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Learning Spanish Without Meat

I’ve never been to Spain, so anything I say about the glorious vistas and people there would be only hearsay. But there is a fabulous Spanish dish I know, escalivada, that must be experienced. Made of grilled vegetables marinated in Sherry vinegar, escalivada is a simple, hearty dish with big, full flavors that almost hit you over the head. Vegetables can do that sometimes.

Anyone can cook meat and produce flavorful dishes. It requires a little more skill and coaxing to produce a good vegetarian meal. Or at least that’s the way it seems in this country. In other cultures, vegetarian cuisine is commonplace and a great deal of it is fabulous. Many Asian and European dishes have the same fullness of flavor in their vegetable dishes that they do in their meat, poultry and seafood dishes.

Full of garlic, tomatoes and onions, Spanish cuisine is about big flavors, and the vegetarian dishes are no exception.

The key to the garlic soup is making a good flavorful vegetable stock; stuff out of the can is not really good enough for a soup base. The empanada recipe is an adaptation of the dish empanada Gallega, which is made of many of the same ingredients plus chicken.

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The escalivada is best when done on a grill--or the embers of a fire, as it was often made in the early days. If you don’t have a grill, you may also broil the vegetables or roast them in the oven.

The flan is a traditional recipe with the twist that pomegranate molasses is used instead of the usual caramelized sugar. It is the only dish on the menu that isn’t strictly vegan, but it will fit into the diet of many vegetarians.

Perhaps this won’t make you want to give up meat. But it’s nice to know that there are other worlds to explore.

Menu

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Garlic Soup

Escalivada

Vegetable Empanadas

Pomegranate Flan

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Wine Suggestion: Fruity red wine, such as Beaujolais or Gamay

STAPLES

Garlic

Onion

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Olive oil

Salt

Black peppercorns

Ground black pepper

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Cayenne pepper

Paprika

Dried chile flakes

Bay leaves

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Yeast

Honey

Bread flour

Bread crumbs

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Sugar

Sherry vinegar

Eggs

SHOPPING LIST

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2 Japanese eggplants

4 red bell peppers

1 green bell pepper

2 carrots

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2 stalks celery

1 zucchini

1 yellow squash

1 red onion

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1/4 pound mushrooms

3 plum tomatoes

1 pint Spanish olives

1 bunch parsley

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1 bunch thyme

1 bottle Sherry

1 small jar pomegranate molasses

GAME PLAN

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Night before: Prepare vegetable stock and flan.

90 minutes before: Make garlic soup and prep vegetables for escalivada.

One hour before: Make dough and filling for empanadas. (Broil vegetables for escalivada if no grill is available.)

30 minutes before: Bake empanadas. Grill vegetables for escalivada.

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GARLIC SOUP

1/2 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup bread crumbs

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1 quart Vegetable Stock

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Chopped parsley

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Heat oil in small pot over medium heat. Add garlic and saute 3 minutes. Add bread crumbs. Stir to ensure that crumbs brown but do not burn. Add Vegetable Stock, paprika and cayenne pepper and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Makes 4 (1-cup) servings.

Each serving contains about:

458 calories; 219 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 35 grams fat; 33 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.70 grams fiber.

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VEGETABLE STOCK

3 red bell peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, chopped

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2 carrots, sliced

2 celery stalks, sliced

12 black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

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1 bunch thyme

2 quarts water

Roast bell peppers over burners on range or under broiler in oven. When skins are blackened, place peppers in bowl and cover with plastic wrap or in paper bag and roll shut. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove blackened skins. Quarter peppers and remove stem, seeds and membranes.

Heat oil in 3-quart stock pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and saute until tender, 8 minutes. Add roasted peppers, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer stock until liquid has been reduced by half. Strain before using.

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Makes about 1 quart.

Each 1/2 cup contains about:

57 calories; 17 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.70 gram fiber.

ESCALIVADA

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2 Japanese eggplants, cut in strips

1 zucchini, cut in strips

1 yellow squash, cut in strips

1 red bell pepper, cut in strips

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1/2 red onion, cut in strips

1/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup Sherry vinegar

Salt, black pepper

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Toss eggplant, zucchini, squash, bell pepper and onion strips with olive oil to coat. Grill or broil vegetables until tender. Toss cooked vegetables with vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

145 calories; 77 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.61 gram fiber.

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VEGETABLE EMPANADAS

EMPANADA DOUGH

1 (1/4-ounce) package yeast

1 tablespoon honey

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1/4 cup warm water

3 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

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1 teaspoon dried chile flakes

3/4 cup cool water

Dissolve yeast and honey in warm water. Let yeast foam 5 minutes. Combine flour, salt, olive oil and chile flakes in bowl of food processor with plastic dough blade. With motor running, slowly pour dissolved yeast combined with cool water into feed tube. Process until dough forms a ball. If dough is sticky, add little more flour. Remove dough from processor and knead it on lightly floured surface until it forms tight smooth ball. Set dough in covered bowl until doubled in size.

FILLING

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2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for brushing

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, chopped

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1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced

1 cup Sherry

1/2 cup Spanish olives, chopped

3 plum tomatoes, chopped

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1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt, black pepper

1 egg, beaten

Heat oil in skillet, add onion and saute over medium heat 3 minutes. Add garlic and bell pepper and saute 2 more minutes. Add mushrooms and saute 5 additional minutes, adding Sherry when pan becomes dry. Add olives and tomatoes and cook mixture until most of liquid has evaporated. Add cayenne pepper and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Punch down Empanada Dough and divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll 1 piece into 6-inch round and cover 1/2 of round almost to edge with 1/4 of filling. Brush exposed edge of rounds with beaten egg and fold other side of round over to form semicircle. Pinch edges of empanada together with fork to seal. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Score surface of dough to allow steam to escape during baking. Brush empanadas with olive oil and bake at 375 degrees until nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Makes 4 empanadas.

Each empanada contains about:

691 calories; 780 mg sodium; 53 mg cholesterol; 18 grams fat; 84 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams protein; 1.04 grams fiber.

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POMEGRANATE FLAN

Pomegranate molasses

1 pint half and half

2 eggs

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2 egg yolks

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

Cover bottom of 4 (1/2-cup) custard molds with pomegranate molasses. Set aside.

Heat half and half almost to boiling.

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Beat eggs and egg yolks together and continue whisking while adding sugar to prevent lumping. Add a little of hot half and half to eggs to temper, and whisk mixture while adding rest.

Divide mixture equally among prepared molds. Place molds in large, shallow pan and add water to come halfway up sides of molds. Bake in water bath at 350 degrees until custard tops are firm, about 40 minutes. Refrigerate several hours before unmolding.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

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491 calories; 86 mg sodium; 287 mg cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 74 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.03 gram fiber.

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Kitchen Tip

Pomegranate molasses is sold in most Middle Eastern markets. You can also make it yourself. This recipe comes from Paula Wolfert’s “Cooking From the Eastern Mediterranean.”

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POMEGRANATE MOLASSES

6 cups fresh or bottled pomegranate juice

1 cup sugar

1 cup lemon juice

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Place pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in nonreactive saucepan over high heat and boil, stirring frequently, until mixture is reduced to 2 cups. Let cool, then refrigerate.

Makes 2 cups.

Each 1-tablespoon serving contains about:

85 calories, 3 mg sodium, 0 cholesterol, 0 fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 0.17 gram fiber.

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