What's Cooking Vegetarian

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 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: It's that time of the month again, when all conversation turns to meat-free cooking, eating and shopping. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, summer is a great time to up the vegetarian ante. It doesn't mean you have to give up the hog, but perhaps tilt the balance in the direction of plant over animal protein. Here's why: The fruit and vegetable options at this time of year are more than plentiful; they are overflowing -- and at their best. This week alone, I've had some tremendous nectarines that are poem worthy, two kinds of watermelon that taste like the tropics, juicy grape tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions...and I've got some yellow snap beans that need some doing. This is just a sampler of what's on hand from local farms right now. Yes! Speaking of farms, the 2007 Farm Bill is scheduled for vote today on the House floor; stay tuned for updates in tomorrow's blog space. And now, let's turn the table in your direction; what are you eating these days?

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Washington, D.C.: Kim, I'm way behind on this, but I caught up on your blog a few days ago and was so surprised that you don't like apricots! There's a vendor at the Dupont Circle farmer's market that sells organic apricots that are to die for. I mean, they are astonishing eye-openers.

They'll have them for one more week, they told me last week. Don't miss it! They're the vendor that also has the only certified organic blueberries at the market (so they claim) and they sell lots of jams. They're in the row farthest from the bank. Go seek them out!

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent news. I am game -- if I can get myself up and at'em Sunday morn. thanks for letting me know.

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Racine, Wis.: Kim, I'm looking for a zucchini pancake recipe -- like zucchini latkes -- would it work to use any recipe and just subsitute zukes for potatoes?

Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: See if this recipe for zucchini "crabcakes" floats your boat, Racine. Zucchini is grated and drained of its water to keep it nice and dry while frying. I think you could season these babies any way you like'em. I've been eager to add some feta, lemon zest, chopped capers and dill for something Greekish.

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Edmonton, Canada: Hi, Kim! I know it's not your favorite vegetable, but my parents just dropped off a load of beautiful beets from their garden. I need ideas for the greens beyond sauteeing with garlic and olive oil -- I have quite a few, and it's just my husband and I. We're both vegans. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hello Edmonton, a couple of interesting ideas from "World Vegetarian Classics" by Celia Brooks Brown, who's offering up details on a beetroot hummus -- meaning hummus with the addition of boiled pureed beets and a sauteed onion. Sounds intriguing, and she claims it turns the hummus into a glorious shade of fuchsia. She also recommends doing a salad of chopped beets with pineapple, which would also make great eye candy. Now about those beet greens...let's ask others.

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Brookline, Mass.: I'm heading to the Farmer's Market after work, and I've decided I want to make a panzanella for dinner. (It is incredibly hot here today and I don't want to even go near the stove.) My favorite, excellent bread bakery will be there, and I have basil growing on my window sill. Any New England seasonal suggestions for me to add?

Kim O'Donnel: We must be operating in the same psychic space, Brookline. I have a bunch of stale French bread I wanna use up and was thinking panzanella would be great -- as the juice of tomatoes would soften it and add body. and that leads me to my point -- see if the bakery has any day-old bread for your panz. Fresh bread will turn into mush, too porous. In addition to tomatoes, I love some chopped celery, lots of lemon juice and lemon zest, and I might add some diced cuke, even a wee bit of red bell pepper...

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Zucchini "crab" cakes: I tried your zucch crabcakes yesterday -- they were a big hit with my carnivore (OK, omnivore) son and husband. Did not tell them, will share later.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent work, dear. Glad to hear they were a hit.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Hello, Kim!

I just finished reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver and now I'm giving some thought to freezing/canning some of the summer bounty in my kitchen and at my farmer's market. ... Do you have any wise suggestions/recipes for doing so? (Oh please, oh please!) Thank you so much!

Kim O'Donnel: You know, I'm in search of a canning expert myself. Anyone who's willing to talk about the ins and outs of canning and preserving, I'd love to talk to you: kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com

Meanwhile, let's see if anyone will chime in on the matter...

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Beet Greens, USA: Hello Kim, roast them either alone or with chard and spinach and lots of chopped garlic. I also sprinkle on either salt and pepper or Mrs. Dash Spicy blend -- delicious!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh yay. thanks for sharing your beet green tidbits...

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Zucc recipe: Your recipe looks great, Kim. I'd like to try it. For those (like me) who often stick to simple recipes for ease, another option:

2 c grated zucchini

1/2 c whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 egg

chopped garlic to your taste

Mix together. Fry in 1 - 2 T olive oil.

To serve - cover with spaghetti sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese (or I'll often put on shredded mozzerella).

Kim O'Donnel: Grated zucchini, if properly drained, is a great vehicle for all kinds of "patties." Thanks for chiming in.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim! Made the zucchini "crab" cakes the other night -- delicious! I want to try the zucchini bread -- love that you've tinkered it to reduce the fat/calories -- can I do it without chocolate, though, do you think? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Reader is referring to a chocolate zucchini cake that has been a hit in my kitchen for several years. I've never tried it sans choc -- I think in its absence, I might add some nuts. You need something for heft/body.

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Alexandria, Va.: Posting early on my lunch break, thanks for taking my question. I'm one of those people that has some sort of genetic reaction to cilantro. I can't stand the taste (runs in my family). Okay, I can handle the spice in very small quantities chopped up VERY fine so I never get a good-size chunk on my tongue. But I love Mexican food. What can I substitute for cilantro in Mexican recipes?

Kim O'Donnel: Cilantro is also known as "Chinese parsley." In its place, I might try some flat-leaf parsley.

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Zucchini latkes: If you want latke-tasting latkes (i.e., not crab cakes), then yes, just substitute shredded zucchini for some (not all) of the potatoes. I make my latkes with shredded potatoes, shredded carrots, shreddes zucchini, and a little bit of corn ... a bit non-traditional but very very good!

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice, dear. Shredded onion would be grand here, too.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, I was happy to see your ideas for using up the proliferating zucchini! I overbought at the market last weekend. I'd like to make your zucchini cake but as a tiny-apartment dweller, I don't have space for a bundt pan. Is there a way to change the baking time for a loaf pan or 8x8 glass pan?

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, so many zuke questions today -- it's fitting for this prolific vegetable. You know, I've not made this cake in anything but a Bundt. I am pretty sure you will have more batter than a loaf pan can handle. Got any round cake pans? I don't know what baking time would be, but divided into two pans, I'm thinking about 1/3 of the original baking time.

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Panzanella?: What is it? How do I make it? I'm getting tomatoes and cucumbers from the CSA today, so it sounds perfect!

Kim O'Donnel: Panzanella is an Italian word for bread salad ("pane" means bread) -- and it can be made in a very ad hoc way. Got some stale bread that you can cube up? I'm actually going to blog on the idea of bread salads next week...But for right now, I'd spritz my bread cubes, throw into a bowl, add chopped tomatoes and let the two talk to each for about 15 minutes. Add some garlic, onion, lemon, cuke, parsley or basil, even mint...and mix. Add olive oil gradually, then salt, and start tasting.

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Steubenville, Ohio: Canning! Right up my alley. Helped my daughter make a basic tomato sauce from Roma tomatoes and my home grown herbs and canned it in pints (got 12). She is rather a novice at canning and needs a lot of help.

I use a pressure canner and have for 45+ years. Follow directions that come with it and you won't have a problem. They have been improved greatly over the past couple of decades. The Ball company who makes jars has a helpful book on canning which could put a newbie canning person at ease.

Other than that, choose ripe fruit/vegetables in good condition and follow the instructions. You will be delighted with the results.

Kim O'Donnel: E-mail me! We need to talk...

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Beet greens: Sauteed really is the best way. I say change around the spices. Add red pepper flakes or sherry or orange juice or ginger. Or, if you can handle soup in this weather, I like a soup of greens and white beans with a grating of nutmeg.

Mark Bittman has a cookbook called Greens. It's not vegetarian, but many of the recipes are.

Kim O'Donnel: And I'm pretty sure Deb. Madison deals with beet greens in "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." Cheers.

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What can I substitute for cilantro in Mexican recipes? : SOMETIMES I substitue cumin. Not similar as parsley, but gives a distinctly Mexican flavor. I find cilantro musky and must use it very subtly.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. I think reader meant what green herby sub could he/she use, but the ground version of cilantro would be coriander...and maybe it's worth checking to see if that appeals more than the leafy version.

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Bethesda Mom: Hi Kim:

Hope that you can the clicksters can help me out -- I'm having a brunch Sunday and will serve typical non-veg Jewish brunch items like smoked/pickled fish, bagels, cream cheese, etc. A friend is bringing her vegan daughter. I will have an interesting whole grain salad that I picked up at COSTCO, which I plan to doctor with more chopped veggies, like celery and cucumber, and the mom is bringing a fruit platter. I really don't want to redo my entire menu as I don't have any time to cook -- is there something else I could easily add for the vegan?

Kim O'Donnel: What if you made a pitcher of gazpacho? It'd take a total of 15 minutes in the food processor, and it'd be a nice cooling option for the whole gang. Think tomatoes, cuke, carrot, herbs, garlic, chiles, etc. Puree in advance, and flavors will meld overnight, and you'll make everyone happy.

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Spritz your bread cubes with what?: Balsamic vinegar? Salt and Pepper?

Kim O'Donnel: A little water for starters. Then balsamic for flavor, yes...or white wine vin...and yes, plenty of salt and pepper.

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Jams and canned veggies: My family canned a lot. I still have the old pressure cooker we used for canning tomatoes, beans, peas. We also made lots of jam from the wild grapes and blackberrys (plus mayhaws from East Texas). The Bible for this was Farm Journal's Guide to Freezing and Canning, which I got in the mid 1970's. This is a HOT job. Canning requires boiling water, blanched veg, steam in the pressure cooker, sterilized jars, new lids, and jam is worse -- have to stir a boiling fruit and sugar (and sometimes spices) for a specified time then put the hot jam into hot jars with hot lids. The reason for the pressure cooker was to kill any bacteria and make a negative seal for the jar's contents. Botulism isn't to be toyed with.

Kim O'Donnel: Wonderful. Thanks for the insight -- you email me too, please!

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Arlington, Va.: About panzanella -- I'm a fan, though there are so many variants that I never am sure what I'm going to get when I order it (the one at Pizzeria Paradiso for example is just not my thing -- the bread is cut too small, I like cubed up bread).

Anyhow, I seem to recall from my time in Italy that this is a Tuscan dish, which implies unsalted bread. I kind of like this so that I can salt the salad as a whole rather than individual ingredients. What do you think about bread types?

Kim O'Donnel: I like baguettes, some kind of pain au levain or rustic bread. Even a ciabatta or Cuban style bread. Don't worry too much about it, but nothing soft.

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Calgary, Canada: I've canned for years -- chili sauce, chutney, peaches, pickles of one sort or another.

I think the most important thing is to read up on the chemistry and process. Once you know how brines and syrups work, and why, you can experiment with all kinds of fruits and veg. Oh, and use the best quality, newest equipment you can afford. It makes a huge difference to the ease and safety of the product.

I had to laugh at myself though. I was at a wedding with a family of farmers. My mother-in-law told them how skilled I was at preserving. All the women stared at me as though I were crazy. They gave up the drudgery years ago and were happy to buy their pickles at the supermarket!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Calgary! Great stuff.

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Gahd Zukes!: I added zukes to my eggplant parm just for a little extra nutrition. And since I bread and bake both in the oven (which makes them crispier) I can use a little extra of the smoked mozzarella I got from the farmers market.

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice! Do you slice or grate??

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: Hi Kim! I look forward to this chat all month, it's great!

As a lacto-ovo, I try to eat an egg a day. During the summer, omelettes have become my dinner of choice, along with a nice whatever-vegetables-are-around salad. Plain egg can get boring -- I've added feta cheese, herbs, peppers, onions, turmeric, pine nuts and tomatoes. Any more ideas for what can be chopped up and thrown in with some eggs?

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Why don't you try a frittata? Get a potato or two, diced it and parboil. Drain. Diced up onion, garlic, parsley, even zuke. Get that all ready. The only thing, tho, you need about 6 eggs, for a frittata, in order for it to worth it -- it turns into a pie, which you slice -- and could reheat the next day. You'll saute all the veg and add the potatoes, which get melty and wonderful. Cover with eggs. Cover pan, let it set over lowish heat. Put under broiler for a minute or so, add some cheese if you like.

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Panzanella : THERE IS A Lebaneses dish, I think it's called Fatoosh, which is bread cubes, vinegar, spices, tomatoes, red onions. Delish

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, that is also on my agenda. Great minds think alike..

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Waterloo Ontario, Canada: I was wondering if you could suggest a vegetarian, Mediterranean based menu for a meal for four people.

Kim O'Donnel: Tabbouleh, a salad of bulgur wheat, tomatoes and parsley, with lots of lemon. Hummus, the easiest 7 minute dish of your life. Roast some eggplant and then puree, making baba ghanouj. Fattoush, the bread salad with crisped up pita just mentioned, would also be lovely. You can also make your own flat bread if interested. Let me know.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Panzanella, I usually toast up my bread cubes before mixing them with all the other goodies. It adds a nice textural component. I also usually add red and yellow peppers, drained canned cannellini beans and cubes of ricotta salata, to make it more of a meal.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for adding to this thread!

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Brownsburg, Ind.: Hi Kim! Thanks for taking my question last month about de-porking my favorite stirfry (Tea-Smoked Pork and Cabbage), and thanks for the great responses.

I tried making the stirfry again using both marinated tofu (soy sauce, tamari, sherry, garlic powder and onion powder) and seitan (which I'd never had before).

Marinating the tofu made it take the smoke much more deliciously. The seitan, was not a hit. It definitely has a "meatier" texture than tofu, but because it's not beef, and not chicken, and not pork, but still weirdly meaty, it put me in mind of the school cafeteria mystery meat stews that I abhored in childhood. So seitan probably will not be returning to our kitchen, but I'll try anything once!

I did not try doing the stirfry with tempeh (which I love), but I didn't think the tempeh would take the smoke well, if at all. And part of what I love about this recipe is the process, in addition to the end result. I could make it without smoking anything, but it just wouldn't be the same!

Thanks again for the suggestions!

washingtonpost.com: Here's that old chat you're referring to. Vegetarian edition of What's Cooking (washingtonpost.com, June 28)

Kim O'Donnel: And thanks for following up, Brownsburg! I understand your feelings about seitan; I too am not a big fan of 'mock meat." I would definitely try smoking the tempeh, as it has a bit of a smoky note to begin with...Keep me posted.

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Fetoosh: Uses sumac as the spice and dried/stale pita. You can get some good store bought at Med. Bakery in Alexandria or at Alladin's in Shirlington if you want to try first.

Kim O'Donnel: Yep. Thanks much!

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Arlington, Va.: Just joined a CSA and can't WAIT to pick up my share tonight. On the menu -- leeks, potatoes, tomatillos, hot peppers, as well as peaches, nectarines, and apples. What on earth do I do with those leeks and tomatillos? Something potato-leeky?

Kim O'Donnel: Potato-leek puree is also nice, and you could decide if you want to serve it hot or cold, depending on your mood. Tomatillos you can puree and add some lime, jalapeno and garlic and make a wonderful sauce for dipping, for rice, for eggs, for adding to beans.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: My CSA is in full swing, and they're sending me a dozen ears of corn a week! What do I do with all this corn? Love it roasted with butter, salt and pepper, of course, but it's be great to make a salad or another big dish to use up lots of it.

Kim O'Donnel: Cut the kernels off several ears and boil for a quick minute, then drain and run under cold water. Then you can add almonst anything. I love kernels with chopped tomatoes, herbs, diced red onion, diced bell pepper, plus some curry powder, a little lime and olive oil. Toss and you'll be in heaven.

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New Market has Sweet Corn!: Hi Kim,

Our local nursery finally has their own, sweet as sugar corn! I want to try roasting the corn on the grill this weekend but need your expert guidance. I have read that the corn should be soaked then placed on the grill in its husk. Do you soak the corn in plain water? Do you add salt or other flavorings? Another recipe I found says to soak in salt water, wrap in foil then place on grill.

Thanks for keeping up with the latest! I really enjoy your chats and blog. Happy Summer to everyone!

Kim O'Donnel: Actually, I hardly soak the corn at all. I pull back enough husk so that one layer stays on, and then I wet it with my hands. Then I brush on some oil, and I grill. Folks, chime on in...

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Former Minnesota Golden Gopher, now in Baltimore: Kim,

Received my alumni newsletter from the University of Minn. recently and thought the lead article would be of interest to you and your audience. Entitled "Eating Close to Home" the article talks about the local food movement and how the University of Minnesota is implementing programs supporting the principles of buying locally and sustainably produced foods.

I would be interested to hear what you think. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: I will take a looksee. Thanks for thinking of me.

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Southern Maryland: Hello!

I am sure you get asked this a lot. I am sure your regulars are tired of reading it. I do not read these chats because I am not a vegaterian. I am hoping you will post this to save me going back and reading all of your transcripts. I have read about half of Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation." Bring on the vegatables, grains anything but meat. I need something to get me started, a cookbook, maybe a list of substitues, a website anything at all to help me. I am so grossed out. Luckily, I will eat anything (obviously) I am very not picky. Anything you can tell me will help me? I realize that it will not be a cut and dry boom I have cut out meat. But I am going to make the best effort I can and gradually cut it all out. Thank You!

Kim O'Donnel: we are out of time, but I am going to address your issue in an upcoming blog. Why don't you send me an e-mail: kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com

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Lebanese: AND lentils are used in Lebanese cooking. I made a Lebansese meal (our reading club likes to have the food fit the theme of the book), and one dish was aforementioned Fatoosh, and I made lentils with onions and potatoes, and another dish of garlic hummus.

Kim O'Donnel: Absolutely. Lentils are one of my faves...and so darn easy they practically puree themselves.

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Kim O'Donnel: Already time to run. Thanks for the inspiration and bounty of ideas. You guys are clearly busy this summer -- and I salute you! Stay cool, take good care. In the meantime, you can find me daily in the blogosphere at A Mighty Appetite. All best.

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