What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, January 29, 2009; 1:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us for a meatless 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! Welcome to this month's special hour devoted to meatless eating, cooking and shopping. For those who are new, Mondays are meatless in the blog space; this week's featured recipe is falafel with tahini sauce. Due to the holidays, we haven't gathered 'round this table since late November; I'm eager to catch up and hear what you've been chewing on and mulling over. Let's hear all about it...


Alexandria, VA: Do you have an easy recipe for making "fake meat/chicken"? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Were I to stand in your fake meat shoes, Alexandria, I'd go straight to "Veganomicon," by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Romero. They've got tons of ideas. My pal and Celebritologist Liz Kelly really likes Isa's "cutlets."


Atlanta, GA: Hello Kim!

I have just recently discovered that I love Cauliflower! Roasting with some olive oil, salt and pepper is my favorite, but I've tried mashed and soup both with great success. Any other ways I can take advantage of my new love?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey ATL, I love roasted cauli, too. Next time, try it with raisins, pine nuts, garlic and bread crumbs,and then toss it into your favorite short pasta. Yowza. I also like it as part of a coconut curry. You game?


Herndon VA: The picture of what I think is falafel on the site made me think of this question: Being meatless I know it's vegetarian, but does falafel count as a vegetable serving?

Also, do you know of any good baked version recipe?


Kim O'Donnel: Herndon, falafel is made from chickpeas, which are a legume, and last time I checked, are considered "podded vegetables." Chickpeas offer calcium, protein, fiber and folic acid, to name a few bennies.

Sorry, haven't practiced w/a baked version. Maybe one of your fellow readers has?


Brooklyn, NY: Kim! Thanks for doing this chat.

I came across a vegetarian chili recipe a couple years back and I swear it's terrific. It's even convinced my omnivore friends that being a vegetarian isn't the worst thing in the world.

Here's the link

The recipe calls for a lot of specific ingredients (Mexican chili powder rather than regular), but I've found that the "vanilla" substitutes work just as well.

Thought your audience would enjoy this.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Brooklyn, more and more people are waking up to the idea of doing the meatless dance once a week or even more frequently. Food needs to be tasty, first and foremost, the details come next. Thanks for sharing this recipe!


cauliflower: I like using Kim's recipe of macaroni and cheese for cauliflower cheese.

Also - there's a wonderful and easy Madhar Jaffrey recipe where you basically put spices in butter add a small amount of water and cauli, toss, cover for twelve minutes, add lemon, let sit for a min or two and serve - delish.

Kim O'Donnel: How simple and nice. I bet a little cayenne and coriander would be good here, too. Thanks!


washington dc: I'm looking for a vegetarian appetizer option to make for a superbowl party this weekend. We'll be having mac&cheese and chili and plenty of dessert, so I was hoping to bring something a little healthier so we don't feel too guilty for sitting and eating the evening away. I'm tired of my usual veggies and hummus, any suggestions? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, back in December, I put together some of my favorite meatless savory party treats. Have a look, see what you think -- runs the gamut from fried to dips, some more "enlightened" than others. By the way, tomorrow's blog is all about Superbowl Munchies on the cheap.


Pittsburgh: Thanks to Arlington Gay for the recent reminder about the Veggie Pot Pie. I found the recipe online, and made a two-crust pie in a standard 9" Pyrex pie dish, pre-baking the bottom crust about 15 minutes so it wouldn't get too soggy (I did have to prick it with a fork to deflate it before pouring in the filling). Instead of the filling recipe given, I used leftover faux-beef stew, which the savory crust with grated cheddar complemented well.

Now I'm wondering whether I could make the recipe with faux-chicken stew, but maybe alter the crust seasonings a bit and use grated Swiss cheese instead of cheddar. Any suggestions from you or the chatters?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Pittsburgh, I def. think could add faux-chix to the mix. Try gruyere for the cheese...and for a crust, I'd probably do panko bread crumbs, with plenty of dried herbs, salt, pepper, a little cayenne and lemon zest.


Washington, DC: Kim, I've tried tempeh in the past and did not like it. But I used to hate tofu and now I like it, so I thought I'd give tempeh another try. Any suggestions for a tempeh dish that my vegetarian family, including teens, would eat? Thanks

Kim O'Donnel: Have I got a goodie for you: Marinated Crispy Tempeh with caramelized onions, goat chese and penne

This is a KOD original, and it's become a staple at Casa Appetite. Mister MA loves it.


Follow up on rutabaga: Hi Kim, I wrote in a few weeks ago asking what to do with a rutabaga. I followed your advice of roasting it with potatoes and carrots - OMG amazing! I ate half it straight out of the pan. Thank you! It will definitely become a new feature at our house.

Kim O'Donnel: Woohoo! I love hearing positive vegetable-inspired vibrations. Nice going, dear. Doesn't it make the winter go by a little bit easier?


To Pittsburgh: You're welcome. That's a frequent recipe in my kitchen. You can adapt with just about anything.


Kim O'Donnel: Aw, there's neighborly luv in the house...


Cauliflower: I like to make it curried. Combine some vegetable broth, cauliflower, can of chickpeas, a chopped jalapeno pepper, curry powder and let it boil for an hour. At the end I thicken it a little with some cornstarch (mix 2 tablespoons in some lukewarm water and stir in). Serve over rice. It's pretty easy.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice one -- and yep, so darn easy. Thanks for adding to the list.


PA: Hi Kim! Do you extract the water from your tofu before using? I see some recipes call for it, other (similar ones) don't. Any rules of thumb? (And any good ideas of what to do with it, for a toddler who's fairly adventurous in eating?) Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I do extract the water, usually by weighing it down with a plate or something heavier. Helps a lot, partic. for sauteed tofu, and I find that marinades give more oopmph with less water. I'd try a mix of soy sauce, chopped fresh ginger, a little garlic and sesame moil,then do a quick saute. Other ideas, folks?


Curried cauliflower: I should have said "bring to boil and let simmer for an hour..." Sorry!

Kim O'Donnel: Duly noted. Thanks!


Celebritology Lizard: Didn't you just LOVE Whoopi Goldberg's impression on "The View" of the PETA ad that was censored from the Super Bowl, about how being vegetarian improves one's, ahem, love life? (Queen Liz posted it on today's "Morning Mix") http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/28/whoopi-imitates-petas-sex_n_161715.html

Kim O'Donnel: I have yet to take a look at this juicy link. Interesting, tho. Isn't there a pro ball player who became a vegan in past year or so?


Cauliflower recipes: Check out any Indian cookbook. I stir-fried some last week with chopped onions & garlic & a lot of cumin, coriander, and black onion seed (nigella/kalonji/charnushka), then simmered with some turmeric. Good hot or cold.

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you! Tasty tidbits here...


Boston, MA: Hi Kim,

Cooking for myself, I always leaned toward veggie dishes. However, my boyfriend is of the philosophy that it isn't really dinner if it doesn't have some kind of meat in it. I have recently done pretty well introducing a few heartier veggie soups into the mix but I'm running short of non-soup ideas. He loves potatoes, beans, really he's a very adventurous eater. It just needs to feel more hearty for him (but still healthy for me) to be satisfied by a veggie-only main course. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Boston, take a look at the Meatless Monday archive. Lots of stick-to-your ribs options, including the aforementioned veggie pot pie and beet and greens quesadilla. So good that he won't miss the meat.


tofu for kids: dip sticks in parm and bake for "fish-like sticks"

Kim O'Donnel: Nice idea...but does cheese stick? Talk to me...


Philadelphia, PA: Have you voted for a White House Farmer yet? if so, who and why? Deadline is 31 January...And next, foodie question: Can you freeze eggplant?

Kim O'Donnel: Nope, haven't done that, but there are some strong contenders, including John Peterson of Angelic Organics in Illinois and Jim and Moie Crawford of New Morning Farm in PA (and sell at DC markets).

White House Farmer

Freezing eggplant: Raw?


Tastebud question: Is there a biological component to how different people's tastebuds work? I, for example, love beets but nearly gag on broccoli and cauliflower -- yet I know others who are just the opposite. Do you have a link you can provide to a good article on the topic?

Kim O'Donnel: Great question. I've often wondered if food preferences are genetically passed on. something to look into. Plus, as we get older, our taste buds seem to change. I'm making a note of this topic, good stuff.


Fake meat: My husband and I have both been thinking about becoming vegetarians, but all this "fake" stuff grosses me out. Do you eat a lot of the "fake" meats? I'd rather think of a recipe as "Tofu Something or Other", rather than "Fake Chicken Whatever." Can we have decent, interesting meals without eating all the pretend stuff?

Kim O'Donnel: I don't eat a lot of fake meat, but it really speaks to some folks. the brands that work for me are: Field Roast sausage and Gimme Lean ground beef.


Tony Gonzalez!: The ever-hot KC Chief tight end went vegan in 2008. Not sure if he stuck with it being a super big athlete.

As for tofu for toddler. Use firm/extra firm and slice to about 1/4 inch thick and pan fry (like gyoza dumplings) until you get a crispy exterior. Dip into favorite sauces.

Use a softer tofu and peas, toss in some garlic/ginger, whatever flavorings you like. Some sliced shitake mushrooms would be good too. For a super comfort food I like to make a thick sauce so it looks like pot pie filling. Yum.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent, thanks. Would be a fun followup piece to do on TG. Great tofu ideas. I also think kids would like "scrambled" tofu.


WH Farmer: Just a plug for a local--Charlie Collins is a wonderful, salf of the earth farmer who I'd like to see have a national platform. No, I have zero connection, really and truly, just have eaten his products and read about him a lot.

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


Washington, DC: No question - if not for your wonderful guidance over the years I would not be sitting at my desk enjoying some curried chickpeas over rice - yum and a big thank you.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's to breaking out of our old boxes and expanding our culinary horizons! Thank you for your support.


Tastebuds: Some time ago, Professor Winston (the OBGYN Fertility Guru in the UK) did a BBC series which included a discussion of tastebuds. From what I remember, there are "tasters" and "supertasters", with the "supertasters" having far more taste buds and thus far more sensitive palates. This showed up in the babies being studied as a difference in what they'd eat. It helped me understand my two supertasters, who can detect anything metalic (certain baking powders) and refuse the item made with it.

Kim O'Donnel: Great -- will have to dig this up.


I've often wondered if food preferences are genetically passed on. : Or learned from our parents. My Mom doesn't like turnips, so she never served them and I never developed a taste for them.

Kim O'Donnel: Right. I didn't have fresh broccoli til I was 18. thought apple sauce was a vegetable.


Isn't there a pro ball player who became a vegan in past year or so?: A baseball player named Prince Fielder. Not sure if he's a vegan, def a vegetarian. Said his wife got him into it.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm...and a second pro ball player to research. Thanks for the tip!


Can you freeze eggplant?: Hmm, eggplant is awfully watery. While I don't know the answer to this question, a relative freezes equally-watery okra by cutting it crosswise into dime-size slices, dipping them in cornmeal and frying them in oil till nearly done, then cooling and freezing. To serve, reheat in a dry frying pan, which crisps-up the okra. Maybe the same method would work on thin-sliced eggplant.

Kim O'Donnel: Great points. I like your idea.


Freezing eggplant: According to Rodale's Preserving Summer's Bounty eggplant does not freeze well in it's raw, unprocessed form. Instead, make a dip or something with it and then freeze. The texture turns terrible so it probably wouldn't do well in a casserole, either.

Kim O'Donnel: More thoughts on freezing eggplant...


Tasters: I like the idea of exploring how we experience flavors. I believe that I am a supertaster and I think my daughter is, too, as well as my sister.

Daughter and I never eat packaged pastries from the store (think packaged Danish pastries and such) because we can always detect a "chemical" taste in the food. No one else is able to detect it, just us. We don't know what it is but I suspect it's the artifiicial vanilla.

Obviously the abitlity to detect these flavors has a genetic element.

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, it's an intriguing idea. I'll never forget my father passing me something with mayo (which I've hated since a kid) and I took one bite, unknowingly, and promptly gagged, calling him on his bluff.


basketballin': Atlanta Hawks Guard Salim Stoudamire is a vegan, too.

Kim O'Donnel: Aha. Now we've got bball, baseball and futbol.


Tastebuds: There is a website, www.tastesq.com, that examines wine preferences based on the number of tastebuds a person has. They discuss how we taste obvious things like salt and sugar are affected, as well as stuff like strong, bold flavors v. subtle nuances. Doesn't completely answer the questions but it's fun and interesting.

Kim O'Donnel: Wonderful! Will check it out.


To Boston, with the meat-eating boyfriend: When I went veggie, I initially had a hard time convincing my elderly, widowed father that it wasn't due to poverty but rather a preference. When I went to visit him the next time, I whipped up a batch of black-bean chili, which I served Cincinnati-style over cooked spaghetti, with grated cheddar cheese and sour cream topping options.

Another evening while I was there I made a batch of mock-Bolognese sauce, substituting a pound of baked, crumbled veggie burger for the fried ground beef (bonus: far less fat) to serve over pasta, with fresh-grated Parmesan on top.

In both cases, my dad paid me the highest compliment: he said he never missed the meat in either dish! Incidentally, he became inspired to reduce (although not entirely eliminate) the meat intake in his diet, including making a lot more homemade soups from leftovers.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks so much for your first-hand report and insight.


Lentils!: Basics, please? I promised myself 3 weeks ago when I bought a package of brown lentils that I would figure out how to cook them so they taste good...but I'm a little lost. I don't want a soup, but something warm to spill over rice/quinoa, perhaps? My spice cabinet is a little limited but the pantry is pretty well stocked. I'm just looking for something hearty, healthy, and yummy! Thanks for your help, as always!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey! Just whipped up a quickie pot of teeny green lentils last night, served with some wild salmon. Here's what you can do: Give them a quick rinse. Chop an onion, finely. Garlic if you want, too. Add 1-2 tablespoons oil in a pot, add onion and garlic, cook over medium heat til soft. (I think I added a red bell pepper, too.) Add coriander, if you have it (don't worry if you don't) and some paprika and salt. Stir in lentils to coat. Add water to cover, plus an inch. Bring up to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered. Keep eye on water level; lentils like water. Takes about 30 minutes. Just before serving, swirl in a few teaspoons of Dijon mustard.


Seattle Tempe Adventurer: I've never really been into tempeh, but my husband requested it recently. I thought, well, if I must try again, I'm sure whatever Kim suggests will be good! And it was excellent! I made your tempeh pasta recipe, adding in some sauteed mushrooms and kale... the tempeh was crispy and salty and everything tasted scruptious together. Thank you - I now have another good meat substitute to work with.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey neighbor! Glad you enjoyed. I love the idea of adding more veg, well done. I am playing around with more tempeh ideas these days, including a crispy tempeh hoagie.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

There's a special feature at http://www.vegdc.com/-- "Veg-Friendly Eats & Drinks on Super Bowl Sunday!" It could be useful for people watching the Super Bowl out or at home and looking for vegetarian options.

Thanks for your blog. I love it! Noelle

Kim O'Donnel: Oh nice! I'll take a look. Cheers.


re; fake meats: I gave up eating meat about 12 years ago, and tend not to eat much of the fake meats. I do use "ground meat" in chili, just because my BF likes the added texture. I also make an exception for certain dishes that I miss, like Carbonara - I don't think soy bacon would be particularly good on its own or in a blt (which I do miss when tomatoes are at their peak), but for the smokey crunchy bits, it's not too bad.

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting -- I can't stand the "crumbles" but I really like making the "ground meat" into burgers. Liz Kelly loves the fakin' bacon, I'm kinda meh.


Anonymous: Kim, There is no such thing as a veggie "meatloaf" right ?

Kim O'Donnel: Sure there is. Whatcha got in mind?


Parsnips: What can you do with parsnips outside of stir fry?

Kim O'Donnel: Parsnips are awesome mashed with potatoes and some garlic. Also groovin' roasted with carrots, sweet potatoes, some herbs and olive oil.


BROWN lentils: The poster has brown lentils - not puy.

Kim O'Donnel: That's fine. Brown lentils can be cooked the very same way.


That curried cauliflower recipe...: Let's say one wanted to add spinach -- fresh or frozen?

Kim O'Donnel: If you use frozen, just keep in mind the water content...


Going Veg: My parents freaked when they found out I went vegetarian 18 months ago. They seriously thought I would die from malnutrition and was horrified that I was forcing it on my husband. Well, hubby's cholesterol went down 30 points thanks to me. Now, they realize it's not just me being a picky eater or a phase I'm going through. Dad proudly tells mom that Chinese shrimp noodles are not vegetarian and that meat-based soups do count as meat.

I am not fond of fake meats. Tempeh has an acidic aftertaste and seitan just freaks me out. The veggie burgers out there are ok, but I prefer real veggie burgers over fake hamburgers, if that makes sense. I stick with vegetables, tofu, beans, etc. Real, whole, unprocessed foods.

Kim O'Donnel: Love this story. Gosh, I can't wait to tell y'all about this book idea I'm currently pitching to agents...your pop will love it!


re : veggie meatloaf, nothing really in mind...: just practicing in case I get on Who wants to be a millionaire...

Kim O'Donnel: Is that your final answer?


Kim O'Donnel: Shucks, already time to go. Great hour, thanks so much for stopping by. By the way, to the few of you who submitted recipes, I'm not ignoring you; some funky characters appeared along with fractions, so I'm going to clean up and post in blog in coming days. Stay tuned. Please keep me posted on your meatless adventures and don't be shy; send me your recipe requests over at my Facebook fan page. Stay well, and eat your vegetables!


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