My vegetarian friends also eat tofu, that off-white soy slab that resembles Styrofoam and tastes like it too. In appearance, it reminds me of a dense mozzarella so my brain wires up for that taste and texture. What a disappointment to learn that tofu has no personality of its own. It is a lazy ingredient, and assumes the flavors of the soups, stews and sautés it’s cooked with (a kind of cuisine tasteshifter). Why bother? Just eat the stuff it’s cooked with.
Beans, another protein important in a vegetarian diet, also presents interesting digestive challenges, not just for me, but for everyone around me for the next 12 hours.
When my niece announced she would share the role of chef during a recent weekend spent with her and my sister, I said sure, thinking we would share steak marinades, trade recipes, maybe treat ourselves to some fresh tuna.
Then she added, I am a vegetarian now. Nothing with a face.
Crap. Instead of succulent beef tenderloins or savory chicken, I imagined dining on mushy beans and rice, wheat pasta and grassy pesto. Fine dining is an important ingredient in my vacation days. I did not look forward to giving them up. But I managed to keep my mouth shut. Sort of.
To my honest surprise, there were no pale beans or pasty pasta. Kate put together a dinner of caramelized onions, jalapeno pepper and mango that burst threw my jaded brain with the crunch of toasted tortilla and the wisdom of aged cheddar. My sister presented us with a cool gazpacho that I could have bathed in, and I dug out an old recipe for lentil salad with lots of tangy apple cider vinegar, fresh tomatoes and crunchy celery.
It activated a dormant part of my brain. I’ve been exploring the world of vegetarian cooking ever since and am delighted to find these meals satisfying, healthful and savory. In fact, eating meat detracts from the delicacy of their sunny flavors. And while I doubt we will ever be 100% committed vegetarians, I am grateful knowing many more days go by now when no animals die so we can live. That is the best ingredient on any menu.
From A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop
3 Tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 6-inch flour tortillas
1 ¼ lb red onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 medium mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into ½ inch dice
2 Tblsp minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 Tblsp fresh lime juice
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
1. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush a large baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil and arrange the tortillas on the baking sheet in a single layer.
2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. (If the onions start to burn before they soften, lower the heat). Stir in the chile and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the mango, cilantro, and lime juice. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt to taste.
3. Divide the onion mixture evenly among the tortillas and then sprinkle with cheese.