Here's an informal vegetarian menu, built around a substantial roasted vegetable paella. It begins with a zesty Greek salad of Kalamata olives, vegetables and feta cheese, spooned into the inner leaves from romaine hearts--perfect finger food to serve with drinks. For dessert, a soothing, delicate baked citrus custard, topped with a sprinkling of fresh raspberries or a warm caramel sauce.
This entire menu can be made ahead, and all the recipes are easily doubled or tripled. (However, each recipe for paella must be roasted in its own pan so the vegetables have room to brown.) If you are tempted to extend an invitation to friends who eat meat, this menu can be rounded out with simply roasted herbed lamb or chicken, served with their pan juices.
This salad can be spooned into the leaves as a do-it-yourself finger food or attractively arranged on a salad plate where a knife and fork are more appropriate. The salad itself is best made a day in advance, except for the feta cheese and diced tomatoes, which are mixed in just before serving. This salad mixture would also be great in warm pita bread.
GREEK OLIVE SALAD
3/4 cup small dice celery
3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted, flesh cut into pieces
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup small dice pimiento, well drained
1/3 cup small dice, peeled, seeded cucumber
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup small dice feta cheese
1/3 cup small dice seeded tomato
20 chilled medium romaine heart leaves
In 1-quart bowl, combine celery, olives, green onions, pimiento, cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, water, oregano and basil. Toss to combine well. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. Let come to room temperature before using. Gently stir in cheese and tomato. Adjust seasonings and lemon to taste.
To serve as appetizer, arrange lettuce leaves on platter. Put salad in small bowl to fit into middle of platter for guests to help themselves.
Alternately, as salad, spoon salad mixture into lettuce leaves. Arrange on chilled salad plates, dividing evenly. Also, romaine leaves can be thinly sliced crosswise, mounded on salad plates, with salad mixture spooned over. Makes 4 servings.
Each serving contains about:
177 calories; 731 mg sodium; 11 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1.59 grams fiber.
Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients. This is an impressive vegetarian main course that can be made in advance. As with Asian fried rice, this rice roasts better after it is chilled. These specific vegetables complement one another in color as well as flavor, but you can vary vegetables as you wish; just be sure to use about 14 cups of vegetables cut into similarly sized chunks.
ROASTED VEGETABLE PAELLA
2 cups long-grain converted rice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/16 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups halved small red potatoes
2 cups quartered small red onions
1 green pepper, cored, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 sweet red pepper, cored, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups 1-inch cubes unpeeled zucchini
1 1/2 cups seeded, quartered small tomatoes
1 1/2 cups 1-inch cubes peeled large carrots
1 cup trimmed, halved medium white (or cremini) mushrooms
Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rice and 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic. Cook until mixture is fragrant and hot, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add vegetable broth, dash saffron, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil. Simmer, covered, until rice absorbs liquid but is still firm, about 11 minutes. Refrigerate rice until chilled. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.
Combine 1/4 teaspoon pulverized saffron with 1 tablespoon warm water or vegetable broth. Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon garlic, cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt in small saute pan and add saffron-water mixture. Gently heat until garlic just begins to sizzle. Remove from heat.
Place potatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots and mushrooms in large shallow roasting pan. Toss with oil mixture until well coated. Arrange vegetables in single layer and roast at 450 degrees until just beginning to be tender, about 35 minutes, turning after 20 minutes.
Add chilled rice and mix well. Continue to roast until rice is fully cooked and vegetables are browned, about 30 to 40 more minutes, stirring twice during roasting. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot.
Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before reheating. Reheat, covered, in 350-degree oven until hot, about 30 to 40 minutes, sprinkling little vegetable broth or water over mixture if it seems dry. Stir once midway. Makes 4 servings.
Each serving contains about:
678 calories; 1,583 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 123 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams protein; 3.12 grams fiber.