What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 28, 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.


Kim O'Donnel: Hello out there! Welcome to my monthly special on meatless eating, cooking and shopping. It's official; summer is here, and I trust that you're taking advantage of the bounty of fruits and veg that keep on comin' on for the next bunch of months. Great time of year (and so easy) to do without meat. In fact, just last night, I was whipping up a batch of yellow snap beans, and at first thinking hey, maybe I'll add some crisped bacon to the mix. But instead, I chose a handful of toasted walnuts, and it was a wonderful substitute. So, did anyone see the results of PETA's sexiest vegetarian poll? Looks like Kevin Eubanks from the Leno show and Carrie Underwood (of Idol fame) got first place. It got me thinking not so much about whether I think these celebrities are sexy, but instead another question: Are vegetarians sexier than omnivores? Can one's diet ultimately impact one's sex appeal? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding requests for recipes for singles -- try www.shortorder.tv -- 3 minute-meals for one. The recipes are all/mostly vegetarian (pescetarian), and they're healthy too!

Kim O'Donnel: I'll have to check this out. Reader is referring to a recent blog post on cooking for one. Thanks for chiming in.


Arlington, Va.: Need a quick hummus fix without getting the blender out?

Get the already pureed chickpeas in a can-usually found at most middle eastern stores. Just add the usual: salt, pepper, tahini and some yogurt to thin out the paste. Pour out in a plate and add the olive oil (use a spoon to make a circular levee around the hummus and add the oil). One time I ran out of yogurt but had Lebnah (yogurt cheese spread). That actually works better. Just add to your taste. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting tidbits. I've not tried the pureed chickpeas. Do you find it saltier than usual?


San Francisco, Calif.: Could you exlain how to store feta so it will last longer in the fridge? I've asked my Greek friends, but it seems to be a secret.


Kim O'Donnel: I got a container of feta in my fridge right now, and it's sitting halfway in water, which seems to help. Do you just have it wrapped in plastic? Yeah, that stuff gets skunky real fast.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Hi, Kim:

While I can read a cookbook and work from one, I'd like to learn to cook vegetarian in a hands-on atmosphere, preferably with a nutritional rather than a culinary focus. (Although I want it to taste good, too!) Can you suggest any D.C.-area cooking classes or nearby weekend programs that could get me started? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: You should get in touch with Mimi Clark, a cooking teacher in Fairfax, Va. Her whole shtick is meatless, often vegan. I also know of a guy name Shepherd Faught, who occasionally teaches classes at local yoga studios. Don't know if he's got a Web site, though.


Organic Gal: Hi Kim! I've been craving creative salads this summer. Rice salads, Soba noodles with peanut butter-y dressing and lots of veggies -- that sort of thing. I currently have couscous and garbanzo beans in my pantry, and want to do something with those. But everything I find has raisins or currants or dried cranberries or the like in it. I'm looking for something savory, fruit-free. Got any good ideas for me? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I hear you, OG. Get a lemon. Zest it and squeeze it nice and good, add the juice with olive oil over that cooked couscous. You'll need a chopped red onion, some chopped garlic or shallots. I'd add diced cuke, some red bell pepper, a little feta, and plenty of herbs. Parsley, mint, basil.


Kevin Eubanks: Is sexy because he works out and has a mischevious smile. Being a vegetarian is just a bonus.

Kim O'Donnel: A writer on EW online thinks just the opposite and wonders what is so sexy about Eubanks...


Brownsburg, Ind.:

I tried veggie-converting a tried-and-true smoked pork stirfry recipe a couple of weeks ago. In the original, you simmered a chunk of pork shoulder with a smattering of amoratics until nearly cooked through, then smoked it over tea leaves, raw rice, brown sugar and a couple of star anise. Then you made the stir-fry with usual stir-fry veggies, the pork and a spicy-sweet sauce. The smoking made the pork taste almost caramelly.

Two weeks ago, I subbed out a block of tofu for the pork, skipped the simmering and forged ahead otherwise. The smoked tofu tasted like an ashtray. I pressed the tofu, but didn't marinate it.

What can I do to the tofu to make it produce its own fabulous synergistic flavor in contact with the smoke? Should I ditch tofu in favor of another stir-fry-able vegetarian protein?

I realize I talked an awful lot about meat for a vegetarian chat, but Mr. Hoosier and I are trying to go mammal-tarian and I'm trying to make over our favorite meaty recipes. So if you take the question, thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting question, Brownsburg. I think you might be a candidate for tempeh, which is fermented soybeans and has a smoky flavor to begin with. I think it might hold up to the sauce, too.


Butter Substitution in Cookies: Kim,

My husband loves the vanilla bean sugar cookies I make from a recipe.

This recipe calls for both shortening and unsalted butter. My guy, who is trying to lay off dairy products, asked if I could substitute more shortening for the butter in the recipe. Do you think this would work? And, if so, what proportions do you recommend?

Many thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I've heard good things about Earth Balance shortening, which is made from a blend of oils. I am about to experiment with it later this week. As for subs, maybe other folks can chime in?


Herbs: Hi Kim -- I'm growing herbs for the first time and I need some inspiration. I have rosemary, thyme, mint, basil and sage. I'm all over the pesto and am doing pasta with browned butter and sage. Any other good summery herby ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: The fact that you're growing herbs for the first time is very inspiring in and of itself! I remember similar feelings the first year I grew herbs. It takes practice. Don't sweat it if you don't use them constantly. Basil and mint are wonderful just before serving -- with cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, snap beans, withe berries, peaches, melon.


Are vegetarians sexier?: I'm a vegetarian and my husband is not. Yet he asked for a subscription to Vegetarian Times so he could cook better since we eat vegetarian at home. he plans our meals. He carefully scouts out restaurants that are veggie-friendly, and he even planned a stay at a vegan B&B. His effort and respect of my beliefs are sexy, even though he's not a vegetarian!

Kim O'Donnel: A big high-five to your man. VEG-SEXY, baby!


Okla.: I have eight eggwhites left over from making creme brulee for a little girl having her tonsils out. It is really damp here from all the rain, so I don't think a meringue type thing which is what I would usually make would work well today. Do you have any ideas? Could I make a veggie fritatta with just the whites?

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. I know an omelette would work no prob. Not so sure if the egg whites alone would translate as well in a frittata which requires some baking. No matter what you do, you'll need lots of veg for flavor and texture. Alternatively, you could do an angel food cake!


20010: Smokey pork stand-in:

I'd go with seitan -- it has a pork like quality to it. A lot of veggie Chinese restaurants use seitan as the pork substitute. Make your own or buy it. I'd stick with the firmer brands (forgetting the name).

Kim O'Donnel: Aha. Good call. thanks for the tidbit.


Quick & delicious?: Help! I am getting home at 8:30 p.m. tonight -- what can I make that is as easy as pasta & veggie but is something different and tasty?

Kim O'Donnel: Will there be any stops off at the store? What do you have on hand when you get home?


Alexandria, Va.: Oh! I've been waiting for a chat like this!

My boyfriend is a vegetarian (I'm not) and recently, I'm struggling to find new meal ideas for us that we'll both enjoy. We make a lot of stir fry (broccoli, mushrooms, onions, peppers), home made spaghetti sauce (to make ziti, lasagne and the like), portobello sandwiches and big salads. I would really welcome something new to add to the list.

Kim, can you enlighten me on some ideas that I might be overlooking? We try to keep it on the healthy side, but I wouldn't be dismissive of something fried or with a tad more fat/carbs. Please help! Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: Where is boyfriend in all this cooking? I'm going to be touching on this topic in tomorrow's blog, about how as couples we get in ruts, that one person always cooks. But. Back to your question. Take a look at Peter Berley's titles, he's a whiz at veggie meals, and Deborah Madison, for sure. By the way, just heard that Mark Bittman is coming out with "How to Cooking Everything Vegetarian" later this year.


20010: Earth Balance is by far the best vegan butter substitute/shortening etc.

It's amazing. I encourage all readers who havent tried it to try it - it's available at a lot of big stores now, like Giant and Safeway.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. Thanks for the first-hand report.


Fairfax, Va.: Vegetarian/vegan men are definitely sexier. Not only are they usually more healthy and lean, but they don't smell as bad either! Trust me, I've dated all kinds and there is a strong correlation between animal consumption and odor.

Kim O'Donnel: Fascinating. Men, are you listening?


Smoky tempeh: I like to marinate my tempeh in liquid smoke, soy sauce, garlic powder, water, and a touch of maple syrup ... then brown it on both sides. I put it on sandwiches and wraps, mix it in my breakfast potatoes, and eat it plain. I don't see why it wouldn't work for stir fry.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! Hope original reader is tuned in...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim. I love that you do these vegetarian chats. I always seem to get great ideas from you and the peanuts. I am going to friend's "Crab Fest" next week. It is hosted by a group of guy friends, who will not have much else to eat besides crabs and potato chips. I was thinking I could bring something for my meal, and for others to share, maybe a salad of some sort. Any thoughts? I've been on a quinoa kick lately. Thanks for your help!

Kim O'Donnel: YES. So you've been invited to this crab shindig yet your pals know you don't eat meat. Look at the suggestion I made for quinoa and chickpea salad earlier in the hour. However, that's not nearly enough for you, dear. Maybe bring a watermelon for dessert? Or make a watermelon-feta-basil-tomato salad? Add a cuke, too.


Quick Summer Meal: I've got a new favorite quick summertime veggie meal. Mix ricotta cheese with some lightly sauteed vegatables. Toss with cooked pasta, grate some lemon peel atop and season with your faves.

It literally takes under 15 minutes start to finish and is a light, filling, delicious meal.

Kim O'Donnel: That's a goodie for the reader who is coming home late tonite...altho I think pasta was off limits...oh well.


Leftover eggwhites: Oooh, make a strata! I made a tasty vegetarian strata for Sunday brunch last week, and because of my fiancee's cholesterol concerns, we only use Eggbeaters. It worked really well, and my friends absolutely loved my dish.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice. Now send me those details, dear. We need it!


Washington, D.C. : Hi Kim,

I'm looking for some suggestions for weekday work lunches that can be made on a Sunday for most of the week. Recently, I've had gazpacho and a roasted beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts, but I'm always looking for some new inspirations. Going to the farmer's market helps, but I just crave new things that are easy to prepare and just grab in the mornings. I have access to a toaster oven and a microwave if needed.


Kim O'Donnel: I love salad wraps with romaine. Make a dip -- hummus, white bean puree, even baba ghanouj -- and add some to a lettuce leaf. Add carrot sticks, bell pepper, cukes, and take a bite. It's light, it's satisfying, it's delicious.


Metro Center, Washington, D.C.: Inspiration please?

At Silverdocs, I watched a fabulous movie called "A Son's Sacrifice." It was great. It also had scenes that took place in a halal slaughterhouse.

I am not a vegetarian. I haven't been able to bring myself to eat meat since watching the movie. I don't know how long that will last. I periodically consider going veg. Maybe this time it will stick.

I've been doing well at eating vegetarian for 2 weeks now, but am beginning to miss a few things. Any suggestions on ways to stem cravings for things like sausage and pate?

Also, while I like many vegetables, there are a number I just can't bring myself to eat. I hate squash. All squash. The only way I've ever been able to eat eggplant is in baba ganouj. I like spinach, but only raw -- I can't eat it cooked. I see this as a big barrier to becoming a vegetarian, but wonder if I'm being paranoid. It just seems that there's an awful lot of squash and cooked spinach in the vegetarian food world.

Kim O'Donnel: Ok, deep breath dear. You're overthinking this a bit. Go with your gut -- literally. If eating meat makes you happy, then eat it occasionally. But as you mull over the ins and outs of going meatless, you still gotta eat. I think going gradual from one diet to another is key. It might be time for some cookbooks, to get ideas and start experimenting. Still breathing?


Arlington, Va.: Crabs... you could try and make a zucchini cake (like a crab cake but with zucchini intead). It usually has eggs in it, so it's vegetarian but not vegan. You should be able to find a recipe via a google search, and it is kinda close to the crab theme... it's good on a buscuit.

For the person in a rut -- look at soup recipes and casseroles (many of which are good at room temp to beat the summer heat). Layered potatos with mushrooms is always a winner with me, as is a polenta pasticiata (like lasagna, but with polenta instead). Heck, grilled polenta is a great summer treat.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah, that's brilliant. Yes, you'd shred the zucchini and spice it up with Old Bay to mimic a crab cake. Good call. And I love grilled polenta! Very nice.


Va.: Are there any meat substitutes (other than tofu) that don't contain wheat? Several family members have wheat allergies.

Kim O'Donnel: This is a tough one. I'm actually working on a piece about gluten-free eating. Stay tuned. I would recommend exploring quinoa -- in the form of pasta, as well as polenta, as someone just mentioned. Portobello mushrooms, when grilled, lend a very meaty quality.


Cincinnati, Ohio: Hi Kim,

Portobello mushrooms are such a great vegetarian treat, especially in the summer. Some of the recipes I found specify removing the gills, others don't. I really like the earthy taste of grilled or oven-roasted p.m. with the gills on. Is there a rule of thumb for this, and do you have a favorite p.m. recipe? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Nope. It's really more of an aesthetic issue than anything else. No worries.


Veggie Pate: There are a lot of veggie pate recipes out there too -- with tofu or egg, mushrooms and nuts. But nothing tastes like sausage except sausage.

Kim O'Donnel: Of all the meat facsimiles out there, my favorite is Gimme Lean sausage and ground beef products. Darn near undetectable. A good pal likes Smart Bacon for her veggie BLTs.


New Vegetarian: I'm trying, but I'm still hungry. Need steak.

Kim O'Donnel: Then, eat one. Don't beat yourself up. Maybe it's about eating meatless once, twice a week? Second month, increase it to three, four times a week. Mindset is key when making such a transition. Be kind to yourself.


Re: Quick and delicious: Summer salad with chickpeas, red onion, feta, spinach or veggie soft tacos with zucchini, spinach, feta, red onion, good quality salsa/taco sauce (I recommend Green Mountain Gringo), steamed veggies with soy and sesame or any other sort of Asian sauce (teriyaki, hoisin - small amount). For the same collection of veggies you can make a lot of things -- for today and tomorrow too!

Kim O'Donnel: I like the idea of veggie tacos. Good call. Thanks!


Silver Spring: Hi Kim. Someone brought some yellow squash (of the long variety) into work. I'd like to take one home, but only want to do so if I know I can use it. But I've never cooked with it before! What kinds of things can I do with it? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Yellow squash is great grilled. Cut into spears, lather with olive oil, plus salt and pepper, and grill til tender. Nice and sweet. You can also saute, but I find yellow squash is a little soapy this way. And then there's squash casserole...


Another cheese question: Speaking of storing cheese, how long does fresh mozzarella last? And to make it last longest, do you store it in or out of water? Every kind I've bought seems to only last maybe 2 days after opening. Help!!

Kim O'Donnel: It's quite perishable,yes. Store in water. Some folks might suggest changing the water to prolong life.


To the person struggling with becoming vegetarian: Reading "Fast Food Nation" did away with any meat cravings I had after becoming a vegetarian.

Also, keep an open mind. When I stopped eating meat I decided that I will now try everything at least once -- if it doesn't have meat I'll eat it. I've discovered some of my favorite foods this way.

Kim O'Donnel: Good advice. And for those who are on the fence, I don't think the all or nothing approach is the best. Honor your edge, as we say in yoga.


Vegetarian/vegan men are definitely sexier. Not only are they usually more healthy and lean, but they don't smell as bad either!: Oh please, aren't you carrying that superiority a little too far/ there's room for everyone here: vegetarians, and those who often eat all veggie meal, but don't judge people based on their diet or call names.

Kim O'Donnel: And here's another thought on the matter...


Metro Center: Oh, still breathing. And eating well. I can cook all kinds of salads, and pastas, and veg. I can even cook tofu well(and I like it)!

And I can't, just can't, bring myself to put meat in my mouth right now. I've tried to go veggie before and not succeeded. I'd like to not go back to eating meat this time, as I have always had issues with it ethically. But I find meat really delicious.

So, the problem is not "There's NOTHING to eat," so much as it is, "I don't want to go back to eating meat, but I need to figure out how to work around my severe case of squash hating, raw tomato hating, cooked spinach hating ... and my even more sever case of sausage craving and chopped liver craving."


Kim O'Donnel: One bite at a time, one day at a time. But it's time to start reading and experimenting and exploring the world of meatless fare, to see if you can do this thing.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim. I've been told I don't eat enough protein. Can you suggest any easy ways to get more in a veggie diet? I am interested in cooking, especially if it's quick and easy and doesn't require buying a lot of new expensive ingredients. Maybe an easy edamame salad, perhaps? What are some breakfast options other than eggs?

Kim O'Donnel: Nuts and seeds are your snack friends, on the run. Breakfast can be peanut butter and jelly on a hearty bread or vanilla yogurt with granola, both which have protein. Do you like tofu? Lentils are cheap, good and loaded with protein and calcium.


Philadelphia: For the person trying to work toward a vegetarian diet but who craves steak, why not work instead on being an ethical omnivore instead? Only buy meat in the exact amount you'll eat on the day you eat it, and don't let animal products "go bad" - if it can be reused/recyled (such as leather items) do that, and if it's food make sure it's consumed before it gets to that point.

Personally, I find ethical omnivores far more sexy than people who are vegetarian or vegan. They're also the healthiest people I know, and eat about a little meat as many "vegetarians" (those who claim they're vegetarian except for...).

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting points. I would say too if you want to eat meat is to get to know local farmers who bring their goods to market.These are the folks who are carefully watching over their livestock. But hey, I'm digressing. MOre on that next week if you want!


Upstate N.Y.: For the person who doesn't want to eat meat but is craving chopped liver, there are lots of vegetarian chopped liver recipes that call for walnuts in place of the liver. You can't even tell you're not eating liver. I have a great recipe but can't lay my hands on it right not, but do a google search and you'll come up with many. Just sautee the onions well and then add the walnuts for the last few minutes. Good stuff!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Upstate. I also think it's about mindset, a key ingredient in making such a huge change.


Kim O'Donnel: Well, well! Great hour. Thanks for all the feedback, always a pleasure. I'll do my regular Tuesday gig next week, with an "American" theme in time for Independence Day, and in the meantime will be blowing more hot air in my blog space, A Mighty Appetite. All best. And stay sexy, y'all!


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