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Vegatarian Cooking: Guess who's coming to dinner -- a vegan

Thursday, December 19, 2002

By Marlene Parrish

My husband, Bob, and I wanted to mark a milestone, so we invited over our pals Jack and Virginia. We are a quartet that celebrates at the drop of a cork. Then Virginia lowered the boom. "Um, that's the last day of my vegan week," she said. "Are we still invited?"

Oh. Well, OK. It would be a good planning challenge.

If you ask me, a "vegan party" is an oxymoron. But I would cook celebration food, tweaking it to comply with the dicates of veganism.

I also made a few of my own rules. For one thing, Jack and Bob would eat regular food and not have to deal with what they might see as "weird" offerings, such as tempeh, seitan and flaxseeds.

The next thing was to get the elements in place. Flowers, good wine, pretty linens, check, check, check. Martinis, definitely check. So far, so good. A big green salad with fresh herbs was a no-brainer, and everyone would love an apple pie, the crust made with vegan-friendly Crisco.

Virginia and I always bring dishes when sharing a meal. She volunteered to bring two vegan appetizer dips and artisan breads. I added roasted walnuts and olives, just in case.

My signature dish is some sort of over-the-top paella. I would make the vegetarian paella that I tested for the food pages in the PG last season. Grilled chicken thighs and chorizo sausage, cooked separately instead of with the rice, would be served to me and the guys with Virginia abstaining.

The de rigeur alioli that garnishes the paella could be made from whipped tofu with garlic, lemon and olive oil instead of an egg-based mayonnaise. The only hard part was making a good vegetable broth for the paella. Since the broth carries the dish, it would have to be rich and flavorful despite its lack of seafood, chorizo and chicken.

No such luck. On the first try, I roasted root vegetables before making stock from a recipe in a vegetarian-vegan cookbook. It tasted like weak, tepid dishwater. Awful. The broth and the two hours it took to get it together were down the drain.

I went to an old reference, Jim Peterson's "Splendid Soups" (Bantam Books). His recipe-guideline included almost twice as much and twice as many vegetables, with lots of mushrooms.

After this broth was cooked and strained, I reduced it to the necessary five cups needed for the paella. Then, and this is key, I added a good pinch of monosodium glutamate, MSG. The flavor bounced up with high clarity, and because of that, I added less than half the amount of salt that I would ordinarily have used.

Our menfolk never asked what was in anything and happily cleaned their plates of both vegan and non-vegan morsels. As for the experience, cooking for a vegan all came down to making enough choices available.

But, frankly, I'd rather see one than be one.

Vegetable Broth

This recipe includes a good balance of vegetables, but don't feel as if you have to follow it exactly. Look in the vegetable crisper and use what you have, but be sure to include the leeks, parsley and mushrooms. Use the broth as a base for risotto, paella or soups.

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 unpeeled carrots, sliced
  • 2 leeks, both white and green parts, washed and sliced
  • Greens from 1 fennel bulb or the bulb itself, sliced
  • 2 turnips, peeled and sliced
  • 3 unpeeled garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 1 bunch of parsely or the stems from 2 bunches
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 cup mushroom stems
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) water
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 cup dry white wine, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate
  • Salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients except the peppercorns, wine and seasonings in a 4-quart pot. Pour over just enough water to cover and heat on high heat until the liquid comes to a boil. Turn the heat down, cover the pot and keep the broth at a slow simmer.

When the vegetables have simmered for 30 minutes, add the peppercorns and white wine and simmer for 10 minutes more. Strain through a medium-mesh strainer into a clean pot. It may be reduced over medium-high heat, if you want to concentrate the flavor. Let it cool, uncovered, for an hour before putting it in the refrigerator. Makes 6 to 8 cups.

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