get a lot of flavor there. Roasted garlic is another nice way to do that, but it should get added at the end.

Also, unless you're vegan, this is where the cheese is really important. Some very good parm will work wonders here.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for these great tips.

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For the Thirty Day Vegan: It's so funny he mentioned 'detox' because I decided to do a week-long vegan run myself. So far this has been my favorite recipe of the week. It's an African Peanut-Pineapple Stew from the Moosewood cookbooks.

1 cup chopped onions

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 bunch kale or Swiss chard (4 cups sliced)

2 cups undrained canned crushed pineapple (20-ounce can)

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 tablespoon Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

salt to taste

crushed skinless peanuts

chopped scallions

In a covered saucepan, saute' the onions and garlic in the oil for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned. While the onions saute', wash the kale or Swiss chard. Remove and discard the large stems and any blemished leaves. Stack the leaves on a cutting surface and slice crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices.

Add the pineapple and its juice to the onions and bring to a simmer. Stir in the kale or chard, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until just tender. Mix in the peanut butter, Tabasco, and cilantro and simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Kim O'Donnel: This sounds lovely. My producer has already requested that I make some of this, so stay tuned for details in blog. So, how did you do -- or you in the midst of your vegan run? Do tell.

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Washington, D.C.: Kim,

What do you think it will take to move vegan cooking/cuisine into the next level of visibility nationwide?

Respectfully,

Ahtoor Ahmee Oze

Soul Vegetarian Restaurants

Kim O'Donnel: I think vegan as a concept is still considered 'odd' compared to vegetarian. There are now tons of places in New York to get a vegan fix, and that's where trends always begin. There are tons of vegan bakeries now. MOre and more people are eating meatfree for health reasons. That's what will pull people away from meat.

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Champagne apps:- Almonds - especially the marcona variety with rosemary

- Anything vaguely Mexican - the bubbles match with the heat quite nicely

- Almost anything in a phyllo crust or fried breading - texture of bubbly goes great there. You can do cheese, spinach/feta, mushrooms, tempura-inspired things (but no sweet sauce), etc.

Kim O'Donnel: More goodies -- thanks!

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Ayurvedic Cooking Resources: Hi Kim: I'm interested in Ayurvedic Cooking Resources -- authors, cookbooks, Web sites. Whatever you and the wisdom of this chat can offer. My husband is veggie with a sensitive tummy and therefore a very picky eater. And I understand from a brief mention in this month's Yoga Journal that Ayurvedic has foods/recipes that it considers "highly digestable" and I'm curious to learn more and if this would help my husband. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Are you in DC? I know of an Ayurvedic lecture in May, given by one of my yoga teachers who's in the midst of an intensive course. Her focus will be on diet. Let me know if you're in the area.

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Veggie pizza: A follow-up to your Tuesday chat -- I asked you about making veggie pizza (whether to cook the zucchini and eggplant ahead) and I wanted to let you know I made it on Tuesday evening and it was great! And EASY! I used a Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough, put pesto (store-bought) on the crust, topped with slices of eggplant and zucchini (which I had grilled for about ten minutes with olive oil, salt, and pepper), and then scattered some chopped tomatoes on top. Sprinkled parmesan and baked, and it was great! I will be making this over the summer again!

Kim O'Donnel: Terrific. Glad it worked out for you.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Caramelized onions in risotto. Caramelized onions are a staple for me in my cooking. It adds flavor to just about every savory dish. Caramelizing the heck out of an onion can be time consuming (low flame), so I often do a big batch and store them in the fridge. They generally last 5-7 days that way and it can really cut down on cooking time, which can be my biggest frustration in cooking vegan.

Kim O'Donnel: Good tip, dear. That's the spirit.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello, Kim.

I would love to incorporate more vegetables into my cooking, but it's hard to cook that way when my Significant Other is more of a meat and potato guy. He even gets this "ewww" look on his face when I cook anything green! The only time I've seen him eat green veggies is when his mom cooks collards. Are there any veggie recipies you can recommend that can tempt my finicky carnivore?

Kim O'Donnel: This is a tough one. My first inclination is to drag him with you to the farm market and let him see how beautiful just-picked produce is. What if you tried to sneak it in -- like in a veg fried rice? Or in an omelette? Or in pasta sauce?

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Salads: So now that the stores are filling up with delicious veg (and now that my master's thesis junk food binge is over), I'm craving salad.

But I'm in a bit of a salad rut. Lettuce, maybe chopped bell pepper, mushrooms, green onions, olives, and artichoke or avocado with garlic mustard or balsamic vinegrette. That's the standard.

Any ideas for other composed salads? Something low on the cal side -- I have to lose those stress-eating pounds ...

Kim O'Donnel: Radishes. Asparagus tips. Grated carrot and/or horseradish. Endive. Watercress. Leeks in the vinaigrette. Herbs like chervil or parsley mixed with greens.

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Utica, N.Y.: Champagne App:

Consider a vegetarian nori roll. This gives you a wide spectrum of ingredients ... and the finished apps can be a work of art!

Kim O'Donnel: Nice one.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim ... I think it's really cool that you're doing a vegetarian chat! Although I'm not a vegetarian (sorry ... love the meats!) I do a lot of experimentation with vegetarian-friendly dishes as I am a professional chef. I cannot stress that mushrooms are probably THE most versatile of vegetables to have fun with ... I've even had success with doing mushroom pastas, both as stuffings for ravioli and in the pasta itself, in polenta, and, of course, the ever-popular portobello burger. I encourage all of your chatters to have fun with the abundance of mushroom varieties that are available ... only limited by your imagination.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Alex chef, I'm an omnivore, too, and wish I could enjoy mushrooms, but I've got a darned allergy. However, to me, beans are the saving grace. I recently discovered an online source heirloom beans that are just out of sight. I've been cooking them like crazy and plan to order more. I've found that because I like the taste so much I'm discovering all kinds of ways of incorporating them into the weekly menus. Thanks for chiming in. And P.S.: The mushroom lady, who sells at several farm markets in the area, has amazing fungi!

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CSA veggies: Hi Kim,

We've signed up for a full share with a CSA (community supported agriculture), but it is just my husband and I (they estimate it feeding a family of four and the baby isn't on solids yet). Any thoughts on how we can use what comes each week and still have a balanced diet?

Kim O'Donnel: Having a CSA is a commitment but an exciting adventure. I would take it slow and try not to be too ambitious...don't fret if you don't use all of it. Maybe you've got a number who'd like a third and everyone can benefit? That said, I'm betting your CSA offers recipes in your weekly box. Many of them do that or have a blog with the many ways to prepare your loot. Enjoy!

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Susquehanna Twp, Pa.: The vegetarian risotto question reminded me I haven't made Butternut Squash Risotto for almost a year. I used vegetable stock, plus water to cook squash in the crockpot, then pureed until smooth, then used that as the liquid for risotto.

Kim O'Donnel: Aha. You may need to wait til fall for the next batch, tho! How does leek and green garlic risotto sound to you?

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Vegan Wedding: Okay Kim (and chatters) -- my vegan daughter got engaged (yeah!) but now that means a full-fledged vegan wedding. Besides pita and hummus, chps and salsa, I'll need a lot of ideas ... thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Look at some of the ideas being floated for vegan picnics and veggie champagne apps posted earlier in the hour. How big is the party? Are you doing the food or are you hiring someone?

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Omnivore in B'more: For the chatter whose SO is hesitant to try new vegetables, I would suggest checking out this blog:

The Great Big Vegetable Challenge

Not sure if you mentioned it in your blog, but the blogger, a woman in the U.K., has challenged her son, Freddie, to eat his way through the alphabet in vegetables. I eat primarily vegetables and grains, but am not a big fan of certain veggies (beets come to mind), but am inspired to try several of the recipes.

Thanks for the chats.

Kim O'Donnel: I did mention this blog! Great idea to mention in this context. Thanks, Balto.

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Washington, D.C.: For the Meat and Potatoes Man --

In past I've had groups of friends who had vegans in them, and hard core carnivores. In trying to find ways to please both at a dinner party, I found I generally had to make dishes that were somewhat calorically heavy so the meat eaters would feel satiated. Lasagna is good for that. Dean Ornish used to have a great wild mushroom and eggplant lasagna that I could give my biggest meat and potato fan.

Kim O'Donnel: And then there's the Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson that speaks to this group as well...

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Picnic ideas: Udon noodle salad with scallions, golden tofu (that is, sauteed tofu) and peanut-chili sauce (mild or spicy).

Tomato, cucumber and chick pea salad with balsamic vinegar and fresh mint.

Wild rice salad with mandarin slices, toasted almonds and fresh herbs, dressed with a champagne-mustard vinagrette.

None of these should be too hard for a caterer to pull off.

Kim O'Donnel: All of these are terrific ideas. Hope the mother of the vegan bride is still around...

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Warrenton, Va.: I'm so glad to find this discussion today! I have some tofu that I need to use up tonight, and I don't have much experience cooking with tofu. So far, I've done only Chinese type stir fries. But I'm wondering if it would work in a Mexican dish -- say line juice and cilantro marinade, pan fry, and then wrap in a tortilla with onions, peppers, salsa, and avocado? The avocado is the other ingredient I need to use up, so if this is not a good idea, could you suggest something else to use tofu and avocado? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Absolutely. This sounds scrumptious. I might spice it up with chiles, too! Let me know how it goes.

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Washington, D.C.: Kim -- what's the online source for those awesome beans? I want to give them a try!

Kim O'Donnel: Check out a recent blog entry on Steve Sando and his Rancho Gordo beans. His site: www.ranchogordo.com

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Washington, D.C. -- Salads: I like a nice salad of napa cabbage, diakon radish, shiitake mushroom, tomatoes, some kind of green, tofu with a dressing of mirin, vinegar and a little sesame oil. Because there's so much flavor in the oil, a little goes a long way.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent tips, dear. I love a sesame dressing as well.

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Arlington, Va.: Just a comment, my husband couldn't care less about what he eats. I've tried to get him more interested in food following some of the suggestions I've seen on this chat. Cooking together? nope. not interest. going to the farmers market? nope. not interested. can he taste the difference between the "good" stuff & pre packaged? nope. not really. after several years I have decided to DROP IT. he is the way he is. I try to encourage him to eat better but that is it.

Kim O'Donnel: Wow. I'm sorry. How's his health? Is that an angle you can take?

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Re: Vegan Wedding: I'll probably do some and have some catered. I think "sticky fingers" can do the wedding cake. I wonder if Sunflower in Vienna, Va., (saw on another post here today) does some catering or at least offers items I can purchase. Size of event: prob 75-100. And I did check out the other ideas here today, printing the entire chat and will highlight the ideas. Thanks loads!

Kim O'Donnel: I would def. check Sunflower as a possibility, but also explore Teaism, which has lots of veggie-friendly menu options a catering office. Lebanese Taverna also offers tons of veggie and vegan choices.

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Suggestion for CSA bounty: In years past, when I couldn't use all the veggies in the weekly CSA, I would make a pureed veggie soup and freeze it. The recipe is really easy, just sautee an onion, chop a potato, throw with the veggies and some spices (garlic, salt, pepper, etc), add stock or water to cover and cook until soft. I puree with my stick blender and put into tupperware. It freezes well and you get a different flavor every time depending on what veggies you used.

Kim O'Donnel: Great idea. Thanks for chiming in!

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Fairfax Va: For the Vegan wedding planner, my cousin used Soul Vegetarian Catering.. they are fully vegan and they are great. I think you can find their information online but they are dc based and have done a ton of weddings. For the person wanting to use the tofu in a mexican dish, the key with tofu is marinate, marinate and marinate. if you marinate your tofu in your spices and/or liquids at least 10 minutes beforehand (taking care to press out most of the water before you do) it gives your flavors a whole different level of pop! I recommend it.

Kim O'Donnel: And another vegan catering option... good stuff.

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Re: Mother of Bride: Chandra Moskowitz, a vegan dessert chef in NY, was recently featured in a NYT (sorry) article. I think she not only gave away a few recipes for her baked goodies, but was writing a book. As you see my memory is fuzzy but you may want to take a shot at googling it for ideas.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, I'm eager to get my hands on this book. Have heard many good things. Thanks!

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DC re grated horseradish: Wow - I never heard of grating horseradish onto or into

anything! Do you mean the raw stuff, or spooining it out of a

bottle? If you mean the raw stuff, please offer other uses, too

and a hint of what else it tastes like, if anything!

Kim O'Donnel: Well, when it's available, I buy fresh, and grate just a wee bit. I even grated it into mango puree recently, as part of a salad.

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Salads: I just made this salad on Sunday and it was a big hit! Got it from the Cook's Illustrated group-

Balsamic- cooked and glazed pears, goat cheese, toasted sliced almonds, frisee (I used a spring green mix), green leaf lettuce in a balsamic, veg oil and garlic dressing.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for adding to this thread...I love roasted pears. In summer, try this with roasted peaches...glorious.

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Kim O'Donnel: Hey, I gotta run. Lots of good threads today. We'll do this again the last Thursday of May, just as summer kicks off. In the meantime, talk to me on Tuesdays or every day at A Mighty Appetite. all best.

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