Monday, January 23, 2012

the vegetarian question

Vegetarian dinner guests are often met with a mixture of disdain and contempt. Many chefs outright loathe people who don't eat meat. Vegans? Forget about it.

All this hatred is so misguided. Vegetarians, in my experience, are downright apologetic about their lifestyle choice. "Oh, don't go out of your way," they'll say. "I'll eat around the meat!" I found myself saying this when I was temporarily gluten-free. (Did I mean it? No.) Eating around things does not make for a fun meal, no matter how much your guests smile and swear that they don't mind.

I never mind cooking a meatless meal. Dan and I eat vegetarian food most nights of the week, so I'm comfortable with beans and grains and fresh produce. The thing is, most of those recipes are simple salads and pastas that aren't really fit for company, so I have to get a little more creative.

A dinner party needs a centerpiece dish that you can build a menu around. And unlike a roast chicken, or a pork tenderloin, or some short ribs, it's hard to come up with a vegetarian main dish that feels special and substantial.

A long, long time ago I bookmarked a delicious-looking mushroom bourguignon from Smitten Kitchen but it never seemed like the right time to make it. I needed really cold weather and a vegetarian to feed. A few weeks ago, the stars aligned.

I had my doubts that mushrooms would be just as good as beef, but all of the components were there, -- red wine, herbs, sauteed onions and carrots. After about an hour of simmering, I tasted the thick, burgundy sauce, and it was pretty damn close. There was something a little off, though. The sauce needed a little more acidity so I crossed my fingers and added a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, hoping that the tart-sweet flavor would do the trick. And luckily, it did.
Vegetarians and non-vegetarians wiped their plates clean, eating every last sauce-slicked noodle and tender mushroom. You could make this dish any time of year, but I'm glad I waited for a bone-chilling night. Chilly weather calls for a comforting stew just like this.

Meatless winter dinner

Crostini with pears, goat cheese, thyme and honey
Mushroom bourguignon with egg noodles
Arugula with lemony vinaigrette
Chocolate pear cake with whipped cream

Mushroom Bourguignon
Ever so slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen. I think this would be equally good served over mashed potatoes.
(Serves 4, generously -- we had leftovers)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 lbs. portobello mushrooms, in 1/4-inch slices
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup full-bodied red wine
2 cups vegetable broth (or beef broth)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (thawed if frozen)
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Egg noodles, for serving
Sour cream or parmesan and chopped chives or parsley, for garnish

Heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a medium Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over high heat. (I had to use a large pan and a Dutch oven.) Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken, about three or four minutes. Remove them from pan before they release any liquid. Set aside.

Lower the flame to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Toss the carrots, onions, thyme, a few good pinches of salt and several grinds of black pepper into the pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce it by half. Stir in the tomato paste and the broth. Add back the mushrooms with any juices that have collected and once the liquid has boiled, reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender. Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes more.

Combine remaining butter and the flour with a fork until combined; stir it into the stew. Add the balsamic vinegar. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Adjusting the seasonings to taste.

Boil your egg noodles according to the package's directions.

Spoon the stew over bowls of egg noodles, dollop with sour cream or sprinkle with parmesan cheese and a pinch of chives or parsley.


Julie said...

I'm always on the look-out for new vegetarian recipes. This looks great!

tender b. said...

I had a similar version recently from vegetarian times. I really enjoyed it. I love that you tried to do a whole vegetarian meal instead of sticking with your pasta and salads. I'm sure it was appreciated.

Lisa said...

Thanks, guys!

Yes, I feel bad not doing a complete vegetarian meal. Wouldn't you want someone to do the same for you?

Daniel said...

I wonder what other classics would convert well to vegetarian:

Kale cacciatore?

Tempeh thermador?


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