What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 25, 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: Hey, hey veggie people! I don't know about you, but I'm thrilled about all this rain. Plus, I finally get to wear my new purple and polka dot galoshes...But I digress...I was up even before the birds this morning (couldn't sleep, brain too full), and by 7:30 it felt like lunchtime. I offered to make Mister Mighty Appetite blue corn pancakes for breakfast, and like the smart man that he is, took me up on the rare weekday opportunity. It got me thinking, who eats breakfast at home anymore? It was so nice to sit, ever so briefly, and goof off before our days began in earnest, over a plate of 'cakes and plenty of coffee. We're thinking maybe it's time to start a tradition of Thursday morning pancakes, but I get the feeling he's not planning to cook anytime soon (altho he's a very good cleaner upper)...The idea is tempting, as it may just force us to slow down one morning a week and enjoy the first meal of the day together. Programming note: Thanksgiving is four weeks from today -- seriously! So, my annual Vegetarian Thanksgiving special will be held two weeks from today, Nov. 8, at 1 ET. Mark your calendars, kids. Oh, I know what I wanted to ask you: any one know where I can find powdered soy milk? I am making candy corns today, and was keen to try the vegan version if I could find powdered soy. I've already been to Whole Foods and My Organic Market and came up empty. I'm running out of time, but even if there's an online source avail, that'd be great info to have. Let's begin!


Up a creek without a skillet : I don't have a cast-iron skillet but several recipies that require one for making a cake. Can I try a regular pan?

Kim O'Donnel: What does regular mean to you? Nonstick? Talk to me.


Washington, D.C.: I could really, really use your help. I'm attending a Halloween party tomorrow evening and said I'd bring something but I have no clue what to make! It needs to be meat-free (dairy is okay) and something that I can make in the few minutes I'll have between work, getting ready and getting over there OR something I can make the night before and refrigerate and maybe just heat up/do finishing touches on before I head out. I was thinking along the lines of hummus but that's an old stand-by and would love to wow everyone with something new and different. Thank you so much!

Kim O'Donnel: Make fall hummmus -- with sweet potatoes. The link takes you to a lovely recipe for a dip made with roasted sweet potatoes and onions that get pureed and zipped up with tahini and cayenne. Healthy, color-coordinated and a new twist on an old trick. What could be bad?


Washington, D.C.: I submitted last time and hope you'll take my question this time. BEETS!? What's the best way to prepare them in a warm dish? Everytime I see a recipe it calls for carrots (of which, I'm not a fan) and turnips (of which I'm intimidated of and have no clue how to prepare). Also, I'd like to make a spinach salad with beets. I have store-bought vacuum-sealed ones in my fridge. Can I just slice those as is and toss on the heap of greens? What add-ons might you suggest (ie type of cheese, nuts, etc.)?

I'm a huge fan and am sad I won't be able to make your scheduled book signings. Any more coming up in the future?

Kim O'Donnel: Darling, I'm not the beet lover in the house, but goat cheese and walnuts are lovely matches. Many are fans of roasting them with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. I'm going to let my friends, who run the beet club, to show you some beet luv. Looks like there will be a signing at Columbia Pike Market on the 18th (I'm waiting on a confirmation)...oh, and next Wed, in Georgetown, at Rose Park, 4-6 p.m. I am working on a few more possibilities and will keep you posted.


Hurray for veggie day: Hi Kim, I'm having a few friends over tonight for a casual dinner and would love some menu help. I have a can of pumpkin and would like to start with a pumpkin soup, but then what? I have some greens and some grains, and will have time for a grocery run, but I'm out of ideas for a meatless main. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Our pumpkin supper the other night was roasted, then scooped out of the skin, topped with a little bit of pumpkin seed pesto...oh yes! black beans. that was a wunderbar combo. Black beans and rice, my dear. You'll love it. Do you have a quick-cook green like spinach or chard? Either can be wilted in a few with garlic and you've a beautiful plate.


Raleigh, N.C.: I'm thinking of making a creamy cauliflower saffron soup for an upcoming dinner party that I've given myself very little prep time for on the day (or actually, week) of. The recipe calls for making the base of the soup, pureeing, then adding Half-and-Half at the end, heating and serving. I'm wondering if I could make everything up to the point of adding the Half and Half, then freeze the soup. I would thaw in the fridge the day of the party, then heat the base to a slow simmer before adding the half and half. Would this work? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, you can do that. You also may find that no cream is necessary. If you added a potato with the cauliflower and pureed together, you'd have all the richness and wouldn't miss the cream. just a thought!


Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I got a cooking pumpkin from my CSA last week, and have been thinking about attempting a roasted pumkin soup. What do you think about cutting it in half, roasting and then pureeing the flesh with stock? I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have about other seasonings that could liven things up.


Kim O'Donnel: Yes, yes, yes. When roasting, the pumpkin needs only olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe some thyme or oregano. It's when you puree that you can play with flavor. A chipotle chile will add smoky heat, for instance. I doubt you'll need it sweeter, since it's a local squash, but a little honey would be nice. If you don't do chipotle, add some cayenne for sure. If you have a parm rind, add that while cooking to lend some richness...


More menu help: Hi again, I'm the one who wanted menu help and I LOVE the idea of pumpkin and black beans, but that's actually what we all ate last week. Any chance for another suggestion?

Kim O'Donnel: What about curried chickpeas? Or a lentils? Quinoa would be nice. Kale and pumpkin are a good match...


Seattle, Wash.: I used to be a vegetarian ten years ago, and currently I am transitioning to a mostly meat-free diet. I feel like I'm not ready to give up all meat. How do I make the final leap?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Seattle, if you're not ready, you're not ready. Pay attention to those signs. When you make such a big change, you need to be on board emotionally. Sounds like you're more than halfway there. Are you keeping things creative in the kitchen? Are you needing a new cookbook to inspire? Talk to me.


Veggie broth?: What's the best brand of veggie broth? Can you also provide instructions on how to make my own? Carrots, onion, celery, pepper and garlic are a given. What else should I put in the pot? Just enough water to cover? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I don't have a favorite brand of veggie broth, but I welcome others to weigh in. For your own stock, carrots will make stock sweet, fyi. I would pick onion, celery, garlic (whole cloves), a sachet of black peppercorns and something else that's green -- a leek or a bunch of parsley stems. And yes, just enough water to cover. Cook about 25-30 min.


Washington, D.C.: Hi -- Do you have any recipes for a really tasty vegetable soup? I've tried a couple and they always seem to turn out pretty flavorless, and I end up adding salt and hot sauce to keep from being bored by it. I want to prove to my family that a good soup doesn't have to start with beef stock. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Are you referring to a tomato-based broth with assorted veg, like a minestrone or more of a veggie puree? Let me now which you prefer.


Silver Spring, Md.: Kim, what can you tell me about fermented black beans? I have been reading Laurie Colwin's books and she raved about them.

Kim O'Donnel: Colwin died much too soon, alas. You may see fermented black beans sold as Chinese black beans. You'll find them at any Asian grocery store, sold in jars. Basically they're black soybeans that have been preserved in salt -- they're pungent and weird and wonderful. you can use them to make a sauce, in a stirfry, for starters.


Roasted Pumpkin Soup : You want to saute some onions and maybe a little garlic as well before adding the stock and the pumpkin and pureeing. Just a thought.

For the other pumpkin eater -- what about a pumpkin quiche? Make a tart crust; make a custard base (eggs, milk, cream); add the pumpkin and sauteed onion/garlic, and some minced up thyme and smoked Spanish paprika (will lend a baconlike smoked flavor). Add shredded gruyere and minced parsley; bake until browned and just set in the middle. Great with a salad. You could garnish with toasted pumpkinseeds or some sauteed mushrooms.

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


Bmore: For the poster with the can of pumpkin, mix it with a can of veggie broth, a can of diced tomatoes (drained), a can of blackbeans (drained) and some sauteed onion or garlic. Mix in curry powder, cumin, some cayenne, salt and pepper, and stir in a quarter-cup of Half and Half (soy or regular) before service. It's a wonderful Mexican-y fall soup.

Kim O'Donnel: More ideas on what to do with a can of pumpkin for supper...


Skillet : Yes, a round cake pan, non stick. What is the advantage of the cast iron skillet? I wish I had taken my grandmother's. She used to make us some very dry scrambled eggs in that thing. I miss them.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, now I understand. Cornbread is made in skillet, as is tarte tatin -- but not always necessary. A cast-iron skillet is a good kitchen basic to have, think about recreating that dry scrambled tradition...


Beans and Greens: Kim, I am such a beans and greens fan, it is downright absurd! My beans and greens pairings are typically pretty arbitrary, and while I've occasionally tried more Indian-influenced spices, more often than not I just do onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Any specific bean/green combos you'd recommend, or other things I could throw in? This is a meal that never lets down, but I don't want to get stuck in a rut either. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I love white beans and kale, with some rosemary, cayenne and garlic, a little lemon zest, parm. Wonderful combo.

What about the roastd pumpkin-black bean idea I mentioned earlier, with a little chard?

Black beans and spinach -- one of my all-time favorite pairs, with lots of heat.


Soups and stocks: For the veggie stock -- I would recommend using mushrooms as well (the trimmings are good for this). Absolutely avoid bitter vegetables like bell pepper. If you are making a particular type of vegetable soup using the stock, I find it helps to add some of that vegetable to the stock (as long as it is not bitter like peppers or eggplant). So for example, corncobs go into the stockpot for corn soup; a touch of tomato paste for tomato soup; etc.

Re vegetable soups that aren't boring -- I almost never use meat stocks for vegetable soup because I find the meat flavor interferes with the pure vegetable taste. Try a cream of mushroom soup that uses porcini, morel, and white mushrooms (soak dried mushrooms and use the soaking liquid in the stock with plenty of onions), and top off with fried sage leaves; or, say, a celeriac soup made with celeriac, onions, and potatoes -- with bay leaf and thyme; take out the bay leaf and thyme stems, puree the whole thing, and then enrich with a little cream and some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, minced thyme, minced parsley. Carrot soup is good this way as well (sans potatoes), with a little honey and the minced herbs on top. Minced fresh herbs make everything delicious.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, I always forget mushrooms as a good veggie stock base because of my allergy. Corn cobs are GREAT for stock.


Re: bored by veggie soup...: If you make a veggie soup and feel like you need to add hot sauce and salt to it, I wouldn't worry. I think not adding enough salt is one of the most common cooking mistakes. If you are cooking homemade food, even if you salt it pretty generously the end result will likely have way less sodium than processed food. In terms of satisfying vegetarian soups, I think the best ones are pureed soups -- butternut squash, cream of potato, carrot ginger, curried lentil, etc. And I love Kim's suggestion earlier of adding chipotle peppers.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm a big fan of purees myself...over the broths. Salt, as well as herbs go a long way...or just not adding enough cumin or coriander or cayenne...thanks for your thoughts!


Upstate, N.Y.: For the person looking for veggie broth, I really like the Wolfgang Puck veggie broth in a box. It's 32 ounces, but it can be closed and refrigerated if necessary. I've always used the whole box, though. It has great, rich flavor.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent Good to know.


Mmmm curried chickpeas: That sounds delicious. You have any recipe hints?

Kim O'Donnel: In fact, I've got the whole magilla...this recipe for curried chickpeas is wonderful...and come to think of it, it's been too long. Maybe this weekend...


Vienna, Vs.: An idea for a main course with the pumpkin soup...portobellos and peppers over pasta (hey, I'm a preschool teacher -- alliteration appeals!). Slice some red bell peppers lengthwise. Slice some portobello caps. Saute the peppers in olive oil for a few minutes, then add the portobello caps. When they begin to soften, add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and stir. Let it cook for a few minutes 'til the veggies look glazed. Season with salt and pepper (as hard as I've tried, I've never found any aromatics or herbs that help this dish -- to me, it's best very simply seasoned). Serve over angel hair pasta -- top with some crumbled goat or feta cheese. (Leftovers are good warmed up and wrapped in a tortilla with the same cheeses.)

Kim O'Donnel: When I could eat mushrooms, I loved making portos and shallots and thyme with goat cheese over penne...very satisfying idea, Teach!


Arlington, Va. S: I'm thinking of making horseradish mustard soon as I dug up my horseradish plant this past Sunday. The roots are small (caused drought I think), but should be enough for a few batches as I'll have maybe a 1/2 cup once I grate.

I've found one recipe that uses wine, which I'll make, I plan on making a beer one with Marzen instead of wine and malt vinegar instead of the wine vinegar, and finally I have a 3rd recipe that is less wine-focused that I'll make as described.

Question: any experience here that you can offer advice for making the mustard? How about keeping it? I guess once I add it to the jars (sterilized?), mustard isn't typically canned, so I'll just have to keep it refrigerated.

Kim O'Donnel: You know, I've never done this. I've grated horseradish and added it to yogurt, which makes a wonderful dip, but I like your spirit, neighbor (I live in Arl S too). I'll check around for ideas but let's ask if anyone else has tried making mustard before.


Rockville, Md.: I went vegetarian a year ago. I was surprised by how much I didn't miss meat. I think what made it possible was the cookbook Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson. The myriad of flavorful recipes contained in this book keep me from ever thinking, "if only there was chicken in this..."

Kim O'Donnel: Having a stable of cookbooks that offer ideas and inspiration is critical I think to the longevity of a diet change. Just got a copy of "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman, but one of my fave veggie cookbook writers is Deborah Madison, as well as Peter Berley.


Veggie Broth: Since the question came up re. veggie broth...I read once that broccoli shouldn't be used to make a veggie broth. Any ideas why? It didn't say, and I'm mystified...


Kim O'Donnel: Too strong. You want a stock to be neutral...flavored but able to work against lots of other flavors.


Grilled Cheese: Kim, I'm craving grilled cheese but would like to go a step beyond the Kraft American cheese of my childhood. What type of bread/cheese would you suggest?

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, you're pulling at my heart strings. A grilled cheese with Havarti or a strong cheddar will send me to the moon. I like strong mustard and red onion to go with, and bread can be soft or hard, just as long as it has flavor. I'm a big fan of grilled cheese on rye or pumpernickel.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim. A bit off the veggie topic, but the cast iron question reminded me -- I'm thinking about getting an enamel coated one. Would you start off with a plain one or a grill pan?

Kim O'Donnel: Enamel coated cast iron is the bomb. Are you getting a skillet or a pot?


Steubenville: Kim:

No hints today from me,just a complimentto the cooks who write in.We always hear the present adult generation does not cook, all take-out, etc. Your chat proves each and every week that theory is very wrong. There are many verycreative and fabulous cooks out there.Thank you to you and the chat participants.

Kim O'Donnel: I feel very lucky to interact with such a savvy group of cooks who teach me something every time I host a chat. It's true, there are always good ideas and little nibbles to take home for further contemplation. I second Steubenville's motion!


Veggie broth: For those who also like to experiment in the kitchen a little....the best advice I ever got on broths is from the Greens Cookbook: take the thing you think you want to add to a broth, cook it alone, and taste it every 5 minutes or so, recording as you go along. Then you have a variety of tastes to layer and, if you're really motivated, can add veggies to the pot over time to hit their best cooking time.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, Deborah Madison has quite the collection of veggie-minded cookbooks. Many simple ideas, which I think are always the best.


Vegan Thanksgiving: I'm so excited you're having a vegetarian Thanksgiving forum! Every year, my friends and I (most who are either vegan or vegetarian) have a vegan Thanksgiving. And it is so great and even the meat-eaters can't believe everything is completely meat and dairy free! I just wanted to say how awesome it is that you are having a forum, and I can't wait to figure out what I'm going to make so I can get some helpful advice. Take care!

Kim O'Donnel: this is probably the fifth year I've been doing it -- and it usually is as well read as the omnivore Thanksgiving special (held this year on the 15th). I'm glad you'll be joining us on the 8th!


Vienna, Va.: OMG, that pumpkin and black bean soup idea is great! I'm whipping some up right now (using some chunky chipotle salsa in place of tomatoes and onions...I'm in a hurry here!). So far it's tasty -- bet it will be great with some tortilla chips crumbled into it. Thanks for the inspiration!

Kim O'Donnel: LOVE the virtual kitchen, Vienna! If only you had a Web cam...


Green believer!: Hi, Kim!

I asked about "easy" greens in an earlier chat. Thanks for the advice -- we had some rainbow chard and loved it! I sauteed two cloves of garlic (thinly sliced) in some olive oil, added some pepper flakes, tossed in the chard and covered for a few minutes, and then took off the cover and sauteed over high heat until the liquid evaporated. Salt plus lemon at the table -- wonderful!

Now, I'm all intrigued by this spinach and black bean combo you referred to. What's the recipe?

Kim O'Donnel: In a pinch, black beans from a can, but first start with some chopped onion, garlic, cayenne, cumin in olive oil. Warm up those beans. You can either saute the spinach OR...you can wilt it right in the pot of black beans. This works a little better when you make a pot of dried beans, as there's more liquid.


Asheville, N.C. : For the pumpkin meal, why not making a carrot souffle? It's sweet, tastes a lot like sweet potatoes and everyone will enjoy.

Kim O'Donnel: A carrot souffle. I wanna hear more about this...


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Kim! I'm going to a (vegetarian) dinner party this weekend at which the main course is going to be "Swiss Pumpkin," which is basically a savory bread pudding baked inside a pumpkin. I'm in charge of the side dish. I was thinking maybe roasted brussels sprouts, but wondered if that's enough, and if not, what else to throw in. Any ideas? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: OR....you could grate them, along with some apples and cook in a skillet...top with walnuts. Holler at me in email: kim.odonnel@wpni.com and I'll dig up the details.


Philadelphia, Pa.: For Seattle: If you find yourself not ready to go full vegetarian, why not try cutting back on having animal products at home, and leaving them just for when you go out to eat somewhere? Then you won't have the guilt of it going bad in your freezer because you're working on cutting it back. Most people who've been in my kitchen think I'm vegetarian, because the only time I ever eat meat now is if I'm eating out or if I know for sure that I will cook and eat it that night, so I don't keep meat on hand. The more meat-free meals I make and eat, the less inclined I am to go out and buy meat (or order a meat dish).

For Washington, re the vegetable soups: the trick is to start with a good vegetable stock, and the trick to get there is to roast at least some of the vegetables first -- definitely the tomatoes. I like to clean and roast all of my veggies before making stock with them. It really makes a huge, positive difference.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Philly. Great advice.


New York, N.Y.: Big fan of yours! Did your butternut squash lasagana for T-day last year and it was a hit. Now I have been doing the vegan thing... any ideas for tasty non-dairy quick breads? was thinking of something with rosemary... I'm not normally a bread maker either.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. I need to think on this. Have you experimented yet with EnerG replacer for the eggs? Or flaxseed? Vegan quick bread is hard. You have more flexibility with yeast breads. Let me ponder.


Kim O'Donnel: Time to sign off, gang. Thanks for stopping by. Once again, Nov 8 is Veggie Tgiving Special, just two weeks away. And in the meantime, meet me in the blog space: A Mighty Appetite. All best.


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