Friday, April 24, 2009

5 tips for the new vegetarian cook

If you check out some of the classic vegetarian cookbooks out there, you are often confronted with recipes using dried beans or asking for odd ingredients you aren't sure what it is or if you can substitute on the fly. It almost feels like these books were written for someone that doesn't have a full time job, school and obligations. Don't feel guilty by taking shortcuts. You don't have a kitchen full of aides that can chop up, prepare and soak things for you in advance!

I've compiled a list of tips to make your life easier, fellow veg head.

1. 1 cup dried beans = 3 cups cooked beans. Nothing irks me more than some of these vegetarian cookbooks that make an assumption that you have the time to start beans from dried to cooked. Although I do like to plan my meals in advanced on the weekend, my reality is completely different during week days. I grab my cookbooks for inspiration, and most of these always reference using dried beans. Well my friend, the world won't explode and your dish won't be a disaster if you opt for convenience and use canned beans. Just remember the rule, 1 part dry equals 3 parts cooked.

2. 1/3 cup water with 1tsp grounded flax seed = 1 egg. Eggs provide leavening and binding to dishes when used in baking. Flax seed does the job in adding nutrition and binding to your baking. Don't have flax seed? No problem, replace it with the equivalent in mashed banana or apple sauce.

3. Beans does not need to mean farty time. Do you get a little bit apprehensive with eating beans for lunch for fear of alienating your colleagues? Beano can save you from accidentally dropping a dirty bomb in a meeting. But if you want to avoid gassing yourself to death, consider using ground cumin seeds (in drier dishes) or kombu (in soups) to make the butt symphony shorter.

4. Put your whole grains and nuts (for cooking) in the freezer. Bran in whole wheat flour, brown rice and other grains will go rancid fairly quickly if you don't use them up fast enough. You'll notice the nose curling smell when you open up the bag. Rancid food = bad for you. Save your pennies and stuff your flour, grains and nuts in the freezer.

5. Powered dried mushrooms will make you say adieu to your meat cravings. It's crazy how much flavor dried mushrooms can impart to your dishes like stuffed peppers, rice, pilafs etc. Just grab a small handfull, grind them up in your coffee grinder and add it into the dish when it's simmering. It will add lots of that umami goodness and will take it to the next level of yum.

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