What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, September 25, 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: Hello, and welcome to this month's special hour devoted to meatless eating, cooking and shopping. As some of you may already know, I've launched a " Meatless Monday" feature in the blog space, which will offer a new recipe every week to encourage the idea of taking a day off from meat. In today's blog, you've got to check out the details for Tofu Brownies-- they're almost too good to be true. I was really surprised by the results, which are super fudgy. It's been a while so we all got together, so we have a lot of catching up to do. Tell me what's happening in your kitchens...


Washington, D.C.: Our CSA just gave us about 18 sweet potatoes. They aren't my favorite, but do you know any spicier sweet potato recipes? I've gone through every traditional recipe I know.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm with you, D.C. The spicier the sweet potato recipe, the better. Roast a few, scoop out the flesh and mix in some chopped garlic and your favorite hot sauce. Or try these mashed sweet potatoes, curried up with red Thai curry paste and coconut milk. Really nice.


Washington, D.C.: Cooking with Breastmilk, a little crazy or amazingly stupid. Has PETA just lost all touch with reality with their latest stunt?

Kim O'Donnel: I just found a link from the Herald Sun in Australia:


Apparently, PETA has suggested to Ben & Jerry's ice cream to start using breast milk in their products. I haven't confirmed any of this, so don't take my word for it. If anyone finds out more over the course of the hour, let us know.

Yes, I'd agree this idea is a little over the edge...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim -- I sort of winged it on some veggie lasagna the other night and it turned out okay, but not great. I used layers of no-boil noodles, ricotta mixed with shallot, black pepper, basil, and parsley, some pre-cooked thin slices of zucchini, topped with grated cheese. One problem is that I always need more sauce than I think cause of those no-boil noodles. But is there something I can mix in the ricotta to make it more flavorful? I was going to add the zucchini slices raw, but read a few recipes and all advised pre-cooking. I seasoned them with a little garlic and olive oil, but they didn't have much taste other than the garlic. What am I missing?? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, take a look at details for this arugula pesto, which contains ricotta. I've used it as lasagna filling and love the piquant flavor. See what you think.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, after going to store after store I finally found black lentils aka urad dal. No one in the Indian stores I went to recognized what I was asking for when I said black lentils. I finally found a store keeper who was kind enough to look at my recipe and find the right name and after I made 3 trips to his store in one day. He gave me the beans for free because he said I was so persistent. I made a lentil curry soup that was delicious. At least I now know where to find them.

Kim O'Donnel: That's something that would never happen in a big supermarket. Yay for the little shopowners! I hope they never go away.


Tofu brownies: These sound great! I'm not keen on stocking my cupboards with lots of ingredients I'll rarely use -- so can spelt flour be replaced with the usual? Or tell me something else I can use it for! Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: The choice of spelt flour by the author, I'm betting, is due to lower gluten content, which makes it easier for folks with wheat allergies (but not to be confused with celiac). I'm thinking all-purpose flour would work, but there was no time to test an alternate batch. Give it a try, let me know.


Virginia: I've got a tasty spicy sweet potato dish (I can't stand sweetened sweet potatoes) -- cut up, peeled sweet potatoes and roast in baking dish (can't remember at what temp, though) with olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt, and red pepper flakes. Put as much or as little red pepper to adjust for your own spicy tastes. Delicious! And not cloyingly and sickeningly sweet!

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah! Sounds great, Virginia.


Maryland burbs: Hey Kim -- I'm dying to try the tofu brownies tonight, but only have white, whole wheat and soy flours at home (and some vital wheat gluten) -- which do you recommend I use instead of the spelt? I've never baked with spelt flour so I'm not sure what would work best. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, as I mentioned to another reader, I think it's worth trying all-purpose flour -- and then you can post your report tomorrow in the blog!


Veggie lasagne --: I've seen recipes that use the zucchini itself as pasta -- thought that was interesting.

I've used zucchini raw in lasagne and it turned out great -- not too mushy and not undercooked either.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, I have too -- and I agree about the raw zukes in the lasagna. In fact, I prefer it -- mushiness is minimized.


Washington Navy Yard: Despite the fact that her parents are ravenous carnevores, my 20-month-old daughter refuses to eat meat. As a result, it's a daily feat trying to get protein into her. A friend suggested trying tofu but since mommy and daddy don't eat it, I haven't a clue as to how to cook/prepare it. Any suggestions for kid friendly tofu dishes? Other kid friendly vegetarian but high protein dishes welcome too!

Kim O'Donnel: I've made a lot of toddlers who adore chickpeas and lentils. They are easy to digest and very high in protein. You could start with red lentils, which you cook in a saucepan, cover with just enough water, add a little cinnamon (she'll like that), salt, pepper, a chopped onion. When lentils are tender (about 25 minutes later), puree the mixture and serve to her. You could also add squeeze a lemon or orange on top.


Manassas, Va.: Comment. This is the perfect time to buy red bell peppers at the farmers markets (4 for a dollar and don't ask what I usually pay). It is cool outdoors so you can roast them on the grill. Peel the blackend skin and slice into 1/2 inch strips them marinate with olive oil, crushed garlic salt and pepper and eat with frsh bread.

Kim O'Donnel: I couldn't agree more, Manassas. I just had a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich the other day with a roasted poblano pepper -- yowza.


Pre-Move Pantry clean out: Kim, as part of the great purge prior to our move to Orlando I took your advice and have been doing a mini version of "Iron Chef Pantry clean out." I recently discovered that my husband had a stash of canned sauerkraut large enough to feed a small country. Some was so old that one of the cans had exploded!

Now I need lots of ideas of what to do with about 12 cans of sauerkraut that have acceptable expiration dates. We are vegetarian so I present this challenge to our chatters today with the hope that there are creative ways to consume canned sauerkraut.

I have made several large donations to the local food bank of other non-perishable items including about six cans of sauerkraut.

Thanks for the great chats... and I love "Meatless Monday!"

Kim O'Donnel: Twelve cans of sauerkraut. Whaddya think, folks? Some faux sausages, grilled or seared, to go with?


Brownies: Those tofu brownies sure look good. Do you happen to have a fat and calorie count on them? 1/2 cup of oil looks a little scary...Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Tofu Brownies Rock ( A Mighty Appetite, Sept. 25)

Kim O'Donnel: I don't have fat or calorie count. 1/2 cup of oil is actually pretty minimal for an entire batch of brownies. Remember, there are no eggs in this, either. You need some lubrication to keep these from turning into rocks.


South Dakota: Kim -- I have some great looking turnips in my garden this year but I am stumped. What should I do with them?

I still can't determine why I planted turnips when I've never even tried them before.

Kim O'Donnel: Southie: Cut one up into quarters, lather it with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it at 400 degrees until fork tender. See if you like how it sweetens up. I might also boil one with a few spuds and mash them together for a little twist on the old favorite. Don't forget the garlic!


Seattle, Wash.: Hi Kim -- Have you read the book "Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors" by Lizzie Collingham? It's a cookbook as well as a fascinating history of Indian cuisine. I thought of it when you mentioned starting a "Curry Talk" the other day.

Kim O'Donnel: You know, I have it on my shelf and have only gotten through a portion of it, realizing after I had written the post that it should have been included. Thanks for mentioning! By the way, I am working out the details for a "Curry Club" this fall -- an entire week devoted to curry, and you'd get recipes in advance to set up "curry clubs" with your pals. Stay tuned.


Pgh: PETA appears to be at least a little bit serious about the breast milk idea -- it's on their Web site ( PETA.org).

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm....


Sauerkraut: For the chatter with the sauerkraut: Have friends over for an Oktoberfest farewell party!

Kim O'Donnel: And if you don't eat meat, the chiptole-flavored links from Field Roast would be a great complement.


For the sauerkraut: How about braised apples? Maybe with white beans? I've done the above with red cabbage cooked in vinegar, which was great, so maybe?

Kim O'Donnel: Oh nice idea! I love this.


Kid Friendly Veg Dishes: My two kids LOVE beans...black beans mashed with a little cheese and sour cream are always a hit. Also, check out the book Super Baby Food. There's a recipe in there for sweet potatoes with tofu mashed in sweetened with maple syrup (I think it's called Sweet Potato Pudding.) My toddler adored it.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent tip. Thanks for chiming in.


Washington, D.C.: Wow! Those brownies sound good. But after trying some chipotle powder while cooking in a friend's kitchen, I haven't seen it in the stores. Where can I find this?

Kim O'Donnel: I found it at the Whole Foods near my place in Seattle. I think Penzey's carries it, though.


Washington, D.C.: Hello Kim! I am so looking forward to trying out your Dark N Stormy Pear Crisp recipe. I have an event to go to next week where I need to take individually-sized desserts. Would it work to make the crisp in muffin tins (with the liners)? If so, what would be a recommended cooking time?


Kim O'Donnel: Last year at the National Press Club book fair, where I was selling my cookbook, A Mighty Appetite for the Holidays, NPC chef Jim Swenson made the crisp in individual servings for samples, so yes, it can be done. Lines sound like a good idea. As for cooking, you'd want to be vigilant -- check every 15 minutes to see how it's doing.


Rosslyn, Va.: I was inspired by your 'Meatless Mondays' and have since promised to make one meal a week vegetarian-only. I made a mushroom-leek tart this week and thinking of a tomato bisque next week. Do you have any good recipes and/or tips?

Kim O'Donnel: Woohoo! Welcome aboard. I promise I'll keep giving you new and interesting recipes to try. See what you think of this creamy-ish tomato soup


Best spicy sweet potatoes evah!: Mix with chipotle -- serve mashed or incorporate into any "Mexipe."

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed! Well done.


Sauerkraut: Veggie Ruebens -- Mix kraut, Russian dressing, crumbled feta. Butter two slices rye bread -- layer a few slices veggie deli turkey, kraut mix, slice o' swiss cheese if wanted on unbuttered side of a slice of rye. Put other slice of bread on top, fry in a pan like making a grilled cheese. Beware of stampeding hungry guys....

Kim O'Donnel: Another idea for the 'kraut overload...


Fat in the brownies: Actually, among the chocolate, tofu, and oil in the recipe, I would bet these are pretty high in fat content, but if no milk chocolate, at least is not saturated.

Kim O'Donnel: Remember, they are called brownies for a reason...


Hurray for fall veggies: Hi, Kim! I've always been pretty active and fit, but this past year I've drastically cut back on eating meat, and have upped my fiber intake a lot. The result is a much better blood test result! Gotta say that I love fall for the delicious food options. Some of my favorite combos: - Roasting cubes of sweet potato, topping each with goat cheese , a half-walnut, and a drop of honey (for appetizers) - Roasting and smashing butternut squash with caramelized onions and raisins - French onion soup... YUM - making zucchini fritters, to which I sometimes add shaved carrots

Kim O'Donnel: Good for you, dear. Glad to hear you have turned things around for your health. I love fall combo ideas...


Arlington, Va.: Re: Tofu and Toddlers --

It is great finger food, as well as easy! And, great to introduce at this age. Molly Katzen has several toddler-friendly tofu recipes in her "Enchanted Brocolli Forest." The key is to cube and boil it first for 10 minutes, which firms it up. As it takes any flavor, it is customizable.

To this day, tofu is my 14-yr-old omnivore son's comfort food.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Arlington. I think the texture would appeal to toddlers, too.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm struggling to keep up my iron levels. What are some go-to vegetarian meals that have high levels of iron? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Beans and dark leafy greens are very rich in iron, Alexandria. Soybeans top the list, at nearly 9 mg of iron per cup, but lentils are a closer runner up, as is spinach. You could do a lentil puree with wilted spinach and you'd be all set.


Sauerkraut:: Believe it or not, sauerkraut is an excellent pizza topping.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm trying to wrap my head around this, but go on...


Sauerkraut: There's an appetizer here in the Midwest: saurkraut balls (or something). Deep fried balls of sauerkraut bound together with eggs, flour, etc. (I presume). Maybe you can find a recipe online?

My Slovak family goes heavy on the sauerkraut in stuffed cabbage (in the pan with the juice, not as part of the actual stuffed cabbages), which has meat, but I'm sure there are meatless versions as well...

Kim O'Donnel: Wow! All these great ideas...


Boston, Mass.: Why put tofu in brownies? It doesn't appear to be replacing anything that would keep a vegetarian from eating them. There is no calorie or fat saving, as this recipe has the same amount of fat and even more sugar than a regular brownie recipe. Is the point to get more protein through a dessert? Otherwise there is no reason a regular brownie can't be vegetarian. Just wondering.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, there are lots of folks who don't (or can't) do dairy or eggs, and the silken tofu acts a substitute.


Chipotle powder: Kim... why always point readers to places like Whole Foods and Penzey's when the answer is so obvious -- any Latin American supermercado, or even a Caribbean ethnic market if your neighborhood doesn't have a Latin American one. The spice will be better, fresher and MUCH cheaper than the same spice at Whole Foods.

Kim O'Donnel: I hear you -- but I have yet to find chipotle powder at a supermercado. The chipotles in a can with adobo sauce, yes. But the powder? No.


Kraut cake: My mom talks about a sauerkraut cake from the 60's? 70's? I bet Google would find it. I couldn't imagine wanting to make it, but then, I don't have 6 cans of the stuff!

washingtonpost.com: Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

Kim O'Donnel: Oh gosh, yes, I've heard of this. This might be the ticket!


Washington, D.C.: For the vegetarian child -- a nice red lentil soup made with dried apricots. Lots of good nutrition there and it's simple. Lentil, Apricot Lentil Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/3 cup dried apricots 1 1/2 cups red lentils 8 cups chicken stock 1+ cans ro-tel tomatoes 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme salt to taste ground black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or double)

Directions 1 Saute onion, garlic, and apricots in olive oil. Add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

2 Stir in tomatoes, and season with cumin, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes.

3 Stir in lemon juice.

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice. Thanks so much for your contribution!


Sauerkraut on pizza: Notthat far from a reuben, actually. Cheese, bread, a sauce, and sauerkraut. Could be very good. (super salty, though, as cheese is very high in salt)

Kim O'Donnel: True, true.


Reston, Va.: Hi Kim,

I have a bunch of leftover stuffed-pepper stuffing, but I'm tired of the peppers. I don't care for tomatoes; what else can I stuff? Could I scoop the seeds out of a zucchini and fill the halves? I feel like I'd need to cook the zukes a bit first--roast? broil? parboil, as I do the peppers?

Thanks in advance!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, a zucchini would work --you can broil first, then fill.

You could also stuff an eggplant or an acorn squash!


Spicy sweet potatoes: I'm not the biggest spicy fan, but I LOVE sweet potatoes and black beans together, so I'd recommend making some spicy Mexican burritos.

Kim O'Donnel: oh yes! This is one of my all-time favorite combinations. You're inspiring me to come up with a recipe. Cheers.


Ahhh! No, no!: The red lentil soup recipe calls for chicken stock! That is not vegetarian!

Otherwise, it sounds lovely, and I am going to make it with veg stock.

Kim O'Donnel: Water is also a great liquid for lentil soup -- and I believe, still vegetarian...


Alexandria, Va.: Can you throw out some squash puree ideas/recipes? I did one recently with butternut squash roasted with shallots, thyme and honey (split, de-seed, and roast it all under foil, then scoop and process), and it was great, so I'd love more ideas: sweet and/or spicy and for different types of squash.

Also, do purees like this freeze well?

Kim O'Donnel: Squash purees puree really well, yes indeed. I have a kabocha squash on the kitchen table that I'm hoping to cut up this week and either steam or braise. This Japanese squash is wonderful with scallions, sesame oil, ginger and a little soy. I'll keep you posted.


More sweet potatoes: I'm a fan of sweet potato and black bean quesadillas - grate the pototoes, spice 'em up, cook with onion until soft, then toss in a can of black beans. I think this was originally a Moosewood recipe, but I've been making it for years so I just wing it.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh yes, yes, yes. Excellent idea for folks always on the run and feeling like they can't put together dinner. This is a winner!


Sauerkraut pizza: There's a little pizzeria up by Yellowstone called Wild West Pizzeria -- that's where I first heard of it when on vacation out there. They put it on two slices for free just to try it and man was it good. Now I make it all the time. I know it sounds weird, but with all that sauerkraut, OP could put it on two slices and see if they like it.

Kim O'Donnel: Wow! And I need to make a note of this place for my next visit to that area. Sounds intriguing.


Chipotle powder: OK, I admit this particular product is not something I have looked for. But I have developed a hair trigger on this topic from other chats when the very product mentioned was something I often buy at my local supermercado at an excellent quality and price, yet all the venues that you pushed for them are places where the product is more expensive but shoppers are more typically Anglo-American/white Caucasian. One thing that jumps out at me is that when I've posted about those items' availability at ethnic markets, you haven't printed that (of course I know there are a lot of questions and you can't respond to everything), yet in the case of chipotle powder, you were quick when the response was "Stay out of those ethnic markets, you'll never find it." My sense is you just plain like the white customer venues more than the ethnic ones. Is this totally paranoid?

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, it's totally paranoid. I am constantly on the prowl for ethnic ingredients. In fact, last night I was at Uwajimaya, an amazing Asian grocery store here in Seattle, with lots of pantry staples that are Latin as well as Indian. It was the first place I checked actually, in my hunt for chipotle powder. They didn't have it. Did I try to hunt down a supermercado in my new town in an effort to test a recipe after 8 p.m.? No, I did not. I went to a store very close to my home, which happens to be a Whole Foods. If QFC, a local Kroger-owned chain had been on the way, I would have stopped there first. Please don't bark up this tree; if you know me at all, you know that I shop at all kinds of places for my food and try to offer a variety here in this forum.


Kim O'Donnel: We are out of time. Thanks for stopping by, and for the lively conversation. Take good care, and I'll talk to you in the blog space: A Mighty Appetite.


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