Veggie rules

Cynthia Stone
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This is the perfect time of year to break out that vegetarian cookbook in the back of your kitchen cupboard. The leftover holiday bloats, combined with that sausage-like sensation of being a little too tightly wrapped in a parka, is all the inspiration we need to coax out that thinner inner person.

Simply eliminating meat from your diet isn’t the answer — you still need complete proteins to stay on top of the shovelling — but replacing them, even occasionally, with lower-fat options will at least make you feel like you’re doing something positive about the winter blues.

Squash Ragout

You won’t miss the meat here. Serve this slightly sweet, deliciously savoury dish with roasted potatoes or rice on the side, or just as is, for a satisfying winter meal that serves 8. If you have leftovers, it will be even better a day later.

1/2 cup each dried pitted apricots and prunes

1 cup boiling water

4 acorn or 2 butternut squash

2 tbsp. olive oil (divided)

1 large yellow or sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small red bell pepper, diced

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried rosemary

pinch each dried sage and crushed red chili flakes

2 medium yellow or white potatoes, scrubbed and diced

1 small (about 15 oz.) can diced tomatoes

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels

1 15-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (white beans look nicer)

handful chopped fresh parsley or other herb you like

Combine apricots, prunes and boiling water in a small bowl; cover and soak at least 2 hours but up to overnight in the refrigerator. Drain fruit, reserving soaking liquid, and chop; set aside. Halve squash lengthwise — they can be very tough so watch your fingers. Scoop out and discard the seeds and fibre. Coat the inside surfaces with about half the olive oil and place on a foil-lined baking sheet, insides up. Bake at 350 F for about 1 hour, or until flesh is nearly tender but not mushy. Allow to cool enough to handle, then scoop out the centres and chop coarsely; set aside. Heat remaining oil in a Dutch oven and fry onion until soft but not brown. Add garlic, red pepper, oregano, rosemary, sage and chili flakes and cook just until fragrant. Add chopped squash, potatoes, tomatoes, soaking liquid from apricots and prunes, salt and pepper, and bring to a low simmer. Partially cover — or cover completely if you would like more juice — and cook until potatoes are fork-tender (don’t let it boil dry). Add corn and chopped apricot-prune mixture and cook a few minutes longer. Stir in beans and heat through. Season to taste, stir in parsley and serve.

Cauliflower Gratin

If you think cauliflower is tasteless or boring then just try this recipe. This is a perfect first course or side dish, but becomes a complete meal for 4 with the addition of half a block of tofu (diced) or a can of chickpeas.

1 large cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tbsp. olive oil (divided)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small can (about 15 oz.) diced tomatoes

2 tbsp. rinsed and drained capers (coarsely chopped if large)

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or parsley

Boil or steam cauliflower 3 to 5 minutes, until it is just starting to get tender; drain. Fry onion in about half the oil until soft but not brown. Add garlic and cook another minute. Stir in tomatoes and capers and simmer 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper and pour into a shallow casserole dish. Spoon cauliflower into sauce — don’t stir it in because you want the white tops exposed. Sprinkle with feta and drizzle olive oil over the top. Bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes, or until cauliflower is starting to brown. Sprinkle basil on top and serve with crusty rolls to mop up the sauce.

Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry

A little spicy, a little sweet and a lot delicious, this dish is equally perfect for a Sunday lunch or a buffet table. Eat it hot or let it cool a little to really appreciate the aroma and flavour. If you don’t have garam masala, increase the cumin slightly and add a pinch of cinnamon. If you haven’t used cilantro often then you might not know that the smaller stalks are just as tasty as the leaves; just chop them finely.

1 large sweet potato, peeled and finely diced

1 large red pepper, diced

1 lb. fresh green beans, cut into short lengths

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. olive oil (divided)

1 large onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, grated

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. hot curry powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. each ground coriander and garam masala

1 cup vegetable broth or water

1-1/2 cups cooked lentils, or 1 15-oz. can, rinsed and drained

big bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup bottled mango chutney

Toss sweet potato, red pepper, beans and raisins with salt, pepper and about half the olive oil. Pour onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 450 F about 10 minutes, or until sweet potato is starting to brown. Stir the mixture at least once. Set aside. Fry onion, carrot and celery in Dutch oven in remaining oil until starting to brown. Stir in ginger, garlic, curry, cumin, coriander and garam masala and cook together about 5 minutes. Add broth, lentils and sweet potato mixture. Cover and simmer until sweet potato is tender. Stir in cilantro and serve on rice, maybe with a little mango chutney and sour cream on the side.


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 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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