Everyday Kitchen -
The dark days of winter are nearly upon us, with calorie-laden holidays right on their heels. Maybe some eating well and early self-congratulating will help us through the gravy and chocolate in our future.
I try to eat vegetarian meals at least a couple of times a week - no small feat for a self-proclaimed carnivore - but there are a few deeply satisfying dishes that don't feel like I'm giving up anything. These aren't diet recipes and real people eat them for their real supper. You can, too.
Basmati cashew pilaf
You've had rice pilaf - maybe at a restaurant or even out of a can, maybe beside a steak or piece of fish. This exotic but simple recipe is a treat that not only looks great on a party plate but also feels right in a big bowl in front of the TV on Saturday night.
Use any nuts you like, but cashews have a buttery, meaty (forgive me, real vegetarians) taste that makes this dish almost decadent - but it isn't. Serves 6 if this is a side, but 3 or 4 if it's standing alone.
If you've never tried basmati rice, please do. It's no more difficult than ordinary long-grain, but it has an addictive perfume. You really need to rinse it well, and if you have time to soak it in cold water for an hour before cooking it makes for a fluffier result. One last thing: if you use water instead of vegetable broth, add half a spoonful of salt.
1-1/4 cups basmati rice
1/4 cup currants or raisins
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. each dry mustard and ground cardamom
2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup whole unsalted cashews
handful chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse and drain rice thoroughly; set aside. Cover currants in a little boiling water and allow to plump a bit. Drain and set aside. In a large frying pan or heavy pot, fry onion, celery and carrot in vegetable oil until soft but not brown. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add spices and rice and cook together 5 minutes, stirring. Add broth and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat but don't take off the cover for 5 more minutes. Fluff with a fork then stir in cashews, parsley and drained currants. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Better-than-you-think vegetarian chili
You won't miss the meat in this dish. Serve with garlic toast or tortillas, or on top of rice or baked potato wedges for a great weekend supper. As an added bonus, vegetarian chili doesn't take as long to cook as the con carne variety. If you think you don't like sweet potatoes, this is the recipe to change your mind. Makes about 6 servings, depending on your choice of go-withs.
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 each green and red bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. hot chili powder
1 tsp. each dried oregano and ground cumin
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 19-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 19-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
handful chopped fresh cilantro
In a Dutch oven, fry onion in oil until soft and starting to brown. Add peppers, garlic chili powder, oregano and cumin and fry another few minutes until everything is soft. Stir in tomato paste and cook until mixture is quite dry - be careful not to scorch. Stir in tomatoes, sweet potato and salt. Cover and simmer over low heat 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in black beans and heat through. Either add cilantro or sprinkle on top of each serving.
Barley cabbage rolls
This is comfort on a plate. Big pieces of grainy bread are all you need with these. They freeze well, they're great made the day before, and they can sit in your oven without harm if you get caught up in a game of Scrabble. I don't make my own vegetable broth except for special occasions, but I do have a bottle of bouillon paste in the fridge. Even a couple of those powder cubes aren't bad here. Use pot or pearl barley, whichever you prefer; just make sure you cook it until it is tender.
1 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp. brandy, white wine or water
1/2 cup barley
2-1/2 cups vegetable broth or water seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
1 lightly beaten egg
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or coarsely chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. each salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 leafy green cabbage
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt and pepper, or to taste
Combine raisins and brandy, cover with plastic wrap and microwave 1 minute. Set aside. Combine barley, broth, Italian seasoning and bay leaves; cover and simmer until tender; drain and discard any remaining liquid. Cool until you can handle it then combine with raisins (including any remaining liquid), egg, pine nuts, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Taste this mixture and add seasoning if necessary - it should be savoury but not salty. Steam or boil the cabbage until you can remove the leaves. (Did you know you can freeze a cabbage the day before, thaw it to room temperature and the leaves will be sufficiently wilted to work with? I am never that well organized but you might be.) Trim away as much of the rib as necessary to allow rolling and put a spoonful of the filling in the middle of each leaf. Make the rolls, tucking in the ends to completely enclose the filling. For the sauce, in a Dutch oven fry onion in oil until soft. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add tomatoes, sugar, juice, salt and pepper and simmer together a few minutes. You can add the cabbage rolls to the sauce and cook over low heat on top of the stove, but I prefer to line a roaster with unused outer leaves, sliced core and removed stems - prevents the rolls from sticking and adds flavour. Then I pour in about 1/4 of the sauce, layer in the cabbage rolls and pour remaining sauce on top. Cover and bake at 350 F for at least 1 hour - you need to test one because I don't know how big you made the rolls. If they're cooked before you're ready to serve, reduce the temperature to about 200 and they will happily wait quite a long time.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 5970, St. John's, NL, A1C 5X7.