Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

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Warm Crostini with Blue Cheese and Walnuts

I love to serve these with a glass of sherry, a bowl of pumpkin soup, or a salad of pears and endive. The butter melts into the crisp toast; the cheese stays on top. It’s heady and very aromatic.

Makes 8

8 slices baguette or country bread
4 ounces Roquefort, Maytag, or Danish blue
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon cognac
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
Freshly milled pepper
Finely chopped parsley

Toast the bread under the broiler until nicely browned on one side, then a little less so on the second. Cream the cheese and butter until smooth, then work in the cognac and three-quarters of the walnuts and season with pepper. Spread on the paler side of the toasts, then broil until the cheese is bubbling. Remove, dust with the remaining nuts, and garnish with parsley. Serve warm.

Lentil Soup

Savored over a large part of the world, lentil soups are one of the best-liked, easiest-to-cook, and most varied of soups. The earthy flavor of lentils is complemented by Indian spices, Western herbs, cream, tomato, greens, and anything slightly tart, such as sorrel or lemon.

German brown lentils are the ones we see most commonly, and they make good soups. But the tiny French slate-green Le Puy lentils, available at specialty stores and in bulk at many natural food stores, make the prettiest and most delicious soups. They’re entirely worth the slight extra cost, and in my kitchen they are the lentil of choice. Indian red split lentils turn yellow when cooked and fall into a puree, as do other split lentils, which makes them ideal for smooth lentil soups.

Lentils don’t need to be soaked, but they do need to be picked over for tiny stones. They cook in just 25 minutes, and salt should be added at the beginning. Like most bean soups, lentil soups taste better a day after they’re made.

Lentil Minestrone

This is one of my all-time favorite soups. It’s better when cooked ahead of time, but add the cooked pasta and greens just before serving so that they retain their color and texture.

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra virgin to finish
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 cup diced celery or celery root
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 cup dried green lentils, sorted and rinsed
Aromatics: 2 bay leaves, 8 parsley branches, 6 thyme sprigs
9 cups water or stock
Mushroom soy sauce to taste
1 bunch greens–mustard, broccoli rabe, chard, or spinach
2 cups cooked small pasta–shells, orecchiette, or other favorite shape
Thin shavings of Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat the oil in a wide soup pot with the onion. Saut over high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, parsley, garlic, vegetables, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook 3 minutes more. Add the lentils, aromatics, and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper. If it needs more depth, add mushroom soy sauce to taste, starting with 1 tablespoon. (The soup may seem bland at this point, but the flavors will come together when the soup is finished.) Remove the aromatics.

Boil the greens in salted water until they’re tender and bright green, then chop them coarsely. Just before serving, add the greens and the pasta to the soup and heat through. Serve with extra virgin olive oil drizzled into each bowl, a generous grind of pepper, and the Parmesan, thin shards or grated.

Winter Squash Soup with Fried Sage Leaves

The technique used to make this soup can be repeated for other soups, the seasonings–be they sweet or spicy–varied to suit your tastes. Although the soup is good without it, the cheese adds a flavor note that punctuates the natural sweetness of the squash. The Warm Crostini with Blue Cheese and Walnuts are also an excellent accompaniment.

Serves 4 to 6

2 1/2 to 3 pounds winter squash
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for the squash
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 whole sage leaves, plus 2 tablespoons chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
Chopped leaves from 4 thyme sprigs or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly milled pepper
2 quarts water or stock
1/2 cup Fontina, pecorino, or ricotta salata, diced into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds. Brush the surfaces with oil, stuff the cavities with the garlic, and place them cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake until tender when pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the 1/4 cup oil until nearly smoking, then drop in the whole sage leaves and fry until speckled and dark, about 1 minute. Set the leaves aside on a paper towel and transfer the oil to a wide soup pot. Add the onions, chopped sage, thyme, and parsley and cook over medium heat until the onions have begun to brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Scoop the squash flesh into the pot along with any juices that have accumulated in the pan. Peel the garlic and add it to the pot along with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes. If the soup becomes too thick, simply add more water to thin it out. Taste for salt.

Depending on the type of squash you’ve used, the soup will be smooth or rough. Puree or pass it through a food mill if you want a more refined soup. Ladle it into bowls and distribute the cheese over the top. Garnish each bowl with the fried sage leaves, add pepper, and serve.

Celery Root and Potato Gratin

A broth made from the celery root trimmings replaces half of the cream usually found in potato gratins without loss of flavor or texture. Celery root has a haunting flavor that always reminds me of truffles, which are an excellent addition should you be so lucky. (If I were using truffles, I would use all cream in the dish.)

Serves 4 to 6

1 garlic clove and butter for the dish
1 celery root, about 1 pound, scrubbed
1 pound potatoes, preferably Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold
1/2 cup cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 cup grated Gruyre

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Rub a 2-quart gratin dish with the garlic and then with butter.

Peel the celery root and put the parings in a 3-quart saucepan with 3 cups water and whatever remains of the garlic. Set a steamer over the top and bring to a boil. Quarter the root, then slice it 1/4 inch thick. Steam for 5 minutes and remove to a large bowl.

Peel the potatoes, slice them into thin rounds, and steam for 5 minutes or until tender, then add them to the celery root. Strain the cooking liquid, measure 1 1/4 cups, and mix it with the cream and mustard. Pour it over the vegetables and toss well. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the vegetables to the gratin dish, smooth them out, and cover with the cheese. Bake until bubbling and browned on top, about 30 minutes.

Roasted Onions on a Bed of Herbs

A spectacular-looking dish for minimal effort–perfect for the holidays. Look for onions with crisp, papery skins. They’re fine without the herbs, too.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions, halved and peeled
Salt and freshly milled pepper
4 sage sprigs and several thyme sprigs
1 cup dry white wine or water

Heat the butter and oil in a wide skillet, then add the onions, cut sides down. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, about 15 minutes. Check their progress occasionally–those on the outside of the pan usually take longer to cook, so partway through switch them with those in the middle. When browned, turn them over and cook on the curved side for a few minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch earthenware dish such as a round Spanish casserole with the herbs. Place the onions, browned side up, on the herbs and pour in the wine. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until tender when pierced with a knife, 1 hour or slightly longer. Serve warm with or without the Quick Vinegar Sauce for Onions.

Chard and Onion Omelet (Trouchia)

These Provenal eggs, laced with softened onions and chard, never fail to elicit sighs of appreciation. I’m forever grateful to Nathalie Waag for making trouchia when she came to visit–it has since become a favorite. The trick to its success is to cook everything slowly so that the flavors really deepen and sweeten.

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red or white onion, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
1 bunch chard, leaves only, chopped
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 garlic clove
6 to 8 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1 cup grated Gruyre
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 10-inch skillet, add the onion, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until completely soft but not colored, about 15 minutes. Add the chard and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until all the moisture has cooked off and the chard is tender, about 15 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, mash the garlic in a mortar with a few pinches of salt (or chop them finely together), then stir it into the eggs along with the herbs. Combine the chard mixture with the eggs and stir in the Gruyre and half the Parmesan.

Preheat the broiler. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet and, when it’s hot, add the eggs. Give a stir and keep the heat at medium-high for about a minute, then turn it to low. Cook until the eggs are set but still a little moist on top, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the remaining Parmesan and broil 4 to 6 inches from the heat, until browned.

Serve trouchia in the pan or slide it onto a serving dish and cut it into wedges. The gratined top and the golden bottom are equally presentable.

Souffls

Few dishes are as dramatic as a souffl. The whole dish swells like an enormous inhalation–then, within moments of serving, collapses. In spite of such drama, souffls are not at all difficult to make. You simply make a stiff bchamel, beat in egg yolks, add cheese and/or other fillings, and finally fold in billowy whisked egg whites. Vegetable souffls incorporate a cup or so of pureed vegetable into the base. They don’t rise quite as high but are still impressive. A pudding souffl is the same dish baked in a water bath, which tempers the rise but also slows the fall, giving the cook some leeway for serving as well as the further advantage of reheating. Roulades are souffls baked flat in sheet pans (jelly roll pans), then rolled around a filling and sliced or, if you prefer, cut into strips, stacked, and served like a soft, savory Napoleon.

Goat Cheese Souffl with Thyme

Of all souffls, this is my favorite. The enticing aroma of goat cheese is very seductive, and the little pockets of melted cheese are found
treasures. Although a classic souffl dish forms a high, puffed crown, I often bake this and other souffls in a large shallow gratin dish instead. It still looks marvelous, it bakes more quickly, and this way there’s plenty of crust for everyone.

Serves 4

Butter, plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, for the dish
1 1/4 cups milk or cream
Aromatics: 1 bay leaf, several thyme sprigs, 2 thin onion slices
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly milled pepper
Pinch cayenne
4 egg yolks
1 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled goat cheese, preferably a Bucheron or other strong-flavored cheese
6 egg whites
Several plump thyme sprigs, leaves only

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Butter a 6-cup souffl dish or an 8-cup gratin dish and coat it with the Parmesan. Heat the milk with the aromatics until it boils. Set it aside to steep for 15 minutes, then strain.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. When foamy, stir in the flour and cook over low heat for several minutes. Whisk in the milk all at once and stir vigorously for a minute or so as it thickens, then add 3/4 teaspoon salt, a few twists of pepper, and the cayenne. Remove from heat. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until well blended, then stir in the cheese. Don’t worry about getting it smooth.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form firm peaks, then stir a quarter of them into the base to lighten the mixture. Fold in the rest, transfer to the prepared dish, then put in the center of the oven and lower the heat to 375 F. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and just a bit wobbly in the center. Remove, scatter the thyme over the top, and serve immediately.

Tofu

A good source of protein and satisfying to eat, tofu can stand in for meat and to some extent can replace dairy products and eggs. Serious tofu enthusiasts use it to replace everything from ricotta to ground beef. Personally, I find it annoying to see bland tofu masquerading as pungent feta cheese, but in some instances–in the Sesame Sauce with Tofu–its presence goes completely unnoticed.

Tofu is also good on its own. Silken tofu has a remarkably soothing, custard-like texture, while Chinese-style tofu offers chewy satisfaction that is often missed in vegetarian food. Tofu is also incredibly fast and easy to prepare. It’s something like the vegetarian equivalent of the chicken breast–amenable and ready to go, a blank canvas for many wonderful pungent Asian sauces and some Western ones as well. If you think you don’t like tofu, remember that you’ve probably enjoyed it many times in Asian restaurants.

Tofu in Coconut Sauce with Ginger and Lemongrass

This spicy-sweet Vietnamese sauce is delicious with tofu and with cubes of golden fried tempeh. Although complex-tasting, its cooking time is about 20 minutes. Serve over jasmine rice or rice noodles.

Serves 4

1 1-pound package Chinese-style firm tofu, drained
3 tablespoons peanut oil
8 shallots, thinly sliced, or 1 small white onion
Salt and freshly milled white pepper
1 bunch cilantro, the leaves plus a little of the stems
1/2 cup finely diced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass, from the middle of the stalk, or grated zest of 1 lemon
1 jalapeo chile, seeded and diced
1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk, plus water to make 2 cups
3 pieces galangal, optional
1 teaspoon soy sauce, preferably mushroom soy
Cilantro sprigs for garnish

Drain the tofu, then dice it into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet, add the shallots, and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season with a few pinches salt, then add half the cilantro. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a wok, add the remaining oil, and swirl it around the sides. When hot, add the ginger, lemongrass, and jalapeo. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, add the coconut milk mixture and galangal and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add

Copyright© 1997 by Deborah Madison
–From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. ¬© November 1997 , Deborah Madison used by permission.

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