Friday, September 18, 2009

UnRecipe: Meatless in Seattle

I often wax poetic over the versatility of pork, The Magical Animal, or marvel at The Power of Beef, usually with the haunting voiceover of Matthew McConaughey in my head. But I have several vegetarian friends, and I always feel bad that when "vegetarian options" are made available at gatherings or restaurants, it's often some limp pasta salad or an expressionless pile of steamed vegetables. It's like when Francis "Baby" Houseman gets put in a corner, and while I would never compare myself to the almighty power of The Swazye (peace-out, Patrick!), I felt the need to take those lackluster dishes from the corner and at least attempt a triumphant movie-finale lift. My attempt at an UnRecipe/MacGyver-style cooking vegetarian meal worthy of a Swazye roundhouse kick, consisted of a Roasted Corn Soup, Stuffed Table Squash, and a Caprese-inspired Pesto Portobello Mushroom Cap, with a Mango Sorbet topped with Spiced Pecans and Toasted Coconut.

Nobody puts vegetarians in a corner - Photo by Wasbi Prime

Squash is a nice, no-fuss ingredient to use since it's quite hearty and its structure remains relatively sound for most cooking methods. The little yellow table squash were looking colorful and cute at the market, so I picked up a few of those. They were easily hollowed-out using a mellon baller. Hit with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt/pepper, and away they went into the oven to get a head start on roasting. For the stuffing, I pulled some small carrots and green onions from the garden (so freakin' cool to be able to do that!), chopped up a few cremini mushrooms, a small yellow onion, and sauteed this mix down to reduce the liquid. I mixed a bit of Parmesan cheese into the cooked filling and stuffed the partially roasted squash halves, letting the oven do the rest of the work. The result was a simple, mild-flavored side dish that could be paired with anything or just eaten on its own, and the filling materials could be adjusted in any way, since the squash flavor is so light and ingredient-friendly. It's the perfect neutral party for a MacGyver meal that requires minimal preparation.

The roasted corn soup was more of a rolling experiment. This was how the Swiss-precision, steel trap mostly likely run with rubber bands, known as The Wasabi Brain, went through the food thought process: 1) Flip through the September Martha Stewart Living magazine. 2) Ooh! John Derian's having a dinner party, and he's serving beautiful corn soup! 3) I need to make corn soup. 4) Ignore all recipes and directions, purchasing random ingredients from grocery store. 5) Throw random ingredients together, in a Voltron-like manner, to form-of a pot of corn soup. Ta-daaaah.

In between all that quality thinking, I roasted several cups of corn until they got slightly browned and super-sweet, and added it to a pot that already had some onions, garlic, and a little bit of carrots, sweatin' to the oldies. I added probably a quart's worth of vegetable broth and used the fabulous hand blender to combine everything from rustic chunk to rustic charm. A cup of cream made the whole thing creamy-dreamy and that's what the end-result of the corn soup experiment was. I added the fresh tomato flourish that John Derian had, and that made for an easier photo, since soups always look boring as hell in pictures.

Tomato, tomahto, let's just call it dinner - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Portabello mushrooms are another versatile ingredient to work with. I know it's touted as a meat substitute, and while it's got the moxy to stand up to being grilled, if I get a portabello burger, I'm not having it because I want faux beef, I'm eating it because I dig fungus and I appreciate its own nuanced flavor.

Pesto from Jardin de Wasabi - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Jardin de Wasabi was thankfully able to yield a good amount of basil this season, so with a few snips, the plants were shorn of their precious leaves and a batch of pesto was made, using almonds instead of pine nuts because we're crazy like that. This was the genesis of the Caprese-inspired mushroom caps. I love tomatoes and cheese, but what makes them even more wonderful is when the mozzarella gets gooey and toasted from the oven. The fresh basil wouldn't have stood up to the scorch of the broiler and I really wanted the herb flavor baked into the ingredients, so I put a healthy smear of pesto over each mushroom before they got pre-roasted in the oven. Once cooked down, each cap was piled with thinly sliced tomatoes and a wedge of fresh mozzarella, and under the hot coil they went on the road to Melty Delicious-ville, final destination: My Belly. It was a good trip.

I don't always include desserts in meals, but I had been inspired by blogger Carli, of Velveeta Ain't Food fame, who had a great avocado ice cream recipe. I loved the idea of a creamy recipe that used a unique ingredient combined with savory elements like spiced nuts and sweet roasted coconut as toppers. However, our ice cream machine has a broken paddle, causing a serious harshing of my ice cream mellow, so I couldn't make avocado dessert magic. I still wanted to combine the spiced, savory nuts and sweet coconut with some kind of dessert, so I opted for a store-bought mango sorbet.

Sweet, spicy, salty -- keep dessert interesting! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

The dessert result was still delicious. I think even a vanilla ice cream would have worked fine with the spiced pecans and coconut. While I was roasting the corn for the soup, I double-booked the oven, using a second rack for the cookie sheet with the seasoned pecans and some shredded coconut. I still have a fair bit of leftover coco-pecan-nut sprinklage, so I may get a little pint of creamy vanilla and make my Friday just that much more enjoyable.

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  1. Okay- LOVING the mango version. I think I'll make this tomorrow actually! I mean, we NEED a Satruday treat, right????

    The rest of this meal looks great too. Can't wait to try some of the recipes.



  2. i'm a veg this post in like heaven to me;)

  3. "...a vegetarian meal worthy of a Swazye roundhouse kick," - hilarious! Great photos too, everything looks wonderfully delicious!

  4. The pesto looks so pesto. The photos with the pesto ingredients is beautiful! Makes me want to reach through the computer and grab one of those beautiful almonds. Bummer. It didn't work.

  5. Wonderful photos of the pesto in the making!


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