Meat wont be missed in these tasty recipes

Once upon a time, the idea of inviting a vegetarian to dinner struck sheer terror in my omnivorous heart. I knew very little about a vegetarian’s diet except that they don’t eat meat. I envisioned shopping trips to the health food store, coming home with brown rice, soybeans, tofu and some unknown species of greens.

Those days are history, as are soggy vegetable stews laden with mystery beans topped with rubbery cheese.

With healthy meals becoming a top priority in many homes, foods high in complex carbohydrates — grains, beans and pasta — have taken on starring roles in many delicious and imaginative dishes. An abundant variety of vegetables and fruits available in neighborhood and farmers markets makes it inviting and easy for the cook to experiment with exciting new vegetarian fare.

Meatless menus can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. For those observing kashrut, it is a safe and predictable way of dining, especially away from home.

And for the host entertaining kosher diets, it’s a breeze. Today I feel completely at ease preparing a vegetarian meal that is neither spartan nor dull — in fact, my most avid meat-eaters never even realize that anything is missing.

Lentil and Sweet Corn Salad | Serves 6

3/4 cup green or brown lentils, cooked and drained
2 cups cooked corn kernels
1 shallot, minced
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
2 Tbs. chopped parsley
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
3 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and black pepper
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except dressing.
In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, honey, oil and garlic. Pour over the salad and gently toss to combine. Season with the salt and pepper.

Roasted Vegetable Stew with Peppery Polenta Crust | Serves 6

Vegetable Filling
2 small onions, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 rutabagas or turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. rosemary
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup dry red wine
1 Tbs. cornstarch
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
3/4 cup polenta
salt and pepper
2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place vegetables in large roasting pan and toss with oil. Add herbs. Roast about one hour, stirring occasionally. Transfer to an 8-inch-square baking dish. Taste for salt and pepper.
In a small saucepan, combine vegetable broth with 3/4 cup wine. In a small bowl mix cornstarch with remaining 1/4 cup wine until smooth. Add to broth mixture and simmer until thickened, about 4 minutes. Pour over vegetables.
To make crust: In a medium saucepan combine broth with water. Bring to a boil and gradually stir in polenta. Cook until it thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan, stirring about 10 minutes. Pour warm polenta over vegetable mixture. Smooth top with a spatula and sprinkle with cheese.
Bake in a 350-degree oven about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly and serve.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].