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Soup and salad with a vegetarian twist

When my friend Rachel called, her tone alarmed me. She groaned as though riding a wave of painful stomach flu. “I’m having a few friends over for dinner Saturday night,” she said, moaning. “But I blew it. I invited Todd.”

I wondered why Todd prompted such bellyaching. Did she learn he’s a wanted criminal?

Rachel resumed her caterwauling, her anxiety rising like a perfect soufflé. “I know Todd doesn’t eat meat or fish, but listen to this: now he also bad-mouths eggs, dairy and wheat!”



While she blathered on about either serving thin gruel or calling the evening off, my mind meandered to curried bean thread noodles and tantalizingly spiced vegetable dishes.

Don’t be flummoxed by feeding friends like Todd. There’s no need to prune them from your invitation list. And for goodness sake, take your hands off that package of rice cakes!




Although catering to narrow dietary habits may at first feel like you’re gnawing hardtack, you might actually be nudged towards new culinary adventures. Necessity often encourages ingenuity that’s more than just a flash in the pan.

Maybe Picasso’s famous Blue Period occurred because he merely ran out of red paint.

These dishes should nourish and amaze even the most demanding vegetarian guest.

Tofu-Coconut Soup

(Serves 4)

My Thai shyness evaporated when I made this light and fragrant soup. This recipe marks the first time I ever used lemon grass.

14 ounces of firm tofu, cut in 1-inch cubes

One 14-ounce can coconut milk (don’t even muse that this is a dairy product.)

Veggie broth (cubes work well), enough so that when combined with the coconut milk, you have 5 cups of liquid.

10 peppercorns

4 stalks lemon grass, outer tough leaves discarded and the tender upper stalks, chopped in big pieces.

One 15-ounce can straw mushrooms

1/4 cup whole cilantro leaves

2 scallions, thinly sliced in Os

A handful of spinach leaves

4 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons tamari

Place the tofu cubes on a lightly greased sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 350 F.

To ensure even browning, turn them once. While the tofu bakes, bring the 5 cups of liquid, peppercorns, and lemon grass to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Strain the liquid into a clean pot and toss out the peppercorns and lemon grass.

Add the baked tofu and remaining ingredients and simmer until the greens wilt and the soup is thoroughly heated. Try to act nonchalant during the appreciative clamor.

Broccoli Salad

(Serves 4)

This crunchy salad happens to be a great accompaniment to Tofu-Coconut soup.

1 pound broccoli crowns, separated into bite-size florets

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

3 radishes sliced in half-moons

2 scallions, sliced in Os

1 cup mung bean sprouts

Dressing

Purée until smooth:

2 tablespoons tamari

2 tablespoons mirin (a sweet Chinese rice wine)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/4 cup tahini

2 teaspoons brown sugar

Steam the broccoli until just tender and then rinse well under cold water. Let it drain and refrigerate. When the broccoli is chilled, mix it together with the remaining salad ingredients. Add the dressing and stir well. Serve immediately or the dressing gets too thin.

Stuffed Delicato Squash

(Serves 4)

If you’ve never eaten Delicatos before, get thee to a health food store. This succulent squash is so tender you can eat the skin.

1/2 cup dried mushrooms, chopped into small pieces

2 cups boiling water

2 medium Delicatos, sliced in half length-wise and seeded

4 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

1/2 cup wild rice blend, cooked according to directions

1/2 cup brown rice, cooked according to directions

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

Salt and pepper

Soak the dried mushrooms in the boiling water. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

Then put them in a strainer, and press out all the liquid with the back of a spoon. Save this broth to make the rice! (If you need more liquid for the rice, use water.)

As the cooking directions are the same for both types of rice, I make them together in one pot.

While the rice cooks, mix together the oil and garlic.

Place the squash face up in a glass pan and brush on the oil.

Fill the pan with 1-inch of water, cover tightly with foil, and bake in a 400 F oven for 35 minutes until easily pierced with a forked.

When the rice is done, stir in the mushrooms, nuts, parsley and salt and pepper. Divide the rice and stuff the squash halves. The only rumbling you’ll hear is that you didn’t make more.

I’m nervous about inviting some new friends for dinner. Rumor has it that they don’t eat chocolate!

Ronnie Paul is a freelance writer and vegetarian chef. She can be reached at rpaul@ncws.com.


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