I am always stumped when a vegetarian comes to dinner. It’s not that we don’t have a whole archive of family-friendly vegetarian meals (ok maybe flexitarian meals would be more accurate) in the DALS rotation. Or that I’m in any way annoyed that there won’t be meat on the evening line-up. Quite the opposite actually — I feel like I’ve been heavily leaning towards more plant-and-whole-grain based dishes at our everyday dinner table. But on a weekend night when a guest is at that table — a guest who has sometimes traveled from the far corners of Brooklyn — the 15-minute black bean and goat cheese quesadillas that get the job done on a Tuesday night after soccer is just not going to cut it. I don’t think it’s going overboard to want to present something a bit more elevated than your everyday fare when you’re entertaining — whether your guest is a carnivore, herbivore, locavore, or whatevervore. Do you? (Maybe don’t answer that.)
Anyway, this is why twice a month I seem to issue a plea on facebook begging you for your most show-stopping vegetable main dishes. (One out of three of you seem to point me towards Smitten Kitchen’s Mushroom Bourgignon.) And why one of my resolutions this year was to come up with a meat-free meal that someone might describe as “enticing.” There are way too many vegetarians in this world now for me to NOT have expanded my horizons beyond my comfort zone of minestrone and Amanda Hesser’s tangy-sweet Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onion. (I’ll never forget my friend Laurie taking a bite of that one back in the 90s and saying, “This is, like, a whole different flavor that I’ve just…never….experienced before.”)
But the comfort zone still tastes so damn delicious! And so a few weeks ago, when a vegetarian came to dinner, I stuck with my tried-and-true pasta, but changed up the starters and the sweets. But for some reason it was one of the more successful menu line-ups I can remember. You know how when you buy a new sweater it somehow makes an old top feel fresh? I guess that’s what happened, because it just… worked. And it was incredibly easy, too. Anyway, I thought you guys might like to hear what I did:
To start: blistered peppers. Ratio of Time Spent Making to Wow Factor: obscenely unbalanced. Easiest thing ever. I used shishitos, which you can usually find at better supermarkets. (I found mine at Tarry Market.) I served these alongside burrata (that really soft, creamy mozzarella) and drizzled it heavily with good olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt alongside slices of a crusty baguette. [Careful readers might notice that there's salumi (salumi=pig) scribbled into my diary. Careful readers might also point out that pig is not vegetarian. I have no excuse that would hold up in court other than my kids go crazy for it and I wanted them to have a moment of happiness during the starter portion of the evening.]
Dinner: Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions and Shredded Kale Salad with Lemon & Ricotta Salata (I added a teaspoon of lemon zest and Andy made a very subtly balsamic vinaigrette. Also: You don’t need a lot of ricotta salata because the pasta is already creamy and yogurt-y.)
Dessert: Just-out-of-the-Oven Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Cinnamon Ice Cream (Book owners: Page 72)
Related: A Stress-Free Gluten-Free Menu
Photo of peppers: Ditte Isager for Bon Appetit
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If you’re like me, during these peak weeks at the market, the bounty comes with a side of panic. Did I pick up enough tomatoes? Enough corn? Enough peaches? Enough apricots? Too many apricots? Will they turn to mush before the girls can finish them? Will that ginormous bushel of summer spinach go sad and wilty before I figure out a way to use it? In other words: Am I making the most of the season? Because in a few weeks, when the tomatoes return to styrofoam and the plums always come with a sticker affixed to their skins, the image of me passing over that Mr. Stripey heirloom will haunt me. A partial solution to this problem has been to turn my kitchen counter into a Rich Man’s Salad Bar for dinner. You can really pack in the veggies that way. These are seven of my recent favorites (you can mix and match as few or as many as you like) and while I’m not going to stop you from serving them alongside a piece of grilled meat or fish, they are all special enough to be the main event…so all you really need is a nice loaf of crusty bread.
White Beans and Kale (above) I soaked dry white beans overnight then boiled them the next day to make this, but you could just as easily use canned cannellini or Great Northerns. To make: Saute a small bunch of washed, chopped kale with garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium heat until slightly wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Toss kale with beans, 2 tablespoons of chopped red onion (or to taste), a generous shaving of Parmesan, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt, and pepper.
Beets and Goat Cheese Lucky for us, this one falls in the Pink Food Category. Phoebe likes beets without the cheese. Abby likes beets for painting bright pink lines across her plate. To make: Remove stems from beets. Roast them at 350°F for 35 minutes. While they are cooking, add a drizzle of heavy cream or half-and-half to a small log of plain goat cheese and stir/mash together until cheese is slightly fluffy instead of crumbly. Once beets are cool, peel and chop them into a fine dice as shown. Top them with goat cheese “fluff,” fresh thyme (or tarragon), freshly ground pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil before serving. (more…)
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Tags:kale recipe·summer salads·tomato recipe·tomato salad recipe·vegetarian entertaining·white bean salad
About 15 years ago, I was chatting with two women at a cocktail party when one of them mentioned she was a vegetarian. Other than feeling a flash of pity — poor thing can’t eat a steak — I didn’t think much about it until she wandered away to get a Pinot refill.
At that point, the other woman whispered, “Well, that’s a pretty good sign that she’s not a lot of fun!” We snickered and shoved a few more pigs in blankets down the hatch.
I’ve thought about this conversation a lot in the past few years. When I replay it and think of my glib response, it feels like watching a pregnant Betty Draper in “Mad Men” throwing back a martini: How could she not know? How could I have dismissed this woman when it was likely that some major soul-searching had gone into her decision to stop eating meat? How could I not have known?
Maybe it was because that cocktail party was about eight years before Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” described the disturbing conditions of the slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants feeding the country’s fast-food system. And before Michael Pollan asked us in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to question everything on our plates and how it got there. It was way before investment bankers were leaving Wall Street to start organic chicken farms and before new dad and literary darling Jonathan Safran Foer proclaimed in his 2009 vegetarian manifesto, “Eating Animals”: “We are equally responsible for what we don’t do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle.”
Click over to Body + Soul to read the rest of the story and to get the recipe for this stunningly good vegetarian main: Spinach, Mushroom, and Scallion Tart.
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Tags:vegetarian entertaining·vegetarian entrees·vegetarian recipes for kids
This recipe used to be our go-to for entertaining vegetarians — back when vegetarians were, you know, a rare breed. Now, thankfully, the dish has moved into our regular dinner rotation. The hardest part about it is securing the sheep’s milk yogurt — but not really, you can find it at Whole Foods or even a slightly-gourmet supermarket — then it’s just a matter of remembering to cook more onions than you think feels right. The contrast between their caramel-ly sweetness and the tangy yogurt……I don’t want to get overly precious here, but: Oh. Boy. It’s so good that I don’t mind cooking two completely separate meals for the grown-ups and the kids, who, sadly, won’t touch it no matter how many chocolate-covered raisins and Michael Jackson youtube videos I promise them as a reward.
Can't win 'em all. Our dinner (left); the kids' dinner (right)
Pasta with Yogurt, Spinach and Sweet Onions
Adapted from Amanda Hesser, The New York Times.
3 glugs olive oil
4 yellow onions sliced
1 pound whole wheat fettucini
2 6-ounce containers sheep’s-milk yogurt, drained through a coffee filter set in a strainer for at least 20 minutes
2 cups-ish fresh spinach
1 cup grated Parmesan
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown, 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a large pot, adding spinach during the last 30 seconds. Strain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. In the same pot, whisk together the drained yogurt with the pasta water. Toss pasta with the yogurt mixture. Divide the pasta among 4 bowls. Sprinkle generously with cheese and top with onions.
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Tags:easy pasta recipes·pasta for family dinner·pasta with yogurt and caramelized onions·vegetarian entertaining