Tag Archives: Vegetarian Tips

Take it Easy

Take it Easy

I receive many emails with questions about preparing vegetarian meals and recipe ideas. I really believe everyone is good, maybe even great, at preparing something. I’m not a professional chef, have never claimed to be, and truly that’s not something most people strive for. Most of us simply want to eat healthier (better) and be comfortable preparing nutritious food that goes over well with friends and family.

One thing I suggest is to take a recipe or some basic ingredients that you’re comfortable with and expand on them. I love recipes that can be used many different ways, and just about every recipe has that option. This concept makes it easier on you, the kitchen cook, and everyone you cook for. If you are really good at Italian cooking for example, you’re just a small step away from literally hundreds of vegetarian meal ideas. It’s a great way to develop your own vegetarian “comfort zone” and, frankly, that’s probably the most important element for doing anything in the kitchen.

Cooking is a process and the more relaxed you are the more you and everyone will enjoy your culinary creations. Keep things simple, especially when you’re just starting out. Never hesitate to experiment with new foods, but don’t raise your stress level by jumping into complicated recipes if you’re entertaining or especially when feeding children who may not be ready for exotic or experimental combinations.

Eating vegetarian cuisine should not be about deprivation and what we’re leaving out. Rather, it should become all the wonderful things we can add to create delicious, colorful meals that will leave you, and your friends and family healthy, happy, and satisfied. Chances are if you list all the individual foods you love, they can be converted to vegetarian options, and mixed and matched easily. Please feel free to use this blog page to share your ideas, questions, and solutions with others. It’s my experience that most people love to share ideas and learn more about food, so we hope you’ll visit us often.

Roasted Vegetarian Soup Stock

Roasted Vegetarian Soup Stock

When I prepare my own vegetable stock, I have lately gotten into the habit of oven roasting the vegetables I’m using until they are nicely caramelized, before adding my water and boiling it on the stovetop. It takes a little more time, but it makes a very rich stock with a depth of flavor that’s worth every extra minute of preparation.

Prepared stock or bouillion cubes, while great in a pinch, can’t come close to the flavor you achieve using this method. During the week, I save my vegetable cuttings, skins, and unused pieces in a plastic bag. Even if I don’t have enough to fill a pot, a few handfulls of trimmings add great flavor, especially when I add a couple of extra small onions, a few garlic cloves, some carrot pieces, and a rib of celery.

To begin, put all the washed vegetables in an ovenproof pot and toss them with a little olive oil and salt. If you have some sprigs of thyme, parsley, rosemary, or sage, toss those in as well. Now place the pot in a 350 degree preheated oven and roast until the vegetables are softened but not too browned. If necessary, add a little water to keep the vegetables from sticking. When everything is just fork tender, remove the pot from the oven, and add enough water to cover by four inches, then bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the stock for about 40 minutes, then let it cool slightly and remove any herb sprigs. Pour the stock through a strainer or through cheesecloth. If you use a strainer, it’s possible that a few bits of vegetable will escape, but this shouldn’t cause any concern.

This delicious stock can be portioned out into individual containers and frozen until you need it or it can be used right away. If you freeze it and you’re ready to use it, you needn’t even bother defrosting. Try this. I think you’ll agree, nothing compares to the rich, deep flavor of homemade stock.

Pesto Unlimited

Pesto Unlimited

Pesto brings to mind large handfuls of fresh basil, olive oil, and nuts and, while this is the most common way people think of it, lots of other vegetables and leafy herbs can be turned into a pesto, which simply means “paste.”

Last night I made a broccoli pesto, but I have also made pesto from asparagus tips, leeks, artichokes, roasted peppers, or even spinach. What follows isn’t an actual recipe, it’s more of a “method” it’s dead easy.

Take about a quarter to a half pound roughly chopped steamed broccoli tops and place them into your food processor bowl. Add two ot three cloves of fresh garlic and some salt. Pulse the broccoli-garlic mixture into a fine chop, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pine nuts or almonds and process the mixture into a paste. Drizzle in some oilve oil and continue to process until you have a nice smooth consistency. I usually add a bit of crushed red pepper, but it’s optional. Toss the broccoli pesto, as you would basil pesto, with your cooked pasta and serve it hot. This is also totally scrumptious spread on toasted Tuscan bread as a bruschetta.

Avocado Tips

Avocado Tips

Here’s a tip to help keep your “guac” green. Once you cut into an avocado, discoloration occurs almost immediately, but adding an acid like lemon or lime juice helps reduce discoloration and gives you an added boost of flavor.

You’ve probably noticed, however, that when you store your guacamole it develops a dark layer on top. Instead of just scraping it off and throwing it away, try this. Take a small piece of plastic wrap, just slightly larger than the inside of the bowl you’re storing your guacamole in. Rub one side of the wrap with fresh lemon, squeezing slightly to release a film of juice, and place it juice side down gently but firmly right on top of the guacomole. With a blunt knife, tuck a tiny amount of the wrap down between the bowl and the dip creating a plastic “skin” on top of the mixture. The goal is to seal out air.

Ideally you’ll want to prepare guacamole and eat it right away, but when you have leftovers, this storage method will help keep the guacamole looking nice and green up to 2 days. In general, avocados should be consumed quickly when they’re at their peak of flavor and ripeness.

Chili Oil

Chili Oil

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about flavored oils, which are a great pantry item to have on hand. Unfortunately, flavored oil can have a short shelf life. The other night I needed chili oil for a peanut sauce. I had discarded the bottle I had and, because I don’t use it often, I’d forgotten to replace it.

Always willing to do it myself, I made some and was surprised to remember how simple it is to make it. Should you find yourself in my predicament, here’s my recipe for do-it-yourself chili oil.

Take 2/3 cup of oilve oil, 2 small very hot Thai red chili peppers slit down the middle (not minced or chopped) and 1 teaspoon of hot paprika. The paprika is optional, but I think it adds a nice layer of flavor. In a small heavy pan, heat the olive oil with the chilis until they begin to sizzle. Remove the pan from heat, add the paprika if desired, and put the oil aside to cool.

When it’s no longer hot, transfer the oil to a container, leaving the peppers suspended in it. The peppers left in the oil will intensify the heat. This chili oil should keep for a couple of weeks.

Amazing Avocados

Amazing Avocados

The conventional wisdom of which foods are good and which foods are bad is constantly changing. This is a subject I would like to address in future programs and on this blog. My first pick of 2006 are avocados. For quite some time, avocados have gotten a bad rap, unfairly I might add.

So many people think of avocados as a fat-laden luxury equivalent to mayonaise or even pork. The truth is that the fats found in avocado are heart healthy and an incredibly rich source of cholesterol lowering phytochemicals, similar to those found in olive oil. They are also packed with vitamins E, C, and B, folic acid, riboflavins, and loaded with fiber. The fats found in avocados help your body absorb beta carotene and lutein more efficently than eating carotenoid rich foods without avocado. Thirteen times more in fact.

Though some people fear consuming any fat, you must include heart healthy fats in your diet in order to efficently absord many nutrients. So skip the chips, cheese, fried fast foods, and enjoy one of life’s great pleasures instead. Include avocados as part of your regular diet plan. Your palate and your body will thank you.

Selecting Salt

Selecting Salt

Many viewers ask about the amount and type of salt I use. I feel like I mention it often, but I’m always happy to talk about my choice of salt.

I like and always use a moderately coarse kosher sea salt. Not so coarse that it must be ground by a device, but the type that’s flaky and substantial. One reason kosher sea salt is preferred by cooks is that the texture of the salt gives you better control when seasoning your foods, and to my taste, kosher sea salt also has a better flavor.

Once you start using it, and I encourage you to do so, you’ll notice a difference in both the taste of your food and your own tactile response to seasoning. The only place coarse salt does not work well, is when salting flour or for use in baked goods. That application requires a granule that is smaller and breaks down or blends quickly.

Even thought there are many costly “gourmet” salts on the market, fortunately, sea salt is still quite inexpensive. Make sure to keep your salt bone dry, but keep it handy and you’ll gladly make the switch.

Pasta Leftovers

Pasta Leftovers

Leftover pasta can be a great quick meal when you’re in a time crunch, but the longer you store it the tougher and starchier it gets. Four days is about the limit for keeping plain, undressed pasta. After that, the best you can do is add it to a soup.

My method for bringing leftover pasta “back to life” is to warm a little olive oil in a skillet over low heat and toss in the pasta to warm it up slowly. This method gives a much better, more appetizing result than re-boiling it or microwaving it.

Another delicious option is to fry it in a little olive oil until the pasta is brown and crispy, then season with salt and pepper and serve it as a side dish.

Don’t toss it away – try my tips for creating a delicious, easy, and quick meal with your leftover pasta.

Pasta Choices

I don’t know what I would do if for some reason I bought into the latest craze of carb phobia and actually eliminated pasta from my diet entirely. There really is nothing faster and more satisfying than a dish of spaghetti, noodles or macaroni simply dressed with fresh veggies, a quick sauce , fresh herbs or a wash of good fruity olive oil. In fact I would encourage you to try many of the other varities of pasta or noodles on the market today. Even if you have a wheat allergy, there is something out there for you. Rice, soy and spelt pastas are virtually everywhere.

Lately I am using some of the more unusual pastas, unusual in the sense of not commonly used by most, and have discovered a whole new set of flavors and textures. From buckwheat to mung bean the colors, textures and flavors are just wonderful. With asian noodles, the cooking time is super fast, and it doesn’t take much to prepare an authentic tasty and healthy meal that looks like you spent hours preparing.

On my last trip to Italy I noticed that whole wheat pasta is gaining in popularity, and for good reason. Not only are the health benefits increased, but that wonderful al dente texture remains nicely intact. If a change interests you, start with a good quality whole wheat pasta with your favorite sauce. Don’t be put off by the darker color. Remember more color usually always spells better nutrition. Give these pasta choices a try – you may never go back to white pasta again.

Bumper Crop Solutions

This is the time of year when we can find an abundance of wonderful summer ripe tomatoes at farm stands and grocery stores. But how many tomatoes can one realistically eat? Since late summer tomatoes are both deliciously sweet and surprisingly inexpensive, I always buy more and use them in a variety of ways, to make fresh sauce or roasted tomatoes.

Instead of canning my sauce I simply place a meal’s worth into a plastic freezer zip bag. They are such a treat that they are never stored for very long and preparation becomes a snap. Simply place a potful of washed tomatoes in about two inches of water. You will basically be steaming them. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once the water boils remove from heat. The skin of the tomato should be cracked and slightly pulled away. Let them cool to the touch, then pull off the skins, and crush the meat. Add some fresh basil, a little olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt and you have a light and tasty meal.

When roasting , place washed whole tomatoes on a sheet or shallow baking dish, don’t crowd them, sprinkle with a little sea salt and olive oil, and slow roast in a preheated oven at 375 degrees, until the tomatoes are shriveled but not dehydrated. Let them rest until they are cool enough to handle. These make a wonderful salad with sliced red onion and basil and are also delicious on pasta with baked tofu, parsley, and rinsed capers.

Sometimes the solution to an abundance of vegetables is simply preparing them in a new and creative way.