Hearty meals not quite like Mom's


May 15, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Some meat eaters tend to think of vegetarians as undernourished lettuce munchers who subsist - basically - on plate garnish. But to Robin Robertson, author of The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, $16.95), that's just baloney.

Her book, which sets out to make converts of carnivores, is based on the theory that there's no reason to sacrifice substance or flavor just because you give up beef (pork and chicken, too, for that matter). And while a quick read of her hearty (and healthful) recipes does a pretty good job of convincing you that's true, closer inspection says they're not quite the meals that Mom used to make.

There are pages of potpies, stews, casseroles, meatloaf (with gravy!), and even roasts and steaks - just not the kind you're probably used to. Robertson's are made from eggplant or mushrooms, if you're lucky (those ingredients you can find most everywhere). But if you're not, they're made from seitan (glutinous dough), tempeh (compressed soybeans) or that vegetarian staple, tofu. And good luck finding a corner store that carries tofu or tempeh.

The seitan is up to you to make, and involves drawing the starch from wheat dough and simmering what's left for an hour. The good news is you can make a big batch and freeze the rest for later. But if you don't have time for all that, just flip through the pages until a seitan-free recipe pops up. This one turned out to be pretty filling, yummy even.

Wild Irish Stew

Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4 -inch slices

5 small waxy white potatoes, quartered

1 pound baby carrots

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups vegetable stock or water

1/4 cup dry red wine (optional)

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup soy sauce

8 ounces white button mushrooms, quartered

1 cup chopped kale

1 teaspoon dried thyme

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or cannellini beans

fresh minced parsley for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery, cover and cook about 5 minutes until softened (stirring several times). Add potatoes, carrots, garlic, stock, wine and bay leaves. Bring to a boil uncovered. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add soy sauce, mushrooms, kale, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil, stir and cook for 1 minute until stew thickens. Add the beans, reduce heat and simmer until heated throughout, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

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