5 Elements to Good Vegetarian Cooking

The days of your Aunt Cathy’s hippy Vegetarian food are over!  Today’s modern vegetarian cuisine is diverse, enticing, healthy and delicious.  There are so many fantastic ingredients available in your local grocery these days, not to mention all of the ethnic groceries available.  It easy to find whatever items you need to cook satisfying vegetarian food.  But even with all of those terrific ingredients there are some elements to cooking sans meat which will enhance your final outcome.

Good Stock.  Just as in cooking with the cow, a good stock is an essential base to great vegetarian soups, stews and sauces.  They are also easy.  Throw some onions, garlic, carrots, celery and bay leaf in a stock pot and bring to a gentle boil but then add some other ingredients to give your stock depth and nuance such as a whole lemon cut in half, peppercorns, mushrooms (not too many), olive oil, rosemary – stocks are easy to freeze in any portion too.

Engage the Senses.  Try to engage all of the senses when thinking about how to make vegetarian look and taste more appealing.  For example a vegetarian mushroom stroganoff on egg noodles might taste great but it looks brown and uniform.  So sprinkle some parsley on top and a dollop of sour cream with some lemon zest – brightens it all up.

Texture and Balance.  Texture is key to good vegetarian.  If everything “chews” the same it doesn’t feel as satisfying so at Adam’s we use toasted nuts and small diced veggies for texture just sprinkled on the top of any dish– diced red bell pepper, scallions, red onion etc.  We always want to find a balance between sweet and salty, crunchy, creamy and acid.  Our Greek Salad embodies that concept with diced red onion (sweet), Kalamata olives (salty), toasted walnuts (crunchy), feta (creamy) and fresh tomato (acid).  The wonderful thing about toasted nuts is they freeze well too and they are another solid source of protein.

Herbs, Spices and Heat.  Fresh herbs such as cilantro, basil and mint or spices such as cumin and ginger can drastically take a dish from good to phenomenal.   Whether cooked into a dish or used as garnish, spices and herbs change the complexity of your meal and bring other flavors together in ways that can be subtle or intense depending on how much or how simply you use them.  You can achieve the same complexity just by adding some heat to your dish.  Just a few drops of Tabasco sauce can alter the outcome without making a dish spicy or hot.

Bring on the Lemon.  Whenever I’m cooking and a dish isn’t coming together, I head for the citrus.  Lemons spike up the acid which enhances all the other flavors.  Limes can do the same but when cooked they bring a softer acid to the dish and they are a great way to cool recipes where you might have used too much heat.  Even Oranges, which are the softest acid of the citruses, can bring a subtle brightness to a sauce.  And don’t forget the zest!
A bit of citrus zest in a cream sauce is delicious.