Veggie Chat Leftovers: Teen Carbotarian, Mashed Mates, Provencal Veggie Feast

As promised in yesterday's What's Cooking Vegetarian chat, I've answered a handful of leftover questions worth chewing on for further discussion. Please weigh in as you see fit in the comments area below, and have a safe, delicious weekend!

Virginia:A friend of mine's teenaged daughter has become vegetarian. But she doesn't like vegetables (and neither does he really -- just vegetable soup). So far, they eat a lot of cheese sandwiches and cheese pizza when she visits. Any suggestions for a non-cook for his teenaged daughter on weekends? I've suggested omelets and using fake eggs but that's about it.

So you've got a noncook and a young, impressionable carbotarian. The cheese marathon has got to stop! This is actually a great opportunity, not a dilemma. Both Dad and daughter could use some kitchen time together in form of a few cooking lessons, using her new diet as a springboard for action.

It's a win-win situation; Dad shows daughter that he's "cool" enough to take a cooking class and is open to her new eating preferences, plus he may a learn a new thing or two that he throws together on those nights he's cooking for himself. Meanwhile, our newbie vegetarian feels validated, meets other vegetarians and learns in a nonjudgemental way about the world beyond cheese sandwiches and the importance of eating smart, with or without meat.

Locally, there are a few options, each with a different twist. Mimi Clark, who's based in Fairfax City, teaches her monthly hands-on "Vegan Gourmet" classes on Sunday mornings, which would be perfect timing for this duo. In fact, the next class is Sunday, March 9.

For a taste of India, there's Pritha Mehra and her hands-on meatless classes, in both Fairfax and Arlington, Va. Mehra gets a big thumbs up from Celebritologist Liz Kelly, who's been cooking without meat for at least three years.

In D.C., Phyllis Fruchter covers several global cuisines, but once a month offers a vegetarian class from her kitchen in Dupont Circle. March's meatless class is Italian, and in April, the class "travels" to Spain.

If this pair enjoys hummus, baba ghanouj and other meatless Middle Eastern mezze, the monthly classes at Arlington's Lebanese Taverna market may be a fun experience. Some classes are held on Saturday; at least one of their monthly offering is vegetarian.

Mashed potatoes! : My boyfriend is veg and loves mashed potatoes. I'd like to figure out a way to fit those into our meals, but my omnivore sensibilities can't get past the need to pair them with meat. I've tried grilled portobellos, but didn't love the match. How can we work mashed potatoes into our vegetarian meals?

Try the white-on-white method: Add a handful of cauliflower florets or a few chopped parsnips into the pot and mash everything together, for a new twist with added nutrients. When everything is pureed, particularly if you add garlic and herbs, your mashed potato-loving bf will not be able to tell he's eating his cruciferous veg as well.

For something more substantial, you may want to consider something along the lines of this Italian mashed potato-green bean pie, detailed below. I've had this recipe in my notebook for more than 10 years, but unfortunately am unable to remember the source; what I know now is that "polpettone" is Italian for stuffed meat, but this Ligurian version is meatless (but with dairy and eggs). I often make this dish around Easter, when the weather flips between winter and spring; the potatoes symbolize the comfort from the wind and the green beans symbolize new grass and the promise of warmer days.

Polpettone di Patate e Fagiolini 

1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped 

3/4 pound green beans, trimmed
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon, dried
2 tablespoons fresh parsley 

3/4 cup parmesan-- grated
1/4 cup ricotta 

3 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Mash and cover. 

Cook beans in salted water for about 15 minutes, finely chop. set aside. 

Soak breadcrumbs in milk. Add more milk if mixture gets too dry. You want some moisture, but not liquid.

Cook garlic in olive oil, and add herbs and beans. This mixture must be cool before adding to potatoes, cheese and eggs. Season. Fill a greased oven-proof baking dish, shape unimportant (to make more of a tart, use a 12-inch round dish). Top with breadcrumbs. Score top with a knife, making a diamond pattern. Bake about 40 minutes, until golden.

Washington, D.C.: I am looking to host a Provence-inspired feast in the spring. I'm very excited about it, but have a problem: I can't figure out a vegetarian option as an alternative to the main course. My menu as it stands now features an entree of chicken with an herbes de provence pan sauce, haricots vert bundles, and roasted potatoes. What alternative entree can I offer in case I have vegetarians at the table?

Provencal cooking is one of the ultimate expressions of honoring the change of the seasons, which means a heavy emphasis on fruits, herbs and vegetables (aka vegetarian fare). The options are limitless.

Without knowing exactly when you'll be hosting the party (i.e. early or late spring), I'll make some general suggestions that would capture the essence of spring.

The first thing that comes to mind is an onion tart -- not a pizza-like pissaladiere (which is wonderful), but something a little more formal, with a buttery flaky crust, made in a tart shell. Onions get caramelized, seasoned with thyme -- or if you really want to get Provencal - some fennel seeds. You can pour into blind-baked shell and add chevre or Gruyere or leave it to bake by its lonesome.

Earliy in the spring, you'll see artichokes, and you could braise a bunch in white wine and a carrot-leek mix for a substantial side dish.

Similarly you could braise fennel, which would go beautifully with the roasted potatoes you mention.

Garlic soup would be a fun starter, but only if your friends eat eggs and dairy. Eggs are beaten, mixed with cheese, then tempered into the two heads of garlic swimming in broth. Traditionally a chicken stock is used, but you could make a quick veggie stock and still yield lovely results. Serve with toasted baguettes. That sounds good on a wintry mix day like today, n'est-ce pas?

If you like mushrooms, there's nothing spring-ier than morels, which you can sauté with shallots and finish with white wine.

For more ideas than you could ever imagine, check out Patricia Wells's many cookbooks on Provence, where she spends part of the year teaching cooking classes.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 22, 2008; 11:03 AM ET Chat Leftovers
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For the mashed potato lover: You'll either love this idea or hate it, but I have a Dutch cookbook (not vegetarian) that has the most intriguing mashed potato recipes in that the mashers are combined with other vegetable indgredients that complement. It's sort of similar to Kim's example above except that you just make your regular mashed potatoes and then add in some other cooked vegetable. For example, one recipe calls for arugula and carrot; another cooked kale, spinach or cabbage; and another has parsnips and celery root. When I've made these it's been as a "bed" for another part of the meal, like tenderloin or a chicken breast, but I think any other vegetarian preparation could complement these potato purees nicely. If nothing else, the leftovers also make intriguing potato pancakes.

Posted by: Sean | February 22, 2008 4:33 PM

To the first query: the dad-daughter duo do not like vegetables, but have they tried eating vegetables cooked in different ways, with different seasonings? Perhaps a fun project would be to go to restaurants and try vegetable dishes from different cuisines (such as Indian, Italian, Mexican, Ethiopian) and then look for recipes for the dishes that they like. That way, they might both start getting excited about cooking.
Roasted vegetables (sweet potato fries, roasted cauliflower tossed with olives and capers) taste wonderful and practically cook themselves.

To the mashed potato lover: I love spiced mashed potatoes made into patties and cooked as burgers. Also, how about using mashed potatoes as a topping for vegetarian Shepherd's pie?

Posted by: Nupur | February 22, 2008 4:42 PM

Provencale? Ratatouille!

Posted by: Reine de Saba | February 22, 2008 5:59 PM

On the veg-daughter/non-cooking Dad. Check out Moosewood! There are some nice dishes targeted at those who like the taste of meat, but want to try veg. I've had the cookbook for over ten years and we only recently discovered a dip based on green beans and nuts. Delicious!

Also, think pasta! (I'm quite the exclams today.) One can make some nice, simple tomato sauces that go beautifully on pasta. If you're into cheese, hey, there's ravioli. Start with what you like and broaden.


Paul Lane

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | February 22, 2008 8:39 PM

also, the veg daughter might need to be told most cheese is NOT vegetarian and that she is eating cow tendons with her cheese. That will definitely expand her repetoire!
I also suggest Crescent Dragonwagon's books, and Vegetarian Times, which has a really good veg starter kit on its website. Both have a great array of non-cheese-and-bread foods.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 25, 2008 12:34 PM

Kim - I think there's a step or two missing from the instructions in your potato green bean recipe. Is there something that goes before "fill a greased oven-proof baking dish..."? Are the green beans mixed in with the potatoes or are they layered? Thanks.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 9:55 AM

Re: potato recipe. Nope, it's all there. The green beans are cooled, then added to potato-cheese mixture, then poured into the dish, then topped off w/ breadcrumbs. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 26, 2008 11:07 AM

But how to eat classic mashed potatoes as a vegetarian? I wasn't the questioner, but I have the same issue. Some days I really want a satisfying mound of creamy mashed potatoes, but don't know what to prepare along with it when eating with my vegetarian husband. Potatoes with butter and milk aren't exactly a square meal. What could serve in place of the meat if he were a meat-and-potatoes man?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 3:35 PM

I am the original questioner, and I'm glad someone made the comment about what to do with classic mashed potatoes. I really appreciate and look forward to trying the other suggestions (the pie looks super good and i like the idea of adding more nutritious veggies to the mash) - but I'm still thrown by the idea of pairing something vegetarian with regular mashed potatoes. I agree, sometimes you want a simple mashed potatoes but I'm still scratching my head about how to use those in a square meal.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 4:57 PM

What about a mound of mashed potatoes with just two different types of vegetables? Like maybe roast some green beans and some carrots. Then you'd have lots of color to go with the white mashed and a variety of tastes and textures to make up for the lack of meat.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 10:03 PM

There's a recipe on the Vegetarian Times website for ratatouille shepherd's pie. I'm planning to make it tomorrow, so I don't know how it is, but it certainly looks substantial enough to be a meal.

Posted by: EB | February 27, 2008 3:53 PM

Humph. Someone has to force me to read this post. It's too big and boring. Brevity is the sister of talent, remember that.

Posted by: ClassicMan | April 6, 2008 2:27 PM

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