Flavorful recipes for salad, pasta and risotto

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

By J.M. Hirsch

The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. -- It's encouraging to see the publishing world keep pace with the increasingly diversified and demanding vegetarian palate.

At one time, titillating tomes on 200 ways to boil brown rice (there actually are quite a few of these), or endless volumes on blanched bean curd were standard bearers of vegetarian fare.

No longer. The shrinking world and a growing appetite for flavor have consumers expecting more, not only from restaurants but also from the chefs they bring into their homes by way of cookbooks.

Vegetarians want taste and texture. They want ethnicity and authenticity.

To find those qualities, take a glance at some of the latest crop of vegetarian cookbooks. They're full of flavorful ideas and suggestions that will ease the culinary endeavors of even longtime veg heads.

--"The Everything Vegetarian Cookbook" (Adams Media, 2002, $12.95, paperback) by Jay Weinstein, a National Public Radio food commentator, offers 300 vegetarian and vegan recipes for high-flavor food, as well as tips for using time in the market and kitchen more efficiently.

Unlike many cookbooks aimed more at professional chefs, Weinstein's advice is real world. It includes easy substitution charts and helpful basics, such as how to soften store-bought tortillas.

For an unusual but quick-and-easy salad that goes well with just about anything spicy, try his Polynesian banana salad. To soften raisins, soak them in 2 cups of warm water for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry.

Polynesian Banana Salad

(Preparation 10 minutes)

4 ripe bananas

1 cup coconut cream

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 cup softened raisins

4 teaspoons shredded coconut

Slice the bananas diagonally to get about 1/2-inch-thick slices. Whisk together the coconut cream and curry powder. Add the bananas and raisins and toss gently to coat. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with shredded coconut.

Makes 4 servings.

--"Very Vegetarian" (Rutledge Hill Press, 2001, $24.99) by Jannequin Bennett provides more than 250 interesting vegan recipes from all around the world.

She opens with a chapter that combines the ethics and politics of meatless diets, then quickly segues into no-nonsense explanations of basic nutrition and some of staples of the vegan kitchen.

Her clearly written recipes span an exotic range, from an Algerian vegetable soup called jary to an Indonesian spicy fried rice called nasi goreng. This definitely is a book for those with adventurous tastes.

For something a little more recognizable, try Bennett's orecchiette with butternut squash and thyme.

Orecchiette With Butternut Squash and Thyme

(Preparation 30 minutes)

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

8 ounces orecchiette pasta

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 large leek, white part only, cut into halves lengthwise then sliced thinly

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup vegetable broth or 1 cup cooking water from squash

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add the squash and cook until just tender, about 4 to 6 minutes. Drain (reserving 1 cup of water if needed) and rinse lightly with cold water. Set aside.

While the squash cooks, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in another stockpot. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, rinse lightly with cool water and set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the leek and garlic and saute until the leek is tender. If using dried thyme, add to the pan.

Turn the heat to high and add the wine. Cook until the wine is reduced by two-thirds. Add the vegetable stock or squash cooking water and cook until the liquid is reduced by about one-fourth. Add the squash and reduce heat to medium.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the olive oil, thyme (if using fresh) and orecchiette and mix well. Serve immediately or keep warm in a low oven.

Makes 4 servings.

--"The Bold Vegetarian Chef" (Wiley, 2002, $29.95) by Ken Charney. With this one, the title says it all. Charney put together more than 200 recipes that speak to the modern vegetarian -- who likes to talk about vibrant flavors!

How about a breakfast of cinnamon polenta porridge with bananas and almonds? Or a side of maple-glazed potatoes with garlic and soy sauce? Boring bean-curd recipes these are not.

For an Asian-Italian twist, try Charney's shiitake-apple risotto. Because risottos can come together quickly, Charney recommends having all ingredients ready before starting.

Shiitake-Apple Risotto

(Preparation 45 minutes)

4 cups vegetable stock

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 cup Arborio or other risotto rice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (or soy alternative)

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced (2 teaspoons dry)

Bring the vegetable stock to a gentle simmer in a medium saucepan.

In a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan saute the onion in the olive oil or butter over a medium-low flame until soft and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the apple and stir once or twice. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 or 2 minutes, or until the grains begin to turn opaque. Raise the heat to medium high and add 1 cup of simmering stock.

Stir the rice constantly and allow to simmer, but not boil. When all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, add another 1/2 cup of stock and repeat. Continue this until all stock is used, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the cheese and thyme. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

EDITOR'S NOTE: J.M. Hirsch can be e-mailed at jhirsch(at)ap.org.

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