What's Cooking Vegetarian

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 26, 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 hour devoted to meatless cooking, eating and shopping. This week's Meatless Monday featured recipe is Green Gumbo, just in time for Lent, and if Lent isn't your thing, it's a great way to get about five servings of green veg. Those who checked the blog this morning know that I've set a date for the Eating Down the Fridge Challenge, which kicks off March 9. Hope you can join me for what should prove to be an eye-opening experience! I've set up a page for EDFers over at Facebook as well. As February comes to a close, that means spring is just a little bit closer -- altho here in Seattle, we had a few inches of snow overnight! What are you champing at the bit for during the seasonal transition? I can't wait for my first bite of local greens.


22101: Hey Kim! This weekend I'm planning on making a huge batch of meatballs, which I will freeze and portion out to my single guy friends, along with homemade sauce, a bottle of wine, pasta, and a set of bowls and 2 forks (get it, date night in a box!)... I think its a great plan, especially for someone who has been in a hole writting a dissertation for the past 4 months and missed Christmas entirely.

Except I forgot that two of my guy friends are vegetarians (one by choice, and the other default - girlfriend doesn't do meat). Do you have a great veggie "meatball" recipe? Would crumbling extra-firm tofu work? (I do this to make veggie sloppy joes). And yes, I kinda do have my heart set on veggie meatballs, because what guy doesn't love spaghetti and meatballs!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, have you ever played with Gimme Lean "ground beef?" It comes in a tube like Jimmy Dean sausage and it makes great meatballs and burgers. I am going to let readers chime in here and share their tried-and-tried methods...


Bethesda: My spouse insists that vegetables are not healthy unless eaten raw. I know that boiling can strip them of vitamins, but I always thought that stir-frying and steaming were good options. What are some healthy ways to cook veggies? I'm not into raw carrots seven days a week.

Kim O'Donnel: Sounds like someone is trying to get out of eating one's veggies. Hmmm....Yes, of course, stir frying and steaming are good options for veg, as is roasting. Boiling vegetables until they're no longer recognizable is a surefire way to leech them of their nutrients, but a quick boil? Still good for you.


Chicago: Kim,

I wanted to suggest a modification on the popcorn recipe you posted for Oscar night. I thought it sounded great, but I was worried my five year old, a popcorn fiend, would be turned off by the Indian flavors, so we did dill pickle-flavored popcorn instead. I heated the oil with a tsp. of garlic powder and 1/2 tsp of salt. After the corn was popped we garnished with about 3 Tbsp. of chopped fresh dill (I let him chop it) and some lemon juice (I think a wine vinegar would have also worked well). It was quite tasty and we ate it up fast, no sogginess problem at all.

Kim O'Donnel: Sounds great, Chicago. I love how you improvised! Nice going.


Boston MA: Hi Kim,

I have a bag of brown lentils. Last time I made the lentils I made them pretty traditionally (carrots, celery, onion, stock) and I felt they were pretty bland. I don't really want to make a soup but I'm wondering if you have another way to spice up the lentils without having to purchase too many extra ingredients. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Boston,

Have a look at this blog post from a few years ago:

Showing Lentils Some Love

. there's a TON of ideas on jazzing up the lentils. I'm a big fan of browning some thinly sliced onions with cumin seeds and adding to soup just before serving, with a hearty squeeze of a lemon. Perks everything up.


Re; meatballs: Quorn-brand meatballs are my favorite, if you're going the premade route. Although I am a vegetarian who did not give up meat because of the taste, so I appreciate that Quorn products are a little more realistic. I may be in the minority.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's one thought on veggie meatballs....


Stew: I don't miss meat, but I sometimes miss the flavors/textures associated with certain dishes. Lately, I've been craving beef stew. Something like a beef burgundy or pot roast. What would be a good substitute for the meat? Extra firm tofu? Mushrooms? Baked tofu? I don't particularly care for tempeh or seitan but am willing to give it a go.

Kim O'Donnel: You might like to try out Field Roast, which is super tasty, albeit a bit salty for some. I'm not a big fan of seitan myself, but tempeh really rocks my world. Here are the details for Marinated Crispy Tempeh, which has a terrific meaty texture.


Kent, OH: Please help. I need an easy (& relatively cheap) veggie stock. The stocks I've bought from the stores always taste way too sweet, which tend to make my soups taste a little off.

also, how long will it last? the bought stuff says a few days, would i be able to freeze any leftover stock?

Kim O'Donnel: Kent, You can make your own stock in under an hour. You game? Some folks like to roast the veggies first, which of course gives more flavor, but I think that in a pinch, you can make great tasting (and salt free) veggie stock in no time. Use an onion, quartered, plus skins if you want to darken the stock; plus a few whole garlic cloves, a handful of black peppercorns, a handful of parsley stems and a leek, chopped. Celery is fine, too. Place everything in a pot, add only enough water to barely cover, then bring up to a lively simmer, then cook over low-medium heat for about 30 minutes. Strain; stock is ready. And yes, you can freeze.


Crofton, MD: Hi Kim,

I tried your tempeh pasta recipe from your Meatless Monday a few weeks ago, and I have to admit I really disliked the tempeh. I feel like I should give tempeh another shot, if only to add variety to my vegetarian diet. Also, I do prefer more natural meat substitutes, like tofu, to some of the fake meats that are filled with preservatives. Can you offer any other recipes for newbie tempeh eaters?

Kim O'Donnel: Sorry to hear it didn't work out for you. I love the stuff -- but I also prefer it marinated rather than sauteed plain. Maybe switch up the marinade? You could also try baking it. For some, tempeh is too "funky" -- but I find it mushroomy and meaty, which suits me just fine.


Phila, PA: Kim, Card-carrying carnivore here. Yet I do enjoy a good veggie soup every-so-often. What soup-friendly grains carry the most protein? Yeah, I know that beans are -the- choice for protein in soups, but I am interested in less bean and more grain in this case. Thanks for your time/answer!

Kim O'Donnel: Quinoa is a protein powerhouse, Philly. But you also can't go wrong with pearl barley...or kasha...soup-friendly pastas include orzo and something even smaller, can't remember name...and then there's Israeli couscous....


Dried bean newbie: I just ordered a few rancho gordo dried beans (garbanzos, cranberry and mayacoba), but I've never cooked dried beans before. I could totally use some help on how to get started. I thought you had done a post on it before, but I couldn't find it. What exactly does soaking overnight mean -- is that more like 12 hours or 24? Add baking soda? Not that the basic advice wouldn't be enough, but do you also have any great recipe suggestions? I'd like to do something soup/stewy, but am seeing lots of non-vegetarian suggestions. Or maybe with braised kale and lots of garlic? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Rancho Gordo's beans are REALLY fresh -- which means only a few hours of soaking is necessary. No baking soda. Here's the blog post about Steve Sando and his amazing beans from a few years ago. He also has a new book out -- "Heirloom Beans" which is worth a looksee.


On Tempeh: I am a longtime veggie but a more recent convert to tempeh, so I understand the concerns. Heidi Swanson at 101cookbooks.com recently published a fantastic orange tempeh recipe that my omnivore husband has requested 3 weeks in a row now. http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/orange-panglazed-tempeh-recipe.html

Kim O'Donnel: Love it. Thank you!


Substituting for meat: I've found that dried shitake or Chinese black mushrooms work very well as a meat substitute. I use them to make my vegetable broth that is the basis for my vegetarian French Onion soup and no one notices that there is no beef in the "beef broth". For stews, I would reconstitute, take off the stems, slice thin and then add to the stew and make sure to strain and include the mushroom water used to reconstitute (loads of good flavor). For meatballs, reconstitute, take off the stems and then grind with a meat grinder to get the right consistency. Mix with bread crumbs and egg (you can use egg substitute if you don't do eggs). If you want a little more intense flavor, Lee Kum Kee makes a mushroom based, vegetable stir-fry sauce that approximates oyster sauce and a dash of that would help flavor up the meatballs.

Kim O'Donnel: Great stuff here. Thank you so much for these tasty tidbits.


DC: I had a really delicious artisanal tofu (tableside) at a restaurant in NYC recently. I do have guidelines for preparing tofu from Food & Wine, and I know where to buy a soymilk machine, but I'm stumped on sources for fresh soybeans. Any ideas in the DC/Baltimore metro areas?

Kim O'Donnel: Great question. Who knows where to pick up fresh soybeans?


Arlington, Va.: Hi! I'm making a mushroom and goat cheese tart tonight for dinner, but I'm concerned it might not be enough. A salad seems redundant since there's spinach on there too - what would you suggest for a vegetarian side? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: A green salad would not be redundant at all! In fact, the acidity of the vinaigrette would be a nice counterpoint to fat in tart. You could add some winter citrus, too.


Laurel, MD: A suggestion for Kent. Save up some glass jars of appropriate portion sizes (I like the pasta sauce jars because they are quite appropriate). Make your stock (veggie or meat) and then pour in jars to about the 3/4 full level. Freeze. Do not overfill the jars as anything water based like stock will expand when frozen and you'll just shatter the glass jars). Put one jar at a time in the fridge and use. If it goes bad, you only lose a cup or two of broth. When you need more, defrost another jar. It will last several months in the freezer. Unless I am making soup, I don't use more than a cup or two in the time it would take to go bad and this means a better use of homemade stock.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice tips, Laurel. thank you!


Arlington, VA: When asked by a family friend how he managed with an ominvore mom and vegitarian dad, son replied, "I am a flexitarian."

Kim O'Donnel: Yep, flexitarian is a term lots of folks are using to explain their part-time relationship with going meatless. It's fascinating to me how much our eating habits are changing, that within family structures it's common to have one person eating meat, one who isn't and one who rides both sides.


Boulder, CO: Hi Kim, I'm going to try your roasted broccoli tonight. I can't search the chat archives. Would you please remind me of the temp & time? thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Here you go: Roasted Broccoli Pick Up Sticks


Arlington: For the person looking for a vegetarian stew, I've made this mushroom bourguinon a few times recently. it's fantastic!


Kim O'Donnel: Great -- smittenkitchen has some tasty recipes. Good call.


Alexanddria, VA: Hi Kim,

I'm looking for a good vegetarian option for my wedding at the beach in September. We've decided on a meat dish (beef tenderloin), but are still working on a good veggie option. We're guessing approx 30ish guests (plus me, the bride) will go veggie. We want something that really stands on its own as a nice entree, and doesn't seem like just a large portion of a side dish. We're also hoping to steer of generic "veggies on pasta" dishes. The first thing that came to mind is a vegetarian bastilla, but I'm afraid that might be a bit much for a caterer who's not used to making veggie dishes (especially for a big crowd). Any ideas?


Kim O'Donnel: At the moment, I'm completely blanking on what the weddikng caterer did for our veggie guests, but I think a grilled marinated portobello may have been part of it. Wow, 30 veggie guests! Where is the event? Fresh produce is a'plenty in September -- I'm also thinking of stuffed eggplant, peppers or zucchini...


Laurel, MD: For Arlington, VA I think KOD's great roasted broccoli or other roasted veggies would make an excellent side to the tart. Also a cucumber salad. I make my mother's cucumber salad (don't have the recipe here at work, but here's a stab):

3-4 medium cukes Peel, slice in half, use a spoon to scoop out seeds, slice into half moon slices. Put in bowl, sprinkle with salt. Let sit 30 minutes. Put cukes in a thin dish towel and squeeze excess water out (key, or the water will leach out and water down your vinagrette). Put 3-4 TBSP of cider vinegar, and sugar to taste (about 1-2 TBSP) on cukes.

In a small skillet or sauce pan, heat up 3-4 TBSP of oil (vegetable or canola), add 2 cloves minced garlic and one or two dried chili peppers, cook until the garlic just starts to brown, pour immediately over the cukes. Toss for a minute so that the cukes are liberally covered and start to absorb the vinegar and oil mixture. Sprinkle a TBSP (or a little more) sesame oil over the salad and chill. Serve cold.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Laurel for stepping right in!


Pearl Onion: In anticipation of eating down the fridge week, I've got a bag of frozen pearl onions that I have no idea how to prepare. I was thinking some kind of vegetarian pot pie?

Kim O'Donnel: They would definitely be great as part of a pot pie. You can cook'em with peas in butter and herbs and mix in with rice...great with mushrooms...


Speaking of green beans: Memories of beans cooked to mush in my childhood had turned me off veggies as a grownup. Then I started eating out and discovered haricot vert. Sheer heaven when cooked correctly and left crunchy. I think the fact that they are somewhat thinner makes a difference.

So where to find this version in the stores - will American string beans do or should I chase down the real thing?

Kim O'Donnel: Fresh beans are the bomb diggety, whether they're French, American or any other nationality. Find yourself some fresh beans and you'll be a happy camper.


for the tart: My 'go to' in situations like this is a green been and shallot salad (sometimes I also add frozen artichoke harts). I make a basic vinagrette and parboil the green beans. I add the green beans and chopped shallots (and artichoke hearts) to the vinagrette when warm. This is important as there's a marinading action that makes everything jive toghether. It's really tasty.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice going. Sounds like it will take all of 15 minutes, too.


Baltimore, MD: Hi, Kim!

I freeze leftover stock and broth in icecube trays. I measure the amount of liquid a cube holds, and I write it on the outside of the tray with a Sharpie marker. Then I know approximately how many cubes to a cup. Once the liquid is frozed I break them out into a zipper top freezer bag, seal and label.

Oh, and before I forget, if you're using the liquid from reconstituted dried mushrooms, be careful of grit. I strain through a coffee filter.

Kim O'Donnel: I love how organized you are, Baltimore. Way to go!


re: fresh soybeans: Not really sure why you would want fresh soybeans for a tofu dish. Fresh soybeans are immature and sold as edamame and eaten just as is.

Usually most tofu dishes are made with the pre-prepared tofu you can find in the grocery store! If you want to make your own tofu, the soymilk machines work with dried soybeans and you will need a coagulant such as nigari. I've seen big bags of dried soybeans in asian grocery stores, or you might be able to find them at Whole Foods.

If you just want to re-create a dish from a restaurant, the pre-made stuff would be the way to go!

Kim O'Donnel: Some thoughts on fresh soybeans...


Re: Soybeans: I don't have a specific place, but soybeans are a big crop on the Eastern shore of Maryland and I've seen them at farm stands on Rt. 50. Maybe google farms out that way to find a place to pick them up?

Kim O'Donnel: more on the soybean matter...


Washington, DC: I am so bummed out that Carla did not win as Top Chef. Lesson learned - always listen to yourself.

Kim O'Donnel: I too was disappointed that she didn't win. She hosted a chat on the site yesterday, by the way, and seems every bit as gracious as she was throughout the season. Tough call about what happened -- I cannot imagine the pressure the contestants were under to put together the "best" meal, but I agree the sous vide beef was not in keeping with her style.


Please spare wedding guests portabellas: Ahhh - when eating out at 'american' restuaruans it's always either roast veggies, portabella mushrooms or uninspired pasta for the veggie options. Please don't do it to your veggie wedding guests, I beg you.

Vegetarians almost always never get savory pastory - a lovely collection of savoury enpanadas would be fantastic!

Kim O'Donnel: More thoughts on feeding veggie guests -- FWIW, our veggie guests were v. happy...now if I could just remember exactly what they had...


Philadelphia: Very basic question here: does anyone have a good recipe for baked beans from scratch? I love them (several years spent in the U.K. have convinced me they're a breakfast food), but don't want to consume all the salt/sugar/extra "stuff" in the canned version. Bonus points if they can be made overnight/quickly in the morning. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: YES! Baked Beans: What's Your Secret?


DC: I'm a longtime vegetarian who recently married a carnivore. What ideas do you have for quick meals we can both enjoy? I'm trying to expand his tastebuds beyond pasta, but we both work late so there's not a lot of time to prepare elaborate meals.

Kim O'Donnel: Take a look at the Meatless Monday archive for ideas. It's written with omnivores in mind, to help them take a break from meat. I think you may be able to find stuff in here that would make you both equally happy and satisfied.


Kim O'Donnel: Time to run. Thanks so much for stopping by, and eat your vegetables! See you in the blog space: A Mighty Appetite. all best.


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