My transition from omnivore to mostly vegetarian was gradual enough to register
as a nonevent. I only wish I had a dramatic revelation to share. Although
I care deeply about the health of the planet, the treatment of the animals we
eat and how our food is grown, there was nothing sudden or militant about my
choosing vegetarian meals. The simple fact is I eat plant-based foods because
they taste good and they make me feel better.
I come to the vegetarian table as a person who loves food, loves to cook and
loves big, bold imaginative fl avors. As my repertoire of ingredients and techniques
and my knowledge of cooking grow, I fi nd myself cooking meat less and
less often. My mantra is fast, great-tasting recipes that use the freshest ingredients
I grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley, surrounded by farms. It wasn’t unusual to
come home after school on a September afternoon to bags of freshly harvested
tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini (and their glorious blossoms, which Mom fried and
we ate like potato chips) or just-picked corn lined up on the back steps. These
were gifts from neighbors and relatives, happy to share the bounty of their
My mother, a schoolteacher and an excellent Italian cook who often quoted her
grandmother’s saying, “I’d rather spend money on good food than on the doctor,”
believed that food was the medicine we needed. And to Mom, that meant
lots of vegetables. Vegetables, she claimed, had magical powers that would
make us big and strong, give us bright eyes and shining hair and ward off that
dreaded visit to the doctor. I believed her.
Another major reason for the vegetarian shift at my table must be credited to
the growth in the glorious farmers’ market movement. Growing up in an agrarian
region, I took the local farm stand bounty and the produce from neighbors
for granted. Later, as a young adult, I made my way to the big city. It was a time
of change. The Union Square Market in the middle of Lower Manhattan opened.
Saturday mornings, without fail, my husband, John, and I hopped on our bikes
and pedaled over the Brooklyn Bridge to stock up. We must have been quite
a sight, with ears of corn bungeed over our back wheels and backpacks bulging
with peaches, tomatoes, green beans and, of course, a bouquet of fl owers
sticking out of the top. This adventure was simply an extension of my childhood.
Some of the same farmers who supplied the local farm stands I visited with Mom
as a kid were even there.
But no matter how experienced a cook you are, getting a vegetarian meal
on the table day after day can be a challenge. One solution is to move the
starch — whole grains or beans — to the center of the plate and surround it with
ample servings of vegetables. One of my favorite meals is creamy white cannellini
beans topped with blistered cherry tomatoes and salty black olives, served
with a side dish of broccoli fl orets stir-fried with crunchy walnuts and red onion
slivers. The comforting meatiness of the beans, the tanginess of the tomatoes,
the saltiness of the olives and the exciting mix of fl avors and textures in the
broccoli give the plate contrasts in taste, color and texture — all the elements I
look for in a meal.
In this book, “fast” means a meal that takes between 30 and 45 minutes to
cook. Since prep times vary according to your skill and style in the kitchen, it’s
diffi cult to estimate them reliably, but most of the recipes in this book can be
made in half to three-quarters of an hour. If a recipe does take longer than 45
minutes, it is marked “When You Have More Time.” All the recipes include
menu ideas for combining two or three dishes — suggestions intended to help
you pull together a hearty, satisfying and delicious meal. Use them as a springboard,
but feel free to mix and match the recipes throughout the book to create
your own favorite combinations.
Recently, a friend who was attempting to transition into cooking more vegetarian
meals complained, “Gosh, I spend a lot of time chopping.” It’s true that
when you’re dealing with fresh produce, there can be a lot of trimming, rinsing
and chopping, but over the years, I’ve discovered ways to reduce prep and cook
times. For instance, potatoes, beets and winter squash cook in half the time
when the pieces are sliced or cubed. Searing food in a heavy skillet is quicker
than oven-roasting. Although I prefer vegetables fresh from the farmers’ market,
I keep bagged, trimmed supermarket vegetables on hand for emergencies. The
quickest-cooking members of the grains-and-beans clan — quinoa, bulgur, farro,
white rice and lentils — are always in the pantry, and I keep a batch of brown rice
soaking in water, refrigerated, overnight, which cuts the cooking time almost
To help you avoid the frustration of not having a specifi c ingredient, I’ve included
user-friendly substitutions at the end of many of the recipes. And for
those who prefer no dairy or eggs, more than half of the recipes in this book are
labeled “Vegan.” Quick Hits — short recipes that encourage you to add a simple
embellishment to a basic food — appear at the beginning of each chapter. For
example, jazz up a batch of cooked bulgur or quinoa with garlic and almonds
tossed in warm olive oil or add crumbled feta cheese, dried fruit and pistachios
to a salad of mixed greens.
Whether it’s a bowl of fancy lettuces garnished with cheese curls, dried fruits and
nuts or a simple soup or hearty stew laced with exotic spices, a vegetarian meal
need not be a challenge or a cause of frustration. As my mother and grandmother
knew, the ultimate goal of the cook is to be certain everyone has something
good to eat.
Vegetable Black-Eyed Pea and Orzo Soup (Vegan omit the cheese topping)
Think of this as a version of minestrone, with frozen black-eyed peas, orzo, Kalamata olives,
dried oregano and lemon zest giving it a Greek twist. To extend the theme, top each
steaming bowl of soup with crumbled feta. If you don’t have the precooked vegetables
from the broth on hand, follow the “from scratch” recipe.
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
6 cups Easy Basic Vegetable Broth
2 cups frozen black-eyed peas
. cup orzo
2 cups cooked vegetables from Easy
Basic Vegetable Broth
. cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Coarse salt and freshly ground black
.–. cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
1 Bring the broth to a boil in a soup pot. Add the blackeyed
peas and the orzo and cook over low heat, stirring
occasionally, until the orzo and peas are both soft to the
bite, about 20 minutes.
2 Add the cooked vegetables, olives, oregano and lemon
zest and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3 To serve, ladle the warm soup into bowls and sprinkle
each with about 2 tablespoons crumbled feta, if using.
“From-Scratch” Vegetable, Black-Eyed Pea and Orzo
Soup: Cook the vegetables in oil as instructed in step
1 of Easy Basic Vegetable Broth (page 46). Add 6 cups
(instead of 9 cups) water and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Scoop the vegetables out of the broth with a slotted
spoon and set aside. Add the orzo and black-eyed
peas to the broth as instructed in step 1 of the soup
recipe and proceed.
Make a Meal
Serve with Twice-Cooked Broccoli
Rabe with Red Pepper and Garlic
Oil (page 179).
Roasted Vegetable and
Make these luscious quesadillas when you have leftover roasted vegetables. I like them so
much that I often roast a batch especially for this recipe. A mixture of eggplant, zucchini
and red bell pepper is especially good.
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 (8- to 10-inch) fl our tortillas
11⁄3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
11⁄3 cups chopped roasted vegetables
(see page 156)
4 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted
1 Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush a large baking sheet
lightly with oil.
2 Place the tortillas on the pan and sprinkle half of each
tortilla with ¹⁄³ cup cheese. Top the cheese with a layer of
the chopped roasted vegetables and sprinkle each with
1 tablespoon olives. Fold the tortillas over to make half
circles and press down lightly.
3 Bake until the tortillas are warm and beginning to color
and the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Turn with
a wide spatula and bake for 5 minutes more. Transfer
the quesadillas to a cutting board, cut into wedges and
Make a Meal
Serve with Shredded Tuscan Kale, Tomato and
Avocado Salad (page 69) and Warm Green Bean and
Tomato Salad with Mint (page 67).