Meatless stew still has hearty flavor

June 02, 1993|By Bev Bennett | Bev Bennett,Chicago Sun-Times

During the late 1960s' rush of vegetarian consciousness, brown was the prevailing color: brown rice, brown beans, brown soy sauce. And, if it wasn't dense, it wasn't healthy. Fortunately, vegetarian food, like everything else, has lightened up.

Vegetarian alternatives, perhaps not even highlighted as such, are available at most innovative restaurants. It's possible to go into any fine Italian restaurant and have a beautiful pizza, polenta or pasta dish made with an assortment of fresh vegetables and perhaps some cheese.

New American menus are introducing sandwiches, pastas, salads and even chili recipes without meat, poultry or seafood (most do use eggs and cheese in their meatless cooking).

Home cooks can incorporate vegetarian dishes into their meal plans just as easily. These offer a chance to reduce fat, increase vegetable consumption and cut food costs. It's an excellent way for a twosome to eat, since fresh, seasonal produce is readily available in small quantities.

For a delicious salad, take advantage of sweet Vidalia onions, making a brief spring appearance in supermarkets. These onions, from the area around Vidalia, Ga., are excellent served raw. Their delicate flavor is enhanced with chervil, tart blue cheese and a light vinaigrette dressing.

Develop hearty, satisfying flavor in a meatless entree by using a combination of eggplant, portobello mushrooms and leeks simmered with herbs, tomato puree and Sherry. Serve the two recipes together for a marvelous meal, and don't tell anyone what isn't in it.

Vidalia onion and cucumber salad

Makes 2 servings

1 small Vidalia onion, cut into thin semi-circles

1 (5- to 6-inch) cucumber, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 ounce blue cheese, crumbled

1 tablespoon minced fresh chervil

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

Salt, freshly ground white pepper

Spread out onion slices on serving platter and top with cucumber slices. Sprinkle with cheese, followed by chervil.

Stir together oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste in cup. Pour over salad.

Mediterranean vegetarian stew

Makes 2 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 leek, white part only

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 pound portobello mushrooms

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 cup dry Sherry

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 cups tomato puree

Salt, freshly ground white pepper

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar or teriyaki sauce

Hot cooked rice

1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet. Add eggplant and saute stirring, 1 minute.

Halve leek lengthwise and wash thoroughly, then cut into 1/2 -inch-thick semicircles. Add to eggplant along with garlic. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until eggplant is browned and leek is tender, about 10 minutes.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in separate, nonstick skillet. Add mushrooms and saute 5 minutes. Add mushrooms to eggplant along with bay leaf, thyme and paprika. Cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Stir in Sherry, water and tomato puree. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add vinegar and cook 1 minute longer. Remove bay leaf.

Spoon rice onto serving platter and top with eggplant-tomato mixture. Sprinkle with parsley.

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