Chef Tova's Gourmet Vegetarian

Location: Los Angeles, California, U.S. Outlying Islands

I am a graduate student in American Literature...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Vegetarian Lasagne

I made a vegetarian lasagne last night, which one of my Texas friends claimed "tasted better than lasagne with meat." This was a huge complement, since this is a guy who usually eats one big meal a day, consisting of a large steak (which he cooks up at about 2 in the morning). Later in the morning, after he's had some sleep, he drinks a cup of vinegar. I kid you not. This guy must have a stomach of steel (I know you are wondering why I am bragging about a compliment on my cooking coming from Vinegar-Meat Man, but I'll take 'em where I can get 'em). At least he cooks the meat. I have a friend who used to be on the "Neanderthal diet," which consisted mainly of raw beef. I know it's good to be in touch with one's roots and all, but isn't that going a bit far? Another person I know eats her meat "after it's been walked through a warm kitchen."

Okay, okay, enough of this meat talk. Isn't this supposed to be a vegetarian blog? The recipe below is from my homemade cookbook. The one I made yesterday was much simpler; instead of the zuccini mixture, I sliced eggplants, spread some garlicky olive oil over them, sprinkled with thyme and oregano, and cooked them at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then I layered these into the lasagne instead of the other veggies, but I still used the mushrooms (in the tomato sauce). I also didn't use the pesto, but if you make the recipe below, spices and all, I can guarantee that people will like it (if they know what's good for them). The Indonesian catsup can be hard to find, but it's amazing, and a dash will brighten almost any stir-fried dish or sauce.

Spectacular Vegetarian Lasagna
(time consuming, but worth the effort--and can be simplified, as mentioned above)

Tomato Sauce
2 onions, chopped (preferably Vidalia or other sweet onion)
oil and butter
pinch brown sugar
1 large tin crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. Katsup manis (Indonesian soy sauce), if you have it
1 tsp. Fenugreek
1 tsp. Coriander
1 tsp. Sweet paprika
½ tsp. Dried thyme
1 tsp. Dried rosemary
1 tsp. Dried oregano
crushed red pepper flakes and salt, to taste

6 large white mushrooms
4 zucchinis, cubed
one bay leaf
one head scallion tops
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp. Sambal oelek or sambal badjak (Indonesian red pepper paste), optional
½ tsp. Mustard powder
½ tsp. Onion powder

Pesto (optional)
In blender, mix ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup walnut oil with 3 cloves garlic. Add ¼ cup parmesan, 2-3 Tbsp. pine nuts, and 2 cups fresh basil.

lasagne noodles (preferably no-bake noodles, ideally fresh ones)
1 ½ to 2 cups fresh ricotta
1 log goat cheese (or 4 ounces sheep’s cheese if you prefer)
1/3 cup parmesan or pecorino
½ package frozen chopped spinach, microwaved for three minutes, or 1 bunch fresh spinach (preferably)
fresh basil

1.Sautee spinach in a little olive oil and butter for a few minutes (until wilted). Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2.Sautee 2 cups onion in butter, oil, a pinch of salt and a large pinch of sugar until translucent. Add tomatoes, katsup manis, fenugreek, coriander, thyme, rosemary, oregano, crushed red peppers and salt. Let simmer while you prepare other ingredients.
3.Cook mushrooms, zucchinis and garlic in olive oil with bay leaf, scallions, sambal, mustard powder, onion powder, and then add salt and pepper to taste.
4.Make pesto and add half cup to zucchini mixture.
5.Mix ricotta into cooled spinach.
6.Put a thin layer of tomato sauce in a casserole. Layer fresh lasagne noodles, all of zucchini mixture, goat cheese, ½ of tomato sauce, more noodles, spinach mixture, parmesan or pecorino, more tomato sauce, etc. until you are out of ingredients. Top with fresh basil. Bake covered at 350 for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15 more minutes or until browned and bubbly.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Scottish whiskey, Chicken-Fried Deer, and some thoughts about the British

Well, I’m staying out in the Texas countryside, and one of the favorite pastimes here is, as you might expect, drinking. Last night my friends and I were drinking some Scottish single-malt scotch, and someone surprised us with a guide to scotch. Looking at the book, I learned a lot about how a connoisseur might discuss these matters, but I have to admit that the adjectives rather reminded me of, shall we say, the “language of love.” This is not quite the language of sex, and not quite the language of romance, but somewhere in between. So, for instance, you might describe a scotch as oily, or fudgey (or both), but it might also smell like the sea air, or evoke the “salt spray” of that romantic seaside. At any rate, the scotch was good, and as the crowd grew tipsy, I overheard someone bandying about what is now my favorite phrase of the week: “Imperialism-a-go-go.”

This morning I was asking my host if the path that winds through the woods behind the house was walkable, and found out that not only was it open, but that there was a herd of about 15 deer that could be spotted quite regularly out there. I’ve never eaten deer, but I was wondering what it tastes like, and asked my host. She explained that it was all right, but very strongly flavored, and told me about the first time she ever ate the stuff. She was teaching piano to a young ten-year old girl whose father was a big hunter. Now this man had really wanted to have boys, but ended up instead with two girls, whom he had trained to be hunters (and presumably in other boyish things). One day this girl showed up with a pile of tenderized deer, and explained to her teacher that if she were to just pull out her frying pan and her flour, these deer steaks would be a fine substitute for the old Texas favorite, chicken-fried steak.

Well, we got onto other topics and as I sliced up a piece of homemade bread, my host brought out some orange marmalade. She explained to me that traditional English marmalade is made out of Seville oranges, which are so bitter that they cannot really be eaten; but leave it to the practical British, who are always eager to make something out of nothing. They found these inedible Spanish oranges, which the Spanish thought well enough to leave alone, dumped in a whole load of sugar, which even then barely disguised the bitterness, and called it marmalade. This got me thinking about other feats of the British, and I was reminded of the history of genever (dutch gin).

Genever was originally invented by a Dutch professor, Franciscus de la Boe, who was looking for a preventitive for kidney disease that people would actually take (the main flavoring agent in genever and gin are juniper berries, which are very good for you, though I wonder how healthy they can be when accompanied by fermented barley, but go figure). In the late 17th century, when William of Orange became King of England, he began taxing brandy made in Catholic countries, and encouraged the importation of genever from Holland to England, to benefit his fellow Protestants. Gin really took off in England, and soon practically the entire population was flailing about the streets of London in a collective fit of drunkenness (it is estimated, actually, that ¼ of the households in London were producing Gin in about 1720). And when the stuff was finally banned by the Parliament in 1736, the result, of course, was illegal production, and the stuff could then be found under such names as Cuckold’s Comfort and My Lady’s Eye Water. The British really know how to make the best out of a difficult situation, don’t they?

But so do the Texans…so the next time you’re down in Bush country, why not help yourself to a healthy serving of chicken-fried deer?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Egg-sistential Eggs

In my view, my grandmother makes the best eggs ever. Well, she doesn't make them anymore because she went blind and had to stop cooking. She actually continued to cook after she lost her sight, but one day there was a huge fire in the kitchen and my father forbade her from cooking anymore. That's all right, because the stuff she cooked after she went blind was often misshapen and sometimes had too much salt or an oddly unpleasant aftertaste, as though my grandma reached for the wrong ingredient. (My grandma does, however, attend braille classes, and reads and writes in it--something she started to do in her late 80s!).

So I once asked my grandma what she did to make her eggs so good. The answer was very simple. Lots of butter. Well, that makes sense. But the funny part of that is that when she was still hosting weekly Sunday brunches, my parents were always asking for egg beaters, which my grandma claimed to be serving (Not). I once saw the "egg beater" mixture, and it was nothing but pure eggs!

I eat eggs almost every morning for breakfast, and here's my secret (and it doesn't include a lot of butter--though butter never hurts). First I sautee a sweet onion. I like to peel the onion, cut it in half, and lay each half flat down, then slice thinly all the way through. This makes the onion pieces long and stringy, so they don't get lost in the fray. I heat up the butter or spray oil, throw in the onions with a pinch of salt, and cook the onions for as long as it takes to cut up the veggies. Cubed zuccini is always good, and whatever else is lying around. In the meantime, I beat the eggs (organic or free range really does make a difference) and crumble in some feta cheese or grate in some other kind of cheese, add sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and fresh herbs if I have them. Right before adding them to the pan, I turn up the heat to medium-high, add a bit of butter, and dump in the eggs. The trick, in my view, is to let them sit for four or five minutes without doing a thing. Don't touch! Then, once they are all browned at the bottom, take a spatula and flip the egg pancake in parts (it will break up, but still stay in pancake sized pieces). Alternately, if you want an omelette, don't flip but turn on the broiler, pop the frying pan under it for five minutes, and voila--an Italian omelette. And if you're in the mood, you can always spice things up with garlic and oregano, or add different kinds of ingredients--black olives and sun-dried tomatoes are a favorite of mine.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Thoughts about Turmeric

I've been thinking about turmeric lately. This all started when I was driving across the country in the summertime, and as I was checking into a motel, I noticed the smell of delicious Indian food coming out from behind the clerk's office (the office was connected to her home). I asked what she had made, and she began to rhapsodize on the benefits of turmeric. She insisted that I eat some, and it was truly delicious. I had never eaten fresh turmeric root before, but quickly discovered that even touching it will turn your fingers completely orange. The motel clerk had very orange fingers. I had a lot of trouble getting the color off of mine (we had no silverware, and were eating the stuff with our "living utensils"). Anyway, it turns out that turmeric (the clerk told me) is very good for cleaning out your blood. She said almost everyone in India ate it a lot, kind of like a national sport or something! I was impressed, made a mental note to start eating more turmeric, and then kinda forgot about it. Then the other night, I was at my favorite local Indian take-out, India Sweets and Spices, and the clerk there started talking about turmeric, out of the blue, about how good it was for your blood, and how most people in India ate it, and how almost nobody in India had alzheimer's becuase of it. Was he insinuating something? He told me I could mix the ground spice into a glass of milk with honey (mmmm?). But it's true that I don't want to lose my mind. So I bought a big bag of the stuff. Have I eaten it? Not yet.

Here's what my food dictionary says about the stuff (The Food Lover's Companion, which is a great kitchen book to have around)...I'm going to summarize though.
This stuff has been used in cooking since 600 BC!
It's related to ginger, native to the "Orient" (look out, you orientalists).
In Biblical times (surely we are no longer in these, though some unmentionable assholes love to draw on the imagery for their evil pursuits), they made perfume out of it (read: "exotic fragrance"--go crazy, you orientalists).
Oh, but did you know this? Turmeric is a main ingredient in mustard and that's what they use to make American mustard so bright yellow (but what about those yellow mustard flowers I used to mash up and try to eat on my childhood walks through the wilds of the San Fernando Valley? I'm confused).

So, looking for a tasty, very orange, and cheap way to keep your blood clean and your memory intact?
Go Turmeric!

Sunday, January 23, 2005


People often complain that vegetarian food is too mushy. Well, that's often the case, and tonight for dinner I made a very mushy but very delicious meal, which is very easy to do on your own. It's the vegetarian "loaf." This is ideal, because you can use most anything in your fridge to make it, but it is still very satisfying.

Sautee an onion in olive oil. Wait till it's transluscent, then add some garlic and a shallot if you have one lying around, plus a jalapeno or other kind of pepper for more flavor. Then dice up some veggies (I used zucchini), drop in a can of cooked beans, some diced or crumbled tofu or veggie meat, and some spices (tonight I used thyme, coriander, fenugreek and chipotle peppers). Then mix together some eggs or egg whites, any kind of cheese, some kind of yummy liquid (I used tofu sour cream, but you can use buttermilk, or broth if you want to ease up on the dairy), and some ground up almonds or other kind of nuts. I realize I'm not giving exact measurements; the key is to mix a couple of eggs with about a cup of mixed liquids and 1/3 cup ground nuts, and as many veggies and beans as you like. Mix the egg combo with the veggie mix, add salt and pepper to taste, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or so. This is really delish. You can also add in some cooked grains if you want something heartier.


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