Until relatively recent innovations in meatless cooking, vegetarians have had to be satisfied with eating virtuously. It seems likely that the rewards enjoyed by people who ate lentil loaf and the like were strictly spiritual in nature. They certainly weren't gustatory.
But vegetarianism is no longer the culinary equivalent of the hair shirt. And although that may spoil it for individuals who gave up meat as a form of sacrifice, it makes vegetarianism more appealing to those of us who put palate before principle.
My own vegetarianism had the dour beginnings one associates with hair shirts and lentil loaf. It started in high school when we were studying global hunger. I learned that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. It seemed like a waste in a world where millions were starving. It still does.
That's what inspired my vegetarianism. What sustains it is something more motivating than morality: good food, such as pasta with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, capers and olives; curries of cauliflower, eggplant and potatoes; bread bowls brimming with cream of spinach soup; savory zucchini-carrot cheesecakes; pates of avocado, broccoli and walnuts. . . . Such are the dishes you'll find here regularly in a new column celebrating vegetarianism--entrees, salads, side dishes and desserts using seasonal produce and making complete, nourishing meals.
This column is for everyone from the devoted vegetarian (although some may prefer I omit dairy products and the occasional egg) to dedicated burger eaters warned to watch their cholesterol, to hosts with a roast on the menu and a vegetarian on the guest list, to the frugal cook with a prodigious appetite.
Until recently I thought of rice with legumes (kidney beans, black beans, garbanzos, etc.) as a bland subsistence diet for the less fortunate of the world. But after discovering richly flavored dishes like the one that follows, I eat some kind of beans and rice at least once a week.
Most meals are built around a source of protein. The trick to vegetarian cooking is creating a source of complete protein, since, unlike meat, poultry and fish, no vegetable or grain is adequate by itself.
You create a source of complete protein by combining foods from the non-meat groups, and you don't need a chemistry book to do it. Because the protein components in grains enhance or complement the proteins in legumes, prepare grains with legumes, and you've created your complete protein source. Proportions are important, too. When serving the following, figure two-thirds of a cup cooked beans to one cup of rice for a sound meat substitute.
This dish was named for the fact that all ingredients were purchased in Fairfax district produce markets for less than $3.
BLACK BEANS FAIRFAX
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or grape seed oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup finely chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped sweet yellow pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Dash cayenne pepper
2 cups cooked black beans
2/3 cup orange juice
Dash red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Cooked white or brown rice or Texmati rice (a new hybrid of nut-flavored Asian basmati and firm-textured Texas long grain rice)
Sour cream or plain yogurt
Heat oil in large skillet. Add garlic, onions, carrots, yellow pepper, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Saute until onions are translucent and peppers are tender. Add beans. Stir until coated with vegetable mixture.
Pour in orange juice and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer while preparing rice, up to 30 minutes.
Just before serving, stir in cilantro. Serve with rice and pass sour cream at the table. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
The orange spike marinade works just as well on asparagus and broccoli, but I'm recommending Brussels sprouts for all of the people who have stopped me while I have been picking over the cabbage-shaped vegetable in the produce department and asked me what I do with it.
ORANGE-SPIKED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, washed
3/4 cup orange juice
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon grated ginger root
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
Steam Brussels sprouts until cooked through but not mushy, about 5 to 8 minutes.
In bowl, combine orange juice, garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, cumin and cilantro. Add Brussels sprouts, then stir to coat with marinade. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Makes 4 to 6 servings.