improvisational meatless meals

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Sparing you from more ramblings about vegivores and labels of personal food consumption, I thought I would share a typical vegetarian lunch that I whipped up with some lentils and half of a baked sweet potato I had in my fridge. The result was a colorful and hearty warm salad.

I love making quick meals like this for lunch or a dinner for one to make good use of my leftovers and spare vegetables. This is when I feel most comfortable in the kitchen – improvising with fresh, healthy ingredients and turning them into a combination of tastes that I hope will work together. Or I should say I am most comfortable cooking this way for one – it takes the pressure off from potentially serving a tasteless bowl o’ lentils to a disappointed dining partner. (Though with my love of garlic and spices, these things seldom end up tasteless but sometimes excessively taste-ful.)

Today’s combo: Lentil salad with sauteed leeks, zucchini, sweet potato and spinach

I sauteed the leeks with a little bit of butter – and I do mean a little. I’m using butter as a seasoning in this instance. A little goes a long way to get that naughty and delicious buttery flavor. I love having aromatics like the mild, sweet leek on hand, (another favorite is roasted garlic) I think they really give a thrown-together dish something special.

After the leaks are slightly golden I add some grated zucchini, which I saute for another couple of minutes, then my pre-cooked lentils and sweet potato. Toss in a dash of smokey paprika, a grinding of salt&pepper with a little olive oil and then some fresh spinach left to wilt for a couple of minutes.

This one happened to be good enough to serve to two. It would be perfect for a side dish and would work with any number of variations on the ingredients. I turned it into a main by adding a fried egg on top, letting the yoke become my favorite velvety golden dressing for the salad.
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almost summer ratatouille

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In true springtime fashion, the weather here in Sydney has been very unpredictable. But when you catch a good day, it’s a great one.

Yesterday felt dangerously close to summer, including a very packed Bondi Beach. I had to seize this day of summer while I had it (knowing it was scheduled to turn rainy and cold within 24 hours).  I spent the afternoon reading on the beach and made the quintessentially French summertime dish, ratatouille for dinner.

Due largely to this article on Food52, I decided to make the Alice Waters version of ratatouille. I briefly considered some other recipes, including the one featured in the Pixar movie about that enthusiastic kitchen rat (which is actually Thomas Keller’s recipe). But who can say no to cooking summer veggies a la the Mother of American Food? Not this patriot.

The dish turned out perfect, in my opinion. Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is divisive among its fans. One woman’s perfect ratatouille is not the same as another’s. But that’s life I guess, and this ratatouille suited me especially well on a summer-y evening accompanied by a slice of Sonoma kalamata olive sourdough and a spoonful (or two) of ricotta.

Alice Waters’ Ratatouille (adapted from The Art of Simple Food)
– Olive Oil (Approximately 4 tablespoons, use more as needed)
– 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 5 garlic cloves, chopped
– 1/2 bunch of basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine and a handful of basil leaves, chopped
– Pinch dried chile flakes
– 3 sprigs of thyme, picked
– 1 red capsicum, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– Salt&Pepper to taste

  1. Toss the eggplant cubes with a teaspoon or so of salt. Set the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.
  3. In the same pot, pour in 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, thyme and a bit more salt.
  4. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in the carrot. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in zucchini. Cook few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.
  5. Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all its flavors, and add for salt, if needed.
  6. Stir in the chopped basil leaves. Serve warm or cold.

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this week in vegivore meals: corn and potato soup, zucchini patties


While I will openly admit to being a breadophile, I tend to hesitate when aligning myself with more mainstream categories of eating habits. For about 3 years I was “technically” a pescetarian (someone who does not eat meat, but eats fish) – which some people still consider a vegetarian (I do not, for the record). I always found myself qualifying my status as one who abstained from eating land-roaming animals by responding with a,”but I eat fish,” to anyone who would call me a vegetarian outright. I felt like I was lying about vegetarianism if I left that part out, but for the sake of brevity it worked for communicating that I would prefer not to be served chicken, please.

This is not something I think about anymore because these days I eat meat, (which I started to do again after 3 years because I got a very persistent craving for a medium rare steak) but my awkwardness around such labels persists. Slightly reluctantly, I stamp the brand of vegivore on myself because I like what it stands for, even if I don’t like the labeling itself.

As anyone who has spent a day eating with me could tell you, I love vegetables. I love making fresh salads, stir fries, curries, soups, burgers – really anything I can pack a combination of fresh veggies into, I am a fan of eating and cooking. While I enjoy learning about nutrition and do take my caloric intake and overall health into account when preparing meals for myself, I choose vegetables for their taste first and the good feeling I get from eating them (not the self-righteous kind of good either, the physically energized kind of good feeling). Plus, I like a bright colour combination.

For me, vegetables are the stars of most of my meals. I love incorporating meat (and fish too, of course) into my meals, but most of my meals throughout the week tend to be vegetarian, vegetable-based meals. I would rather save a good piece of beef or pork for when I am really craving it. Or else I will use very small doses of extra-tasty meat, like chorizo or prosciutto, to bring rich flavours to vegetable side dishes and salads.

This is my 3rd week of receiving fruit and vegetable delivery from Box Fresh and I feel as though it has brought my vegivore-ism (still awkward) to a new level. I am always excited to discover the contents of my delivery and comb through magazines, cookbooks and websites for meal ideas incorporating my rotating selection of produce.

This week I have made a few dishes that really showcased the fresh, seasonal ingredients I had.

Roasted Corn and Potato Soup (makes 4 servings)
– olive oil
– 1 onion, chopped
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– 1 celery rib, chopped
– 3 sprigs of thyme, picked
– a dash of crushed red pepper (optional)
– salt & pepper
– 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
– 4 or 5 small chat potatoes, diced
– 3 ears of corn, roasted

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Place corn in their husks on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool until they are easy to handle. Peal back the husks and remove the kernels.
2. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil inside a large pot until onions are translucent. Add celery, thyme, salt&pepper and crushed red pepper.
3. Add stock and bring to a boil, then add potatoes and cook for about 5-10 minutes until the potatoes are nearly cooked.
4. Add roasted corn kernels and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
5. Allowing the soup to cool for a few minutes first, put 2/3 of the soup through the food processor. You will have to do this in batches if your food processor is on the small side like mine is. Add puree to the remaining soup and bring back up to a simmer.
6. Garnish with a little grated aged cheddar and ideally, avocado (mine wasn’t ripe yet).

Zucchini Patties
(makes 4 servings)
This recipe is adapted from The Greengrocer by Leanne Kitchen. Where she called for parsley and mint, I used basil. I also pre-cooked my onions which she does not do, but I prefer the sweeter, sautéed onion.
– 3 medium zucchini, grated
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 3 tbsp self-raising flour
– 4 tbsp of Parmesan cheese
– 1 tbsp chopped mint
– 2 tsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
(I used 3 tbsp of chopped fresh basil instead of the above two herbs)
– a pinch of nutmeg
– 3 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
– 1 egg
– salt&pepper
– olive oil

1. Sauté onions until they are just beginning to turn golden. Put the onion and grated zucchini in a paper towel or clean dish towel and wring out to remove all the juices.
2. Place this mixture and all other ingredients into a large bowl and mix with your hands to a stiff batter.
3. Heat olive oil in a medium sized pan. Place 2-3 tbsp of batter in the pan and press flat. Fry over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until browned all over.

Ms. Kitchen served these with a yoghurt sauce, but I decided I was more in the mood for a dollop of fresh ricotta, cherry tomatoes and a couple of crispy pan-fried pieces of of chorizo instead.

Below is a quick veggie fry up. I started by sautéing onions and a few pieces of chorizo in paprika and garlic-infused olive oil and then I added cooked chickpeas, fresh spinach, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrot. I cooked covered over a medium heat for a few minutes until warm. It’s a quick and easy concoction that makes a nice lunch with a cup of soup or some crusty bread.

For more on vegivores, check out this New York Magazine article: Vegetables Are the New Meat