Viable Vegetarian

When I decided to give up meat, I discovered that one of the surest ways to lose friends and alienate people is to become a vegetarian. Dinner invitations, which used to come emphatically and often, have dwindled to an occasional disingenuous suggestion of "brunch sometime." Some of the most intrepid cooks I know (including my own mother) think twice before having me over. Confident in their ability to work wonders with meat of all kinds, they haven't a clue about preparing a meal without it. And that scares them.

Vegetarians can inspire hostility, too. That's understandable. What cook wants to present his or her special game hens, exquisitely stuffed with prunes and wild rice, to guests who, it turns out, would just as soon eat small children?

The fear and hostility are familiar to me not just as a guest, but also as a hostess. Before I picked up their eating habits, you wouldn't find me jumping to the phone to ask my vegetarian acquaintances to dinner. If I'd invite one inadvertently (such as the spouse or date of a carnivorous friend), I'd serve one of the two meatless entrees I knew how to prepare: quiche or some kind of vegetable stir-fry. Boring.

No Patience With Timidity

Finally, a vegetarian friend who had no patience with my timidity, and no particular fondness for my quiche, bullied me into exploring vegetarian cuisine.

Somewhere among the lentil soup, curried garbanzo beans, baked stuffed eggplant and mushroom stroganoff, I lost my taste for meat.

But I didn't lose my empathy with the host or hostess who suffers what I call veganphobia, or fear of vegetarians (derived from vegan, a type of vegetarian).

Here is a list of the fears associated with veganphobia, as well as some practical remedies. Overall, a little knowledge about vegetarianism can be invaluable when it comes to retaining your culinary pride in the company of those who practice it.

What Kind Are They?

Fear No. 1: "I'll make something they won't eat."

In advance, find out which kind of vegetarian they are. Some eat dairy products--milk, cheese, yogurt, butter--and eggs. Some eat dairy products and not eggs. And some eat neither.

For guests who belong to the first group, cheese-filled pastas like lasagna or manicotti, main dish omelets, hearty quiches or rich souffles are welcome entrees.

Mexican dishes based on corn, beans and cheese are good choices for vegetarians of the second type, as are Middle Eastern entrees featuring garbanzo beans, whole grains, exotic cheese and yogurt sauces.

Dishes of Indian or Oriental origin, often including highly spiced legumes, whole grain or tofu go over well with the real hard-liners.

Choosing an entree is a lot easier if you have on hand a good vegetarian cookbook or a comprehensive general cookbook with a substantial selection of vegetarian main dishes. The vegetarian cookbooks I consult most often are "The Moosewood Cookbook" by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press), "Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking" by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf) and "The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two" by Anna Thomas (Knopf). Two of the best general cookbooks for my purposes are "The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook" by Jean Hewitt (Avon) and "Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook," edited by Charles Gerras (Rodale).

Fear No. 2: "I won't be able to tell whether I've served a meal ."

This fear is justified by the fact that no single vegetable or grain carries the kind of usable protein that comes in beef, poultry, pork or fish. Grains and vegetables contain various parts of protein and must be eaten in certain combinations in order to substitute for meat. In other words, you can't put out a bowl of green peas and call it dinner.

When you combine grains, legumes and dairy products in the following ways, you end up with a protein that's every bit as good as the protein you'd get from meat. Plan meals accordingly, and you won't have to worry about starving your guests.

Combine legumes (dried beans of all kinds; lentils, garbanzos, favas, limas, black-eyed peas) and wheat. An example of this is lentil soup with whole-grain bread.

Combine nuts and wheat. One way is in Almond-Mushroom Pate on whole-grain toast.

Combine legumes and corn. An example of this is vegetarian chili with cornbread frijoles with corn tortillas.

Combine legumes and rice, as in Sweet and Spicy Garbanzo Beans over rice.

Combine pasta and cheese, as is done in Spinach-Cheese Lasagna.

Combine rice and milk; for example, Mushroom Stroganoff over rice.

Combine eggs and wheat, as in a quiche.

Combine legumes and cheese. Example: bean-cheese enchiladas.

You can enhance the nutritional value of your meal by preparing a dessert that conforms with the dietary principles of your guests. Homemade puddings, fresh fruit and yogurt combinations, or confections like the eggless carrot cake featured here, provide additional nourishment as well as all the pleasure you would want from dessert.

Fear No. 3: "I'll have to sacrifice the pleasure of the rest of my company to cater to my vegetarian guests."

You can conquer this fear in one of two ways. First, you might prepare a hearty vegetarian entree, like Spinach-Cheese Lasagna. Precede it with a rich lentil soup, accompany with salad and follow with dessert. Your guests won't be able to bear to think about food for days afterward, not even to realize that not a scrap of meat was served at your table.

Or you might prepare a meat entree, along with a substantial vegetarian dish (Sweet and Spicy Garbanzo Beans goes well with chicken or lamb). Your carnivorous friends can enjoy the vegetables as an accompaniment, while the vegetarians can make a meal of it. Just be sure that everything else you serve--appetizer, salad, dessert--is neutral, and can be enjoyed by all.

Fear No. 4: "Mealtime will be tedious."

This fear hinges on the fallacy that vegetarians are pallid, grim ascetics who bring nothing but scorn to a table where food is being celebrated.

Love of food doesn't mean a love of meat any more than a love of life means an affection for spiders and slugs. The pleasure taken in a meal well-prepared and served among friends is just as intense for those of us who adorn our plates with Sweet and Spicy Garbanzo Beans as for those who prefer rack of lamb.

Fear No. 5: "Vegetarians will try to make me feel guilty."

Unless they are too inconsiderate to be among your friends in the first place, your vegetarian guests will not proselytize. You may feel more comfortable with them if you bring up the subject yourself. Without sounding as if you're blaming them for an inconvenience, ask them why they don't eat meat and, aside from religious or cult affiliation, they will probably give you one of the following simple, straightforward reasons:

--A reverence for living things that extends to animals bred for slaughter.

--A fear of chemicals used to fatten livestock.

--A radical effort to reduce consumption of cholesterol and saturated fats.

--A concern for the global economy. It takes five pounds of grain protein to manufacture one pound of animal protein. More people could be nourished if grain were consumed directly instead of being fed to cows, chickens and pigs.

--One of the wackier reasons I know of involves the notion that meat eaters are more hostile and aggressive than vegetarians. If this is true, then there are at least two notable exceptions: Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler maintained vegetarian diets.

--A simple preference for vegetables over meat.

The final step toward overcoming veganphobia, of course, is to invite a vegetarian to dinner. ALMOND-MUSHROOM PATE

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped

Dash salt

Dash white pepper

Dash tarragon, crushed

1 (8-ounce) jar almond butter

1 tablespoon dry Sherry

1 tablespoon whipping cream

Whole blanched almonds for garnish

Melt butter or margarine in medium skillet. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, salt, pepper and tarragon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid has evaporated.

In food processor or blender, combine almond butter, mushroom mixture, Sherry and cream. Process until smooth. Turn out onto serving dish. Cover and chill.

Garnish with whole, blanched almonds and serve on whole wheat toast or crackers. Makes 2 cups. LENTIL SOUP

1 1/2 cups raw lentils

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt, pepper

1 tablespoon Sherry

4 cups water

Wash lentils in cold water and drain in sieve. Heat oil in heavy pot and saute onion, garlic and bay leaves until onion becomes transparent and soft. Stir in tomato paste, then add carrots, thyme, salt and pepper to taste, lentils and Sherry. Add water and bring to boil.

Cover tightly and simmer 2 hours or more, adding more water, if needed. Remove bay leaves before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings. SWEET AND SPICY GARBANZO BEANS

3 tablespoons oil

1 (1-inch-long) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1/2 large head of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds

1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

Cayenne pepper

1 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups cooked garbanzo beans

2 teaspoons paprika

Dash salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup water

Cooked white rice

Pita bread

Heat oil in large pot. Add ginger, onions, garlic, coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds, cayenne to taste and turmeric. Cook and stir until onions become soft and dark.

Brown remaining 2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds lightly over low heat in a small dry skillet. Set aside. Add tomato paste to onion mixture and stir until well-blended. Add garbanzo beans, browned cumin, paprika, salt and lemon juice.

Add water and stir. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, adding more water if needed.

Serve over cooked white rice with pita bread. Makes 6 servings. SPINACH-CHEESE LASAGNA

1/2 pound lasagna noodles

2 cups ricotta cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 (8-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

Dash nutmeg

Dash white pepper

Sauce

1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook lasagna according to package directions until half done. Drain and rinse with cold water. Combine ricotta cheese, eggs, spinach, nutmeg and white pepper. Mix well.

Spread some Sauce on bottom of lightly greased 13x9-inch pan. Cover with layer of noodles. Spread half of ricotta filling over noodles. Pour more Sauce over filling.

Sprinkle half of mozzarella on top of Sauce. Place another layer of noodles on top of Sauce. Cover with remaining filling and some more Sauce.

Sprinkle remaining mozzarella over Sauce and cover with remaining noodles. Pour remaining Sauce on top and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Cover and bake at 375 degrees 35 minutes. Uncover and bake additional 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings. Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, crushed

1 (1-pound, 13-ounce) can tomato puree

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

Dash crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Salt, pepper

Red wine

Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan. Saute garlic until lightly browned, then discard.

Pour tomato puree into oil. Add oregano, basil and pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons red wine, stir, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Makes about 3 cups. MUSHROOM STROGANOFF

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 large onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound mushrooms, thickly sliced

3 (8-ounce) cartons plain yogurt

7 ounces soft tofu

1 tablespoon fresh dill weed

Dash soy sauce

Dash paprika

1 tablespoon Sherry

Cooked rice

Fresh steamed vegetables

Melt butter in large skillet. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is limp and transparent.

Add mushrooms and continue cooking until most of liquid has evaporated. Let cool.

Blend yogurt and tofu, then pour into top of double boiler. Add mushroom mixture, dill, soy sauce, paprika and Sherry. Cover and cook 30 minutes over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice with fresh steamed vegetables. Makes 6 servings. STRAWBERRY SUPREME

1 (1-pound, 4-ounce) package frozen strawberries, packed without sugar

3 egg yolks

3/4 cup nonfat dry milk

3/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

Toasted, chopped almonds

Thaw strawberries enough so berries can be separated. Set aside. Combine egg yolks, dry milk, water and sugar in medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir in strawberries, vanilla and yogurt. Refrigerate several hours before serving. Serve in small dishes, topped with toasted almonds. Makes 6 servings. CARROT CONFECTION

1 cup grated carrots

1 cup chopped dates

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup unprocessed bran

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Combine carrots, dates, butter or margarine, honey, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger and water in saucepan and bring to boil. Immediately reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Let cool.

Mix flour, baking soda, bran and walnuts. Add carrot blend. Pour into 2 greased 5x3-inch loaf pans. Bake at 300 degrees 45 to 50 minutes. Cool well before slicing. Makes 2 small loaves.

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