Saturday, August 27, 2005

Vegetarians Beware

Since I have been a vegetarian from childhood, I have long known to look out for myself when it comes to food eaten outside the home. My mother and my Uncle Jim were the only other two vegetarians in my family when I was a child, so when I visited other family, or friends, I usually had to fight a minor battle at most meals. It was easy for me to deal with the obvious, like a steak or a piece of fried chicken. I would just stay completely away from them and make myself at home with the mashed potatoes and the salad. Casseroles were often a problem, so if it were anything other than macaroni & cheese, I would just avoid them altogether unless there were some discreet way to check with the cook (without hurting anyone's feelings). Pizza was a source of irritation for me, as the parents of most of my friends would just tell me to pick the pepperoni off. As if that also would remove the nasty greasy pepperoni schmegma juice.

Then there were the Gray Area Foods. I didn't know for a long time that some people cook meat in their vegetable dishes. Imagine my horror when I ate a huge helping of green beans only to discover that there was a piece of gray lumpiness hidden amongst them. Beans cooked with ham is a no-no. I can't just pick the piece of meat out and continue eating beans that have been pissed on by meat juice.

Worse was when I picked carefully through an entire pot of green beans at someone's house and, feeling confident when I didn't see any gray matter, ate a big bowlful before finding out about something called ham hocks, an offensive meat product which can be pulled out of the pot so that the vegetarian has no idea that her beans have been infused with meat jism.

I was much older before I became suspicious of soups. At some point, I ordered potato soup, assuming it would be meat-free, and then received my bowl of soup, complete with an appalling garnish of bacon bits on top. After that experience, I learned to ask at restaurants to be ABSOLUTELY sure that my soup would be vegetarian. Strangely though, it was years before I found out that even though the soup has no pieces of meat in it, that does not mean that the soup wasn't cooked in chicken broth. I have had actual conversations at restaurants that went like this:

Me: Does the soup have any meat in it?
Waitperson: No, no meat in the soup.
Me: So what kind of broth is used?
Waitperson (with no sense of irony): Chicken broth. But there is no meat in the soup.

See, in my world, chicken broth is meat, and I shouldn't have to explain that to anyone. Just because there aren't pieces of animal flesh floating my bowl does not mean that my soup is vegetarian. If I don't eat chicken, logic says that I also do not eat chicken broth.

In the past year or so, since I began making a lot of my own soups, I have learned that vegetarian vegetable broth works in place of chicken broth in every recipe. There is no noticeable change in flavor in any of the recipes I have tried (I can tell there is no change in flavor because I know, without a doubt, that I have been duped countless times and have ingested more than enough chicken broth, albeit unknowingly). As a matter of fact, every risotto recipe I have read also calls for chicken broth, something I did not know when I ordered risotto while eating out all those times.

I was recently reading something that mentioned French Onion Soup and I nearly swooned. It is a soup I have long been fond of, and was something I had never tried on my own. I was reading the article out loud to The Carnivore and he got excited too. Sadly, the recipe was not included in the article. This week I pulled out some of my cookbooks and found a recipe in The New Joy of Cooking (a cookbook that is worth its weight in gold, by the way) that sounded promising. I felt some minor trepidation though, for a number of reasons. First was that it wasn't until I read the recipe that I realized French Onion Soup is made with beef broth. So while I have come to terms, in a way, with chicken broth, it never occured to me before yesterday that I have ever eaten beef broth. I find the concept repulsive. Also troubling though, was that since beef broth is used instead of chicken broth, I can obviously assume that the tastes are different enough that I might have a problem with subsituting vegetable broth, which works so well in place of chicken broth. I tried it anyway, and forewarned The Carnivore about the change I was making to the recipe, but we both agreed that the soup turned out fantastically.


  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 5 medium onions, thinly sliced (I used a mixture of red, yellow and white onions)
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 Tbs dry sherry
  • 3 1/2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  1. In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over low heat until melted.
  2. Add the onions and the thyme and stir to coat.
  3. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the onions start to brown (about 15 minutes)
  4. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered, stirring frequently, until the onions are a rich brown color (about 40 minutes)
  5. Stir in the sherry, increase the heat to high, and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes
  6. Stir in the broth and bring it to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
  8. Season with salt & pepper.

I had a little trouble finding a suitable recipe, with one of my cookbooks, The Soup Book: The Only Soup Book You Will Ever Need (an ironic title considering it had a lousy recipe for this particular soup) only including a microwave version of French Onion Soup. There is no way to get proper caramelization of the onions in a microwave. The one constant in the recipes that I did find, was that they all called for serving the soup with toasted french bread served on top of the soup, covered with melted cheese. While normally I would have wanted to try it that way, I was serving the soup with a Vegetable Muffuletta, and thus would not be needing any additional bread.

I cut this recipe out of a magazine, but I'm embarrased to admit I can't remember which magazine, and was thrilled to find it. I have read about Muffuletta sandwiches, and have heard that they are worth the drive to New Orleans, but since they are made with a few different meats, it had never occured to me that a vegetarian version would be worth a try. Once I read this recipe though, I was drooling to try it.


  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (I could only find whole kalamatas marinated in olive oil - they were a pain to pit)
  • 1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 of a small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs capers
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (in addition to the olive oil called for above)
  • 1 yellow summer squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 round loaf crusty bread (8 inches)
  • 1/4 lb deli-sliced provolone cheese
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper
  • 3 romaine lettuce leaves.
  1. Combine the olives, parsley, celery, onion, 2 Tbs oil, capers, garlic and vinegar in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for several hours for flavors to blend.
  2. Brush 2 Tbs olive oil over the squash and zucchini slices, and broil in the oven, on a baking pan. Broil for about 10 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through.
  3. There are different ways to roast peppers. I have a gas stove, so I roasted mine on top of the stove rather than in the oven. To do it this way, turn the flame on to the highest setting and set the pepper directly in the flame. Turn the pepper with tongs so that the entire surface is blistered. Put the pepper in a bowl with a towel over it and let sit for a few minutes. Peel off the skin, cut off the stem and remove the seeds, and slice the pepper.
  4. Spread olive salad over bottom of loaf of bread.
  5. Slice bread in half horizontally and slighly scoop out some of the insides to accommodate the filling.
  6. Layer the provolone, squash & zucchini, mozzarella, peppers and lettuce leaves.
  7. Replace top half of bread.
  8. Wrap loaf tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate with a light weight on top, for about an hour, to allow juices to soak into the bread.
  9. Cut into wedges and serve. (You may need toothpicks to hold the wedges together).

I was nearly bowled over by this sandwich. The flavors were diverse and perfect, and I could have eaten the olive salad with a spoon. We only ate about half the sanwich for dinner last night and it was even better when we finished it off for lunch today. I'm thinking about making one of these every week and eating all week for lunch. The Carnivore loved the sandwich as much as I did, and Fat Baby ate it right along with us.

Its nice to finally have two new recipes turn out to standouts in one day.

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