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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Vegetarianism Could Save The World, If Only You Don't Weaken

The flavors are bold in this quickly prepared dish. We first made it using sun-dried tomatoes that were given to me as a gift by guy who worked for me. The tomatoes came soaked in olive oil and were the first I had ever tried. They were superb, and the recipe was pronounced a winner. The employee is another story. We ultimately parted company and he sued me for discrimination—he was gay, but who knew? Better yet, who cared? He lost the suit, but we still make the dish.

Just don't get sued. It really sucks and can be awfully expensive, even when you're right.

But more about the recipe. It's vegetarian (Petra take note) and one of the few in my repetoire. It's not like I'm a rabid red meat guy. I eat fish and chicken more oftern than beef. But I don't know if I could live my life on soy protein.

My daughter, Carey, tried. When she and her friends rented a big house on St. Charles Street in New Orleans in their junior year at Loyola, she (and the rest of the house) decided to become vegetarians, primarily for economic reasons. Meat, after all, can be expensive. When she announced this to us, rather than protest—which was always useless with Carey (and the rest of the kids come to think of it)—I loaned her my copy of “Diet for a Small Planet,” which has a lot of real good vegetarian recipes.

My wife just rolled her eyes. The book also has a hard-edged political slant that advocates a grain-based diet as the salvation of the world. My wife, in her wisdom, knew that the book would quickly turn what was an economic decision on the part of a half-dozen, socially awakening young women into a political one.

Surprise, surprise, it did. My daughter and her friends became righteous advocates for a way of life that repudiated animal protein as a waste of land, grain, water and energy, while celebrating a grain-based diet as the salvation for the millions of people who die of hunger every year.

I think some of her friends remain vegetarians to this day. Carey, truth be told, fell off the wagon one cold Alaskan night as she was driving home in the frosted, fog-shrouded darkness after a day of counseling AIDs victims in her Jesuit Volunteer Corps job in Fairbanks. (My kids are altruistic. They get it from their mother.)

“I saw the Kentucky Fried Chicken place open, lights blazing in the night,” she said (or roughly that), “and my car pulled into the parking lot. I got out, went in, and gorged on fried chicken and mashed potatoes. It was wonderful.”

Beef was not far behind.

It was probably the beginning of the death of a knee-jerk liberal.

When she returned to the lower 48, she tried to stay true to her altruistic roots taking a job in Fort Worth counseling the same kinds of folks who drove her to chicken in Fairbanks—this time with a focus on strippers who needed health care.

But the lure of chicken and beef (with all their conservative overtones) proved to be too strong. Law school followed and now she spends her days litigating for insurance companies and her nights eating steaks, roasts, hamburgers and beef tacos. Although she maligns Bush at every opportunity, she actually said something nice about McCain the other day. So dies a liberal.

One of her favorite vegetarian dishes in college and while she was living “in community” in Fairbanks was tuna roll-ups, a dish her mother served, but only when I was out of town.

The recipe is simple and the meal is ghastly.

Open a can of mushroom soup. Mix a few tablespoons of soup and a handful of shredded cheddar cheese with a can of tuna and spread the mixture on crescent roll dough pieces. Roll them up and place them in a casserole dish. Ad some milk to the mushroom soup and heat on the stove. Pour cream of mushroom soup over the roll-ups and bake for 30 minutes or so. It’s a poor man’s crepe, with abominable taste, but loved by children and desperately poor college students.

For a truly interesting vegetarian dish, try this.

Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes
Serves four

2 large cloves garlic , minced
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
3 ounces of mild goat cheese
Ground parmesan cheese
½ pound of your favorite pasta

First: Sauté the onions in the olive oil over moderate heat until soft (about five minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute more. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth and simmer until the liquid is reduced by a third.
Second: Stir in the olives and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep the mixture warm.
Third: Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until it is al dente, which is Italian for “cook it long enough for it to be firm but stop before it gets too soft.” Drain the pasta, reserving about two cups of the cooking water.
Fourth: In the serving bowl, whisk together the goat cheese and about a half-cup of the reserved cooking water until the cheese is melted. The mixture should be smooth and somewhat water. Add the sun-dried tomato mixture to the cheese and water mixture. Toss the sauce with the pasta. If the sauce is too thick and the pasta clumps up, add more of the reserved water.
And finally: Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

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