Written by Oyster Bay’s own Chef Alan Zox Thursday, 05 December 2013 00:00
Those of us who are not vegans, myself included, may suffer these days from the politically correct movement toward eating healthier, low-fat foods. Vegetarian cooking for me used to be risotto Milanese or eggplant Parmesan. These dishes were easy for me but the cheese and butter these dishes call for are tough to give up. Moving beyond these winners is still a challenge. I am too often unsure about cooking vegetarian for the evening meal. Perhaps you too find yourself somewhat at a loss trying to decide how to cook a purely vegetarian meal, without resorting to the ease of pasta and marinara, or another lentil, bean, tofu or tempeh specialty. Did I hear someone ask to pass the bowl of quinoa?
Eating meat is still a fashion for me that is hard to give up. I know that eating steak and potatoes every night is not going to shed the pounds nor is eating meat 24 /7 good for the environment. And I too often feel I have eaten too
much come morning after ribs and mashed potatoes. Yet I must also admit that BBQ ribs prepared “low and slow” with my own Midwestern bbq rub, a Hamburg with chopped onion inside, or a juicy rib eye with chimichurri on the side still attract me like no other meal can. There are alternatives however. Eating less meat is one step forward; trying out a vegetarian option 1-2 days a week is another. (See Mark Bittman’s book, Food Matters, for a more in-depth discussion of options.) I believe that over time we will find that family and friends will give us room to experiment. They are looking for cooking and eating guidance that is nutritious and tasty as well.
Chefs and authors Mark Bittman, Deborah Madison and Heidi Swanson are very helpful in this movement towards vegetarianism. So we are not alone. Interestingly only Swanson considers herself a vegan, yet all three value the joys and healthy benefits of vegetarian cooking. Each of these authors is enabling the rest of us to make this conversion an easier, more natural one. This column will continue to share their insights, along with my own, to help all of us prepare our vegetarian creations more easily and naturally. And I will continue to share the angst I sometimes suffer in helping others move closer to eating healthier vegetarian options. Perhaps my episodic discomfort will help you all feel more comfortable knowing you are not alone.
As the founder of the restaurant, Greens at Fort Mason in San Francisco, Deborah Madison managed to build an incredibly popular vegetarian restaurant that never labeled itself as such. Her groundbreaking book Vegetarian Cooking for
Everyone became an extension of the West Coast healthy food movement led by Alice Waters with whom Madison worked.
Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking became the new alternative to the Moosewood Cookbook of the 1960’s and ‘70’s–a more grown up version if you will. Whenever I would visit the West Coast and the Bay area in those days, Greens at Fort
Mason became a destination of choice. The dishes served were elegant, beautifully presented, and delicious to eat. And their wine cellar continues to be world class.
Today I have drawn from one of Madison’s more recent books called Vegetarian Suppers where she recommends over 100 everyday meal recipes. She has published nine books to date. The recipe I have chosen is tasty as can be and truly wonderful when accompanied by mustard cream. It’s not meat but it is a fine alternative with a fresh salad and homemade cannellini beans both on the side.
1 ½ Lbs. green savoy cabbage- chopped into 2-inch squares
3 fat Leeks, white parts only, quartered lengthwise, chopped and washed
Sea salt to season
1/3 cup of flour
1 cup of milk 1/3 cup of sour cream
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or dill
Mustard cream (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 350 F and butter or oil a 6-cup gratin dish. Put a large pot of water on for the chopped leeks and cabbage. When the water boils add salt to taste. After 5 minutes, pour the vegetables into a colander. Force out as much water as possible with the back of a rubber scraper.
Whisk the flour, milk, sour cream, eggs, and herbs together, then add the cabbage and leeks and mix together. Season with ¾ teaspoon salt. Pour into the prepared dish and bake until firm and lightly browned—about 45 minutes. Serve with mustard cream on the side.
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
2/3 cup sour cream or whole milk yogurt
2-3 teaspoons prepared mustard, smooth or coarse or mixed with horseradish.
Mix the shallot and vinegar in a small bowl with the salt and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the sour cream and mustard. Adjust the seasonings, adding more mustard or vinegar to taste as preferred. Enjoy.