Category Archives: Vegetarian Entree

Mushroom Walnut Pate

When I told my friends that I was starting a blog to share my recipes, the most common response I received was “Can you put recipes on there for SANDWICHES?!?”  Not exactly what I was expecting.

At first, I was worried about those friends that needed explicit directions on how to make a sandwich.  But the more I thought about it, the Sandwich, particularly the Vegetarian Sandwich, is often sadly lacking in style and substance, filled with a few soggy pieces of lettuce and maybe a couple slices of sad, clammy, deli cheese.

But those sad, droopy sandwiches bow down in the presence of this vegan Mushroom Walnut Pate.  It has a meaty, umami taste that’s incredibly rich, considering it has no animal products in it and is mostly lentils and vegetables.  Lentils and walnuts are packed with protein and fiber, so this sandwich will keep you full and energized all afternoon.  It takes about an hour to make, but you’ll have plenty for sandwiches, snacks, and creative leftovers all week.  But it probably won’t last that long.

So friends, here are your sandwich instructions: Make the pate from the recipe below and slather it on toasted whole wheat country bread.  Add green apple slices and fresh arugula for a perfectly balanced, hearty vegetarian sandwich.

Another serving option for this pate is to unmold it and put it on a platter with crackers, crostini or crudite for an hors d’oeuvre.  It’s a real crowd-pleaser since it’s delicious, decadent and figure-friendly.  If you are serving it to a crowd, I would definitely spring for the dry sherry.  It gives the pate an elegant, winey acidity that’s really irreplaceable.  But I’ve also used balsamic vinegar for a similar sweet-tart kick and that’s also quite delicious.

Put any leftover pate to good use by taking a couple tablespoons and stirring them into freshly cooked pasta for a quick mushroom ragu (just add a little pasta water to thin) or add a spoonful to vegetable broth and vegetables to give a mushroomy undertone to a vegetable soup.

I can’t stress enough how phenomenal and addictive this pate is.  I gave my sister a spoonful of it last night, and her response? “OH YES.”

Mushroom Walnut Pate
makes about 3 cups

1 cup Lentils de Puy (French green lentils)
3 cups vegetable stock, preferably unsalted
1 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 8-10 ounce package of cremini mushrooms (about 3 cups), thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry sherry (or 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar)
2 teaspoons of salt

1. Rinse the lentils until the water runs clear. Add them to a large pot with the vegetable stock and the Herbes de Provence and bay leaf. The stock should be about 2 inches above the lentils; add water if it’s not at that level. Bring up to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are fully cooked, about 45 minutes, adding water as necessary. The lentils will retain their shape, but will no longer be hard or gritty on the inside.

2. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. On a sheet tray, spread out the walnuts and toast them in the oven for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. They will be slightly golden and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

3. Heat up a large saute pan and add the oil. Saute the onion over medium-high heat with a pinch of salt until it is soft and golden brown. Then add the minced garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the sliced mushrooms with another pinch of salt and saute until they are brown and much of the liquid has evaporated. The whole mixture should be soft and look caramelized. Then add the dry sherry, using it to scrape off any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until most of the sherry has evaporated. Then remove from heat.

4. In the food processor, pulse the walnuts until finely ground. Then add the cooked lentils (drained from their water and with the bay leaf removed), the mushroom mixture and the 2 teaspoons of salt. Puree until smooth. Taste the mixture and add salt until it tastes perfect. Then add two extra pinches of salt. It will taste too salty warm, but once it cools, it will taste perfect again. The palate perceives salt differently in hot and cold food.

5. Spoon mixture into a loaf pan, mold or tupperware and cover with plastic wrap. Then place a similarly-sized container on top and weigh it down to press the pate.  Chill in the refrigerator for several hours.  Invert on a plate to serve as an hors d’oeuvre or spread on bread for your sandwich.

Celery Leaf Salad with Honey Vinaigrette

People give three major reasons for not eating lots of vegetables: 1) they are expensive with lots of waste; 2) they go bad in the fridge before they can be used up and 3) they don’t taste that great, particularly without a lot of cooking and work.  I can’t think of a vegetable that more embodies those complaints than celery.  Recipes rarely call for more than a stalk or two, and by the time you cut off the tops and the bottoms, you’ve wasted half the plant.  Then it sits in your fridge for weeks until it’s all pale and flaccid because, let’s be honest, you don’t like celery that much.  It’s just too celery-y.

But celery, particularly the leaves, have a fresh, verdant taste that can be lovely and unique.  The first day or two after you buy your celery, pick off the leaves for this salad; you’ll likely get between 2-3 cups.  The leaves are slightly bitter with a distinct celery taste, so the trick is to balance out that flavor with others, particularly sweet, salty and smoky.  I sweetened up the vinaigrette with a bit of honey, added baby spinach, fresh berries and salty, smoky almonds to offset that slight bitterness.  Sweet flavors are especially good at balancing bitterness, which is why chocolate needs sugar and why honey is fabulous in this vinaigrette.

The result is both thrifty and gourmet: you stretch that $1 bunch of celery by using the greens, and the salad elegant enough to serve to guests, with the celery leaf lending an unusual, almost exotic flair.  Celery is also one of the foods highest in Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that is believed to help regulate blood pressure and clotting.

The only new ingredient on this list might be brown rice vinegar.  It’s a sweet, mild vinegar that can be used in almost equal proportions to oil in a vinaigrette (as opposed to a more typical 1: 3 vinegar to oil ratio).  It’s less processed than many other commercial vinegars, but if you don’t have it, substitute rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a similar, delicate vinaigrette.

Celery Leaf Salad with Honey Vinaigrette
Serves 1 as a main; 2 as a side

For the Salad:
2 cups of celery leaves
1 cup of baby spinach
1/2 cup of quartered strawberries, about 6-8 berries
1/8 cup smoked almonds

For the Honey Vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1. In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the celery leaves, baby spinach, strawberries and smoked almonds.

2. In a separate small bowl, combine the brown rice vinegar, salt and honey and whisk with a fork.  Then drizzle in the olive oil while whisking with the fork.  The honey will act as an emulsifier to keep the vinaigrette together.

3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine.

Warm Spring Green Salad Over Polenta

If trying to eat seasonal food throughout the winter has left you with a mad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder and your eye twitches every time you hear the word “apple,” this Springtime salad might be just the antidote that you and your facial tic have been looking for.  This vibrant entree combines three harbingers of Spring–fresh fava beans, asparagus and baby artichokes–into a balanced and satisfying meal.  Each of the three green ingredients is cooked in a different way, so the warm salad has a variety of textures and flavors; it’s garlicky, minty, crunchy, bright, sweet, and creamy, all at the same time.  It might seem like a lot of work to prep each of the ingredients, but it goes quite quickly.  When you are done, you have an entire meal put together and you’ve mastered some seemingly daunting vegetables.  Good for you.

While I love eating artichokes in restaurants, I’d actually never prepared them at home because I wasn’t entirely sure, even after culinary school, which parts were the edible parts.  But it turns out they are pretty easy to work with, and baby artichokes are actually less work than their parents  to trim because there is no ominous “choke” to remove.  You just peel off the outer leaves in a he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not fashion and cut off the top and the woody stem.  You can find photos showing each step of the process online here.

Cooking fresh fava beans is also ridiculously simple, but requires two steps.  First open the pods using any means necessary and pop out the beans, much like you would for edamame. Then after boiling the beans for a couple of minutes, the thin skin around them will be loosened, and you’ll be able to slip it off with your fingers.  Think chickpeas.  In addition to the protein and fiber that all legumes have, favas are rich in folate, copper, manganese, potassium and other trace minerals. Changing up your diet and incorporating new plants into it is the best way to make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.

If you notice a significant upgrade in the quality of photos today, you can thank my friend and professional photographer Tom Blakely.  He stopped by for lunch the other day and we made a little trade: food for photos.  Not a bad deal, eh?

Warm Spring Green Salad over Polenta
Serves 2

For the Salad:
1 pound fresh fava beans, in their pods
8 baby artichokes
1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
2 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon of salt
juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 scallions, thinly sliced with white parts separated from green parts
6 mint leaves, chopped or torn

For the Polenta:
2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of coarse-grind cornmeal, sometimes labeled “polenta” or “grits”
1 pat of butter

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Bring a medium sized pot of salted water up to a boil.  In the meantime, take the fava bean pods and remove the beans inside, using your fingers. Discard the pods.  Add the beans to the boiling water.  Remove after 3 minutes, leaving the water boiling on the stove.  Run the beans under cold water to cool down and then remove their skins by squeezing on one end of the bean. Set the beans aside.

3. Place the trimmed asparagus in an even layer on a sheet tray.  Drizzle it with olive oil and salt and place in the oven for 20 minutes.  The asparagus should still be green with some brown crust and it will be tender, not hard or mushy.  Let the asparagus cool for a minute, then slice it into roughly 2-inch pieces.

4. While the asparagus is roasting, you can trim and steam the artichokes.  Remove enough water from the boiling pot of water to set a steamer basket inside. (If you don’t have a steamer basket, you can use a strainer or pour out the water until only a half-inch remains and set the artichokes directly in that.)  Peel off the green leaves of the baby artichokes until a more tender yellow leaf emerges.  Then trim off the stem and cut off the top 1/3 of the artichokes. Cut these pieces in half, vertically.  Place the artichokes in the steamer basket, generously salt them and cover for 15 minutes. You’ll know the artichoke hearts are done when they are fork-tender.

5. Once the asparagus, favas and artichokes are all ready, start the polenta.  Bring 2 cups of water up to a boil in a medium pot and slowly whisk in the cornmeal and salt. Whisk constantly for about 30 seconds and then every minute or so for about 5 minutes.  The polenta will have a thick oatmeal consistency.  Add the pat of butter and stir it in.  The polenta can sit with the heat turned off while you finish the warm vegetables.

6. Finally, in a large skillet, heat up the olive oil and saute the garlic, white parts of the scallions and red pepper flake for 30 seconds.  Then add the cooked artichokes, favas and asparagus, salt and saute for about a minute to let the flavors combine.  Immediately before removing from the heat, add the lemon juice, sliced green parts of the scallion, and the mint.

7. To plate, ladle the polenta into a bowl or plate, then top with the green sauteed vegetables.  Garnish with more mint or scallions if desired.