WEEKNIGHT VEGETARIAN

On March 5, 2013, I had a second coming out: as a vegetarian. And I started writing a weekly recipe column called "Weeknight Vegetarian," featuring my own recipes and my favorites from cookbooks and other sources. Here is a selection of those columns, starting with the most recent.




Squash, the Star of Fall

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
In the introduction to her 2004 book, “The Compleat Squash,” gardener Amy Goldman writes that she’d like to coin a new term: cucurbitacean. The definition? “A person who regards pumpkins or squashes with deep, often rapturous love.”

Guilty. As much as I love tomatoes in the middle of summer, nothing quite matches the thrill I get when market stands are stacked with winter squashes in all the colors of the season and in various shapes and sizes: some smooth, some heavily ridged, some the size of softballs, others the size of, well, jack-o’-lanterns, because that’s what they’ll become.

I don’t remember ever tiring of them, which is a good thing, because when they’re stored correctly, they’ll be around for much of the following few months — even when the list of other vegetables available from local farmers dwindles to little more than turnips, potatoes and spinach.

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There’s Bulgur in my Soup

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Remember when the only time you ate bulgur was in tabbouleh? It turns out that we got both the tabbouleh and the bulgur wrong. We misinterpreted the proportions — and the emphasis — of a proper tabbouleh, that Middle Eastern salad. It really should be mostly about the parsley, not about the grain. And the bulgur? Well, we relegated it to single-use status, unfairly.

Consider soup, for instance. Bulgur, a cracked wheat, cooks so quickly that it’s a perfect addition to any soup where you want a bit of its chew — not to mention its extra hit of protein.

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My Winning Bowl

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
When I was in college in the 1980s, one of my go-to meals was a bowl of beans and rice, topped with cheddar and salsa. Cheap, filling and nutritious, especially once I learned to go easy on the cheddar and rice and heavy on the beans and salsa.

Nowadays, like many vegetarian cooks, I keep some sort of grain “bowl” in my regular rotation. The grains have gotten far more interesting than rice: There’s farro, millet, barley and more. Noodles count, because it’s ever-easier to find them in whole-grain varieties. After that, the vegetables can change with the seasons, the toppings can include any number of sauces and dressings, and the protein sources can include beans and nuts and cheeses. Best of all, you can pre-cook most, if not all, of the elements.

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Fall’s Bounty, Warmed Up

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
When it comes to food seasons, summer and spring get all the glory. You know, the first asparagus of May, the tomatoes-eggplant-corn surplus of August. But fall is when I get most energized in the kitchen. The eggplant and peppers are still around, but the heartier winter squash starts coming into farmers markets, too.

In other words, this is the true bounty, when I have more options than ever. Just as fall brings jackets and light sweaters and breathable scarves, it’s also when I’m compelled to layer lighter and heavier ingredients in my cooking.

Take cinnamon. Perhaps it’s my Middle Eastern heritage, but although I shy away from sweets that depend on the spice too heavily, I adore using it in savory cooking, and now’s when that strategy seems to fit the calendar best.

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A Taste of Moosewood Nostalgia

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve never eaten at Moosewood Restaurant, operated by a 19-person collective in Ithaca, N.Y. The place has been waving the flag of vegetarianism — in all its tofu-and-brown-rice-eating glory — for some 40 years now, not to mention that it was advocating for local and organic food long before it was fashionable.

Like so many other places with a penchant for natural cooking, Moosewood has felt familiar even though I haven’t been there, thanks to the group’s many cookbooks — starting with Mollie Katzen’s classic 1977 title, “The Moosewood Cookbook.” I was 12 when it came out, and in those days I was mostly cooking up chicken-fried steak, so I didn’t pay much attention to what became one of the most popular vegetarian cookbooks of all time.

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Bringing Vedge Home

(Photo by Astrid Reicken for The Washington Post)
Chef Rich Landau is eyeing my mushrooms. “Ah, you got shiitake instead of maitake,” he says with a smile. I rush to explain: Yes, his recipe calls for maitake, a.k.a. hen of the woods, a.k.a. my favorite fungus. Yes, his recipe specifies the variety in its title, no less.

But what’s a supermarket shopper to do? I’m not a restaurant owner, like he is; I can’t just ring up my purveyor and summon the moon. And because of traveling, I hadn’t made it to the Sunday farmers market, where a mushroom vendor hawks a half-dozen primo varieties, including foraged ones such as chanterelles and even morels in season, for a pretty penny. At the Whole Foods Market, my choices consisted of white button, portobello, cremini (“baby bella”), shiitake and a so-called wild blend of pre-sliced pieces that included all of the basics plus a few little slivers of oyster mushrooms, soggy and limp in their shrink-wrapped prison.

The sprightliest ones? Shiitakes, so that’s what I got. Back in my kitchen, Landau approves, thankfully. “People are often so bound by the recipe that they sometimes get inferior product,” he says. “But if the bok choy is looking like this (he slumps over), don’t buy the bok choy! Buy something different. People won’t buy old fish or old meat, so it astounds me that they’ll buy old vegetables. So yeah, you’ve gotta substitute.”

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Vegan, for the Day, with Bittman

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
It’s the first day of the season at the 14th and U Farmers Market in the District, and I'm looking at asparagus, turnips, herbs, kale, arugula, strawberries and more with Mark Bittman. We’re doing what so many shoppers do at markets like this one across the country, week in and week out: comparing one farmer’s produce with another’s, and trying to decide what would make a good lunch and maybe an even better dinner.

When I tell Bittman I have carrots and kale at home, he proposes a stir-fry. “Is your kale nicer than this guy’s kale, or not as nice, or about as nice?” he asks. I try to envision the crisper drawer of my refrigerator back in my apartment, where we’re headed next, and feel comfortable in choosing Option 3. Even though it’s several days old, it’s just about as nice, I figure.

He asks because he knows that for any cooking, but especially the kind of off-the-cuff dishes that helped make him famous, the key is to start with excellent ingredients — a strategy that bears repeating for those of us who take it for granted. And for the kind of lunch we’re going to make, one without any animal products, the tactic might be even more important. 


Craving a Vegetable ‘Steak’

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Sometimes, all I want is a steak. Not a rib-eye or a T-bone, but some vegetable or another.

Those moments come when I’ve tired of the rice bowls and the stir-fries and the salads, in which every ingredient has been pre-chopped to make for easy-to-scoop mouthfuls; and the tacos and pizzas and sandwiches, which need nothing more than my hands. Rather than choose “forks over knives,” to borrow a phrase from the documentary and cookbook franchise of the same name, I want something that requires me to use both utensils for a change. I want to cut up a slab of produce that’s sitting on a plate, definitely with a side dish, maybe with a sauce.

Cauliflower — roasted or pan-fried — often fits the bill. And portobello mushrooms are an obvious choice. But when I came home with the first eggplant of the season from the farmers market recently, I knew it would satisfy my recent hankering.

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RECIPE: Sumac-Spiced Eggplant "Schnitzel"

Tofu, a Community’s Building Blocks

(Photo by Norm Shafer for The Washington Post)
Carly Rodgers has her hands full, figuratively and literally. She’s under the gun to finish cooking dinner for 70-odd people, the bulk of the population at Twin Oaks, the so-called “intentional community” where she lives. And she’s forming tofu patties that she'll fry up and coat with a mushroom gravy, as a vegetarian alternative to tonight’s buffet-style main course of Salisbury steak.

Wearing drawstring pants, a nose ring and an apron that issues the two-word order “Eat Tofu,” Rodgers is the picture of the modern-day hippie. She’s also the beaming young kitchen manager at Twin Oaks, where she cooks four times a week, more often than any other member.

“I used to do more stuff,” Rodgers says as she blends tofu with eggs, nuts, seeds and spices for the burgers. “But I’ve whittled it down to this. The kitchen is where I’m most at home.”

She and the 92 other residents also work full-time at this 450-acre compound near Charlottesville, dividing their duties according to interest and need among jobs that support the community, which was founded in 1967 and is now one of the oldest such places in the country. Those jobs include such domestic duties as cooking, cleaning, growing vegetables and maintaining cars and bicycles, crucial tasks that keep Twin Oaks members happy (not to mention clothed, fed and cared for). And for many, they include working at one of the businesses that help pay the egalitarian community’s expenses. For a long time, the most profitable venture was its handmade hammocks. These days, the tofu business — whose slogan is quoted on that apron Rodgers is wearing — is just as important, and getting more so.

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RECIPES:
Tofu Burgers
Tofu Spring Rolls

A Frittata to Sing About

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Finally, seasonal vegetables other than winter greens and radishes! Besides asparagus, there’s now green garlic and ramps — and soon enough there will be fresh shelling peas. After such a long windup, the sight of my favorite spring vegetable makes me want to break into song — and to break a few eggs. To me, nothing goes better with these young, tender, sometimes wild-foraged ingredients, so my preferred lunch or dinner when I’ve collected a bounty of them is a frittata.

Any vegan readers will have to give me a pass this week, because there’s really no substitute for those golden-yolked orbs, IMO. For ovo-lacto vegetarians (or carnivores who don’t mind skipping the meat), a frittata is one of the easiest ways to pull a dinner together I can think of, and one of the most satisfying, too.

My go-to method involves a cast-iron skillet and the broiler. Use the former to saute the vegetables, then scrape them out to make room for the eggs. After the frittata is almost set, sprinkle the cooked produce on top before sliding the skillet under the broiler to finish.


Diving into Indian Food

(Photo by Deb Lindsey
for The Washington Post)
Simply put, Indian cuisine presents some of the most satisfying meatless dishes of any in the world, which is why in my relatively short time as a vegetarian I’ve become something of a regular at Rasika West End. But I want to be just as comfortable making Indian dishes at home as I am ordering them out, so I’ve been studying up. As intimidating as Indian cooking can seem, given its beautiful layering of spices and sometimes hard-to-find ingredients, diving in doesn’t need to be difficult.

I started the way I usually do, with a seasonal vegetable — in this case, spring peas — and the desire to do something different with them. One of my favorite Indian dishes is the classic matar paneer, made with that creamy-chewy cheese (paneer) and green peas (matar) plus a pungent sauce of tomatoes, ginger and a raft of spices. But I don’t want to suggest making your own paneer, even though it’s as easy as ricotta, because on a weeknight, who’s going to do that? For that matter, who has time to track down paneer? Thankfully, it’s much more available than it used to be, and my neighborhood Whole Foods Market stocks tidy little packages of it in the dairy section. (In a pinch — or for vegans — extra-firm tofu subs nicely.)


Adding a Punch to Pasta

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Like many vegetable lovers, I've experienced mustard greens mostly as a salad ingredient. Those pungent little leaves give a nice punch to what can otherwise be as mild as, well, lettuce. But they're also becoming a favorite ingredient in heartier dishes, especially because they're available at farmers markets most, if not all, of the year.

That same spicy flavor that sparks up a salad can add life to a quick pasta dish, in which mustard greens perform like a cross between spinach and broccoli rabe, with all the tenderness of the former and the personality of the latter. Orecchiette, that cute ear-shaped pasta, is a perfect choice for this recipe: The sauteed greens -- along with shaved pecorino-Romano cheese for a little richness -- nestle right in those little cups.

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It's the Whole Enchilada


(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Look for vegetarian enchiladas at a restaurant, and you're most likely to find black bean, perhaps spinach. Mushroom if you'e lucky. But the combination of spicy sauce, corn masa and cheese could surely suit all sorts of vegetables in every season, couldn't it? I've been mystified as to why the options are usually limited.

Thankfully, I love to make enchiladas at home, so this spring, when I started thinking about what new treatments I'd give asparagus as it starts to flood farmers markets, I knew one route would be to roll it up into tortillas. With an enchilada sauce made from tomatillos, and perhaps a touch of smoked cheese along with the requisite Monterey Jack, they'd surely be a winner.

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(Photo by Bryan Gardner courtesy
Clarkson Potter-Random House Inc.)
Turning Broccoli
Into a Vegan Pesto


I try to buy produce locally and cook it seasonally. But there comes a time in late winter-early spring when I can’t bear to roast another Brussels sprout, bake another sweet potato or massage another leaf of kale into submission. That’s when I buy broccoli grown who knows where and transported to my friendly neighborhood Whole Foods Market. Call it a bridge to the days of peas and asparagus.

Once I get it home, I usually douse it with curry powder and roast it, or microwave it and finish it under the broiler. But I’ve been trying to break out of those ruts, too, looking for ideas that speak of spring.

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Cooking Root to Leaf

(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Forget nose-to-tail cooking for a minute, and instead contemplate the idea of root-to-leaf. The principle is the same: using as much of the product as possible, to avoid waste and to show respect. But in this case, the product comes out of the ground.

Ever since I returned from my back-to-the-land year in Maine, I’ve taken up the root-to-leaf cause when I can. (When I can’t, I depend on Compost Cab to deal with my kitchen waste.)

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Kimchi Meets Mac and Cheese


(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
I’m not the first to use kimchi in non-Korean ways. Far from it. Way back in 2008, Los Angeles chef Roy Choi incorporated it into offerings from his Kogi truck, and the Korean taco trend exploded. Since then, I’ve worked it into deviled eggs, dip and a Grilled Kimcheese sandwich and have even tossed it with cubed avocado for an appetizer I call Guaca-Chi.

Do you sense a pattern? I like the fermented cabbage best alongside rich ingredients because its funk and spice simultaneously bring a little roundness and depth, plus a sharp zing that cuts through those fatty flavors. It’s just how kimchi is used in more traditional (read: meaty) applications, but my go-to partner ingredients are now eggs and cheese rather than bulgogi and pork belly.

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A Salad to Bridge the Seasons


(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
When the final days of winter flirt with sunny warmth, only to shrink back into a chill from that wicked wind, I gravitate toward hearty salads for dinner: combinations of roasted vegetables, grains and greens dressed in a pungent, sometimes spicy vinaigrette. But they’re not always the quickest to come by: Some of my favorite grains take the longest to cook. Those tough greens may need help becoming soft. And the vegetables require some oven time.

If I’m organized, my refrigerator plays the part of a pre-prepped salad bar. Ingredients that took their turns in the oven, pot or mixing bowl on more leisurely days now sit in containers, awaiting my decisions about how to combine them. But when I’m not so organized, I look for quick ways to get the job done without sacrificing flavor.

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Piling a Pizza High With Vegetables 


(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
I’m a self-identified pizza obsessive; it’s one of my favorite ways to get my fill of vegetables. I love making my own dough when I have time — and freezing it for times when I don’t — but on any given weeknight, if my freezer is bare, I’m not ashamed to reach for a store-bought, pre-baked crust.

The benefits extend beyond mere time savings. When I make a no-knead dough from scratch and cook it under the broiler, I am restrained with the toppings to keep from overwhelming the crust and turning it soggy. Pre-baked crusts, on the other hand, are sturdy enough to hold a mountain of produce, making for a hearty vegetarian dinner.

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Say it Loud: I’m Veg and I’m Proud!


(Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
I’ve been calling this my second “coming out,” because it reminds me of the first time, when I was dealing with quite a different subject.

For one thing, when I tell people about my recent switch to vegetarianism, I’m getting the same kinds of questions, especially from chefs and fellow food journalists, that I did so many decades ago when the news was about my sexual orientation. One chef sidled up to me while I was at the bar of her establishment recently and whispered, “Is it true what I heard?” And a few weeks ago, when I broke the news to a friend over dinner, she responded with two queries: “When did this happen?” and “How long do you think it’s going to last?” They were the equivalent of those parental hand-wringers “Is this a phase?” and “Where did we go wrong?” I’m expecting someone, somewhere, to say, “You know we love and support you, no matter what you eat.”

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