What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 21, 2008; 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 folks, Happy late Feb. to you and welcome to my monthly free-for-all on meatless eating, cooking and shopping. Only 17 days to the return of daylight saving time, which means later sunsets and a return to the great outdoors. I know, we've got nothing to complain about here in crybaby city, where an inch of snow throws the collective girdle into an uproar, but I think we can all say we're looking forward to more sunlight, which means spring crops and the return of regular seasonal produce. I, for one, cannot wait. What have you been up to since the last time we talked? Tell me everything.


Lentil Land: I wrote in the other day with my fear of lentils, can you give us Lentils 101? What seasonings and spices beyond the back of the bag instructions? The ones I used started out green, then turned a reddish brown.

Lentils are a food I'd like to learn to love, but I don't want to start off on the wrong foot!

Kim O'Donnel: You are not alone, dear. There are many others out there who share the luv for lentils and in the link, you'll catch a slew of ideas on getting creative with the legume. The lentil is the easiest to cook of all legumes, in my opinion because it is quick cooking and no soaking is necessary. Have a looksee, then let me know what else is on your mind.


Washington, D.C.: I'd like to join a vegetarian cooking club, where people get together for dinner and drinks on a rotating basis at members' homes. Are there any in the D.C. area, preferably D.C. proper?

Kim O'Donnel: I don't, but this is a good forum to ask others in the area if they know of such a thing. Check today's blog as well, as I mention two new Web sites that focus on creating cooking communities, and you may get some ideas on how to start your own.


Maple tofu: Hey Kim, for the past few weeks an idea has been marinating in my mind--a maple baked tofu. In my dreams, this is nice and savory and smoky and wintery--do you think that this is achievable? My concern is that I'm going to come out with an inedible sugary mess. I guess I'm wondering how I could get the maple flavor but cut the sweetness. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I do think it's possible. What if you started with a wee bit, thinned it with a squeeze of lime or rice wine or even an orange, added some heat of fresh chiles or Asian chili sauce, a little soy sauce for salt, a little sesame for fat. You'll have a complete palate of flavors in one little dish. A little maple syrup will go a long way, methinks. Would be nice to finish under broiler for browning. Oh...garlic would be nice here, too.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim. I'm planning on making the Guinness Cake recipe that you posted on your blog for an Oscars party. I was thinking about making it as cupcakes though, to minimize utensil use. Is there any reason to think this would not work? I figure I would make the batter as in the recipe, fill cupcake tins about two thirds of the way, and bake until they seem done. I'm really looking forward to eating them. If you don't think cupcakes would work well, I can make the full cake...

Kim O'Donnel: You think cupcakes would be easier than pouring batter into a springform pan? Actually, you'll be doing more work makin' cupcakes. I've not tried them this way, but here's somthing to keep in mind: this cake is wet, even when it comes out of oven. It may not like the restricted space of a cupcake liner. Always worth a try, though. Here's the Guinness Cake recipe how-to, fyi...


Washington, D.C.: I loved your two recent soup features - lots of great veggie options! - but I have a couple of procedural questions. I like to make a big pot for the week, but how long should I be keeping veggie-based soups (i.e. non-dairy) as leftovers? Also, I have an immersion blender attachment on my hand mixer which I used to make your cauliflower soup, but is there any way to prevent half of the soup from ending up all over me and my kitchen (or is this just a problem with my particular blender)? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Reader is referring (I think) to my contribution in yesterday's Food section on making soup with the stuff in your pantry. Personally, I think the veggie-based soups hold up longer as leftovers; you will have no problem keeping this for five days in an airtight container. With immersion blenders, it's key to stick the thing into your soup BEFORE you start whizzing. That should minimize the splatterfest.


re: Guinness Cake: I meant minimize utensil use in the eating, not the baking. We mostly do finger foods for these gatherings, although we certainly make exceptions where the food is worth it...I know it would be more work in the baking part. Thanks for your answer. I'll continue to mull it over.

Kim O'Donnel: ah. Ok. Keep me posted.


Dijon lentils: My favorite recipe for green lentils (French lentils) is from the Millennium Cookbook. In this recipe it complements roasted root vegetable roulades. I make it to serve with potatoes (roasted or mashed).


Makes 3 cups

With this sauce, I prefer using a red ale with a strong bitter hop flavor; stouts and heavy Belgian beers also work well. Any good beer of your choice will do, except maybe fruit beer.

2 tablespoons corn starch

1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/3-inch dice

1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

1/4 cup sherry or white wine

1/2 bunch fresh thyme leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried

One 12-ounce bottle of beer or non-alcoholic beer

1 cup apple juice

2/3 cup Dijon mustard

3 cups vegetable stock

1 cup cooked French lentils

1/4 bunch fresh tarragon, leaves only

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

Dissolve the corn starch in 1/4 cup cold water and set aside. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion, oil, and sherry until the onions are lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add the thyme leaves stir into the onions. Add the beer, apple juice, mustard and stock. Simmer until reduced by one third, about 20 minutes. Add the lentils, tarragon, pepper, and salt, and whisk in the cornstarch until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Simmer 5 minutes, remove from heat, and use or set aside. Will keep up to one week in the refrigerator.

From ¿The Millennium Cookbook, ¿ by Eric Tucker and John Westerdahl, 10 Speed Press, 1998.

Kim O'Donnel: Lovely combination of lentils and Dijon! Yes. Thanks for this.


Re: Washington, D.C.: If the writer starts one, can you post the information on your blog? I would love to be part of a vegetarian cooking club.

Kim O'Donnel: But of course...and you know, I was thinking maybe I could start one from my Facebook page...


Arlington: A few years ago I had a wonderful lentil dish at either Jaleo or Oyamel with lentils and pineapple. It was very flavorful and I have been trying to recreate it ever since.

Are you familiar with a recipe for something like this?

Kim O'Donnel: I'm not, but I adore pineapple (just had a bowl for lunch) and could see this working nicely...let me do some research...


Burke, Va.: I have chickpeas, soaked for 24+ hours, and boiled with a sliced Meyer lemon for flavor. What would you do with them now, if you had such things and wanted hot comfort food?

I have eaten some of them for lunch sprinkled with dill salt, which was marvelous. But now I'm thinking soup. Though chunky soup, as it needs to be eatable by a toddler who's rather shaky in his spoon-fu as of yet. (He loves chickpeas. All legumes, really. I want to encourage this.)

Kim O'Donnel: You go, Burke! That's the spirit. If you want to keep the lemon-y theme going, you could make a stock of lemongrass and leeks and use that as your broth. Add pearl barley to make a complete protein. Add lots of garlic, squeeze juice of a few lemons. At end, stir in some spinach or baby bok choy for wilting. It will be heavenly.


Arlington, Va.: Is there some trick to making white potatoes last longer? Years ago, I used to buy them in large sacks and they seemed to last for many weeks -- now it seems that no matter how I store them, they're sprouting eyes or brown liquid in no time.

Kim O'Donnel: Cool and dry is key. If you're storing in a moist area, that may be the culprit. I have little storage space and keep mine in fridge despite experts advising me not to. I tend to have minimal waste as a result.


Baltimore, Md.: I bought a block of firm tofu recently, cubed it and marinated it in teriyaki sauce, and added it to stir-fries. It was very tasty, but it caused a great deal of, well, flatulence. I realize tofu is made from soyBEANS. Does everyone else have this problem with tofu?

Kim O'Donnel: My first question to you is, how much fiber do you eat on average? If the answer is very little, then even an apple would make you a tooter. Let's ask the group, but please, folks, let's keep the fart jokes to a MINIMUM. Thanks from the principal's office.


Annandale, Va.: Anybody see that 250 pound plus baseball player Prince Fielder of the Brewers is now a vegetarian?

Kim O'Donnel: This is a new trend among pro ball players. In fact, there's a football player, Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City?) who's recently become a vegan. It is an interesting story to follow.


St. Louis, Mo.: Comment about the Guinness Cake--

Guinness is not strictly vegetarian. Although I suppose it depends on one's level of veg.

Just to put it out there.

Thanks for the chats.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, it's not vegan, is what I think you want to say. That is true.


Washington, D.C.: For the chickpea questioner, Heidi Swanson's blog, 101cookbooks.com, has an interesting chickpea recipe today - a hot pot type soup in a citrus broth with bulgur and greens. It sounds like the prepared chickpeas would go great here.

Kim O'Donnel: Great to know. Heidi always has good ideas in her blogspace. cheers.


Arlington, Va.: Chickpeas & Barley - could you use that same idea but use canned chickpeas? I have a couple cans I'd like to use soon and this sounds great! What other kinds of broth could work besides lemon?

Thanks for taking my question!

Kim O'Donnel: You could used canned, yes. But you should rinse them really well and may need to season with a heavier hand -- and I don't mean salt. Taste, taste, taste along the way.


Columbia, Md.: Is it really necessary to "drain" tofu before using it? I really don't have 1-2 hours to drain the tofu, and THEN marinate before cooking. Can't I just cube and cook straight from the container?

Kim O'Donnel: If you want the tofu to be crispy, which is important to many novice tofu eaters, then yes, it's necessary to drain the tofu. More expert hands also suggest freezing tofu (no draining at all), then chopping as needed, which yields a chewier texture that many find appealing.


Chickpeas: Hi Kim, I recently found a recipe for a chickpea sandwich. I made it and it was pretty good - mashed chickpeas mixed with onions, mayo, salt, pepper - kind of like a tuna salad but with chickpeas instead of tuna. I ate it on bread with lettuce and tomato. My question - do you have any other recipes/ideas for vegetarian sandwich fillings? Or any chickpea recipes? I just recently discovered that I love chickpeas and am looking for more ways to use them. Thank you!!

Kim O'Donnel: I love chickpeas too. Check out some of the soup ideas discussed earlier in the hour. Isa Chandra Moskowitz in her "Veganomicon" has a recipe for chickpea cutlets that have been raved about on the Web. I have yet to make them. I'm not crazy about working with vital wheat gluten, which is why. Liz Kelly, who hosts Celebritology Live in about 20 minutes, has made them. Ask her what she thinks. I have made chickpea patties, binded with mashed potatoes and an egg. Pan fried them. Really nice. I have a mind to test that again and get it up in the blog. Stay tuned.


Stout Cupcakes: For the chatter asking about the Guinness cake cupcakes, the cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (which is the best vegan cupcake book ever) has a recipe for Chocolate Stout Cupcakes that is quite good and was a hit at the party I made them for.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. Isa gets two mentions back to back!


Arlington, Va.: Do you have any recommendations for a vegetarian cookbook for pregnant women?

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. I'm trying to figure out why you'd need a special vegetarian book while pregnant. Is it that you're concerned about getting all the protein, extra nutrients? Vegetarian moms, who have given birth, please weigh in.


Washington, D.C.: Not a cooking question, more a procedural one. How do you deal with people who think that salads are the main source of sustenance for vegetarians? This gets pretty irritating when a group is deciding on a restaurant, and fish/steakhouse wins out because the group believes that a vegetarian is happy to get her sustenance from a $12.99 salad of iceberg lettuce. How do you assure them that it just doesn't cut it, without seeming like a diva?

Kim O'Donnel: I agree, it stinks. There still is work to be done on educating people on what a meatless diet means. I don't know if you ever get to pick the restaurant, but perhaps you can raise your hand next time. I think you're well within your right, and I bet there's someone else in your group who's a vegetarian and you didn't even know it...


Richmond, Va.: Need to serve lunch to a mixed crowd (veggie, meat, no red meat, kids, adults, grandma) of 10 Saturday. Was thinking of white chili, one pot with tofu and one pot with chicken. Any other ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Richmond, leave the tofu out of the meatless chili. It will still be fab all by its lonesome if you season well and add plenty of chopped veggies. I might do a cornbread (no lard) for dunking...and maybe a green salad. Everyone will be able to enjoy.


Substitution, please: Hi Kim, I have recipes calling for buttermilk. I know I can take regular milk and add vinegar or lemon juice but do not know the proportions.

Can you or one of the chatters please help with this information? Hubby wants the crumb cake tomorrow since it will be a telework day due to the predicted ice storm, and I don't want to buy a large amount of buttermilk for one recipe. (Although, as good as your crumb cake is, I may be baking it every day this weekend!)


Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, for 1 cup buttermilk, you can replace 2/3 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk....or combine 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with 1 cup milk.


How do you deal with people who think that salads are the main source of sustenance for vegetarians? : Focus on having a nice time with your friends and fix what you want at home the next night. Part of a small footprint should include humility and less fuss...

Kim O'Donnel: Well, yes and no. If the reader finds him/herself in the same situation on a regular basis, then it's a problem. We don't know if this is a work or pleasure environment. Humility is fine as long as someone doesn't become a doormat.


Veggie pregnancy: It's not a cookbook, but Holly Robert's 'Your Vegetarian Pregnancy' was really helpful for me. It's written in a Q/A style. There's also a section on pregnancy on the Vegetarian Times website.

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


Arlington, Va.: I'll comment on the Guinness as a beer loving vegetarian. I don't recall if Guinness still uses the fining called Isinglass. For those who don't know, finings of various sorts are used in beer to promote clarity by causing certain solids in suspension to drop out. Isinglass is made with fish bladders. How somebody figured out that fish bladders does this is beyond me.

Anyhow, as very little to none remains in the finished product, it should probably be regarded as edible/non-edible depending on whether you typically eat white sugar (bone charcoal for filtration) or cheese (possible animal rennet).

Note that not all beers are produced with finings (few remain, in fact) and not all finings are Isinglass. Perhaps this is a good question for the beer columnist (Greg K something or other) in the Wed food section?

Kim O'Donnel: Gotcha. I am not a big beer drinker, so thanks for making me aware. This would be a great topic for Greg Kitsock, for sure.


Washington, D.C.: On chickpea sandwich fillings (and another mention for Heidi Swanson), Heidi's book Super Natural Cooking has a nice chickpea burger recipe that she's posted on her blog - http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001567.html. I just made these recently, and they were very light and fresh tasting, and were also good cold the next day for a sandwich. I have made the chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon, but as you mentioned, they are vital wheat gluten based and I found them a bit too chewy/tough, but still tasty.

Kim O'Donnel: and thanks for your chickpea sense...


Washington, D.C.: I need black bean help. I make them all the time but always the same way. Saute garlic, onion, hot peppers, S&P and oregano, add the beans and some home made hot vinegar. Can you suggest any other way to make them? I put them in chili as well but I really need to get out of my black bean rut.

Kim O'Donnel: Where's the cumin? Add some after you've sauteed the veg. first. I love black beans, could eat them every day. I like'em with plantains, with rice, with mango or pineapple, cold in salads, wrapped in corn tortillas, with scrambled eggs...


Crumb cake question: Hi Kim,

Not to be dumb, but what would be a comparable size pan to an 8 inch round?

A pyrex square 8x8? Other?

Also, why is the vanilla optional. Doesn't it usually enhance flavor?


Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, you got it. I used a rectangle shaped dish, about 8x13, I think. Don't sweat the small stuff. Chef didn't include vanilla in his original notes, but I used it. I've eaten his version without the vanilla, so I'd say vanilla if you like, or no vanilla if you don't.


Burke, Va.: I'm a vegetarian mom, actually. I have a very healthy little boy who was 9 pounds 15 oz at birth - obviously not undernourished. He's now a thriving toddler who eats pretty much anything - I haven't made his diet vegetarian because I'm veg for health reasons that don't apply to a rapidly growing boy with no cholesterol problems.

People don't actually need as much protein as most Americans think they do. The key things a vegetarian needs to be careful about, my doctor told me, are iron and B12. Take a prenatal supplement, with folic acid (all pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant should be taking folic acid, period). Really, a decent vegetarian diet with legumes and fruits and nuts and veggies, should be just fine, especially if you're lacto-ovo and can add milk and eggs to that mix.

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you so much, Burke, for weighing in before the hour is over. Great tips.


Kim O'Donnel: It's already time to run, and I do appreciate your stopping by. There are many unanswered questions, so check tomorrow's A Mighty Appetite for veggie chat leftovers.

For those interested in more vegetarian content, beginning in early March, my work will be appearing on RealSimple.com, and Mondays will be devoted to meatless wonders. To find out more, send me an e-mail at writingfood@gmail.com with subject line "mailing list and info" and I'll add you to the list for updates. All best.


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