Meatless meals are popular in the summer. This time of year, people generally eat lighter to be lighter. Besides, who needs the heavy stuff when there are so many gorgeous fresh vegetables readily available?
Dishes that combine several fresh summer vegetables make eating more interesting, and they can reflect many cuisines. As a take-off on Asian cookery, try stir-frying a vegetable combination in the microwave. Remember to cook in sequence, just as you do on the stove top.
Start by precooking, in a little oil, the thick or dense vegetables such as onion and carrot slices, cauliflower or broccoli florets, celery slices and cabbage shreds until they are bright and tender-crisp. Then, at the last minute, toss in delicate vegetables such as mushrooms, crisp Chinese pea pods, spinach leaves and, if desired, bits of cooked meat or seafood. Depending on the number of servings cooked, microwave stir-fried vegetable dishes take about eight to 14 minutes from start to finish.
Try Italian and French
Italian and French recipes combine vegetables beautifully, too. To me, the microwave lasagna recipe that follows, made with five fresh garden vegetables, is the best there is. While the fresh vegetable sauce is microwaving, cook the lasagna noodles about 10 minutes in boiling water on the stove top. I've made this dish many times and served it to many friends, who like it as I do.
Also, there's the famous French vegetable stew, ratatouille, which blends eggplant, squash and tomatoes. With a microwave, ratatouille simmers quickly without sticking to the bottom of the pan. The traditional French method involves cooking the vegetables separately and layering them before a final heating. Microwaved, ratatouille's flavor tends to be fresher and its color brighter than the stove-top version.
FRESH VEGETABLE LASAGNA
5 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil or 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 pound lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Stir together tomatoes, celery, carrots, onion and parsley in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 10 to 12 minutes until hot and juice begins to form. Stir in basil, honey, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Continue microwaving on HIGH, uncovered, 10 to 13 minutes until carrots are tender.
In 12x8-inch dish, spread very thin layer (about 1/2 cup) sauce to prevent noodles from sticking to bottom. Cover with half of cooked noodles.
In small bowl, stir together ricotta and egg until well blended. Spread half of mixture over noodles. Top ricotta with half of mozzarella, then half of remaining sauce. Repeat layers using remaining noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella and sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Cover with wax paper. Microwave on HIGH 18 to 24 minutes, rotating dish half-turn and removing wax paper after about 10 minutes, until set and firm. Let stand several minutes before cutting into squares. Makes 6 servings.
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large green pepper, cut into strips
1 large onion, cut into thick slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 to 3 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Stir together eggplant, green pepper, onion, olive oil and garlic in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 6 to 9 minutes until onion is transparent. Stir in zucchini.
Cover and microwave on HIGH 5 to 8 more minutes until zucchini begins to become tender. Carefully stir in tomatoes, parsley, basil, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM-LOW (30% power) 8 to 12 minutes until all vegetables are just tender. Makes 6 to 8 servings.