June 24, 2011

Vegetarian Dinner Party

My friend and co-worker, Tieneke, was in town this week, so I decided to have her and another friend and co-worker, Allison, over for a vegetarian feast!

Bright magenta beet dip!

We started with creamy beet and tahini dip, which is from Eating Local, a cookbook published by Sur La Table and which came free with my Valentine's Day present from MM. I have been looking forward to using it when my CSA started. Eating Local is organized by ingredient (mostly vegetables) rather than by appetizer, main course, etc., which is really helpful when you are staring at a bag of vegetables and wondering what to do with them! Another thing I like about this cookbook is the pictures. They are mostly of the vegetables in the soil or just after they have been harvested and they are gorgeous! I usually don't like cookbooks that don't have pictures of the completed dishes, but the photography strategy for this book works well. We all enjoyed this recipe, so we'll see what else I can find to try from this book. (I think the dip got even better after a night in the fridge!)

A little heavy handed with the cilantro...

For the main course, I made caraway-spiced chickpea stew with mint yogurt from Food & Wine's May 2011 issue. I made a couple little changes to this recipe: I used a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas instead of dried ones, substituted vegetable broth when the recipe calls for chickpea soaking liquid and threw a diced sweet potato onto the roasting pan with the carrots. I think sweet potato enhances the flavor of any vegetable dish and I had one lying around, so I thought, why not? I also used fresh mint with the yogurt, instead of dried. I have always read that if you can use fresh, you might as well. I was very pleased with the results. The sweet potato added a welcome creamy element to the dish and the mint yogurt was fresh and flavorful. We all agreed that the cilantro added at the end is not a garnish; it adds a necessary balance to the other flavors, so don't leave it out! If I make this again, the one thing I would probably change is to add less cumin. I find cumin to be an overpowering flavor and it pretty much overwhelmed the caraway flavor that had been infused into the onions.

(My last comment on this dish - it isn't really a stew - at least it doesn't fall into my definition of a stew - but how can I argue with Yotam Ottolenghi? His vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, won a couple awards last year and was very well reviewed by food critics and writers that know a hell of a lot more about food than I do! So I will call it a "stew.")

We had multi-grain rolls with roasted garlic butter to accompany the "stew." After trying frozen Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked multi-grain rolls with a coupon, I have become mildly obsessed with them. They come out of the oven tasting like fresh-baked bread every time. I enthusiastically recommend trying them. For the roasted garlic butter, I followed Joy the Baker's roasted garlic guidelines (but really most "recipes" for roasting garlic are the same). I left the salt and pepper off the garlic because I knew I was going to mix it into salted Irish butter. Yes, luscious Kerrygold Irish butter. I used half a stick (8 tablespoons/4 oz) with one head of garlic.

Glorious creamy vanilla bean ice cream!

For dessert, we had homemade vanilla bean ice cream with macerated strawberries (the strawberries didn't make it into the photo, obviously). I used this recipe from Epicurious for the ice cream (although I changed it to two cups heavy cream, two cups whole milk), mainly because it seemed to be the most pure one I could find and it only used three eggs. Some of the recipes I found used 5-8 eggs. Are you kidding me?? This literally tasted like cold, smooth vanilla cream. It was decadent. Like any more than two scoops in one sitting will overwhelm you decadent. I am really interested to see how lower fat homemade ice cream turns out and maybe even frozen yogurt. I am actually partial to soft serve frozen yogurt (shout out to Mr. Yogato!), so that may be my next foray into frozen desserts!

The macerated strawberry recipe was from Saveur's June/July 2011 issue. They call it strawberry compote, but I think macerated strawberries describes it better. (Aren't compotes usually heated?) The strawberries were great, but the lime is a little strong and it overwhelmed the delicate vanilla of the ice cream. I agree with the recipe head note that they would work well over pound cake - or better yet, try them in strawberry shortcake!

Overall, dinner was great and Patton enjoyed having 4 more hands to pat him! Thanks for making the trek to Arlington, ladies!

Creamy Beet and Tahini Dip
From Eating Local

Makes about 2 cups

1 pound red beets (weight without greens, about 3 medium beets)
1 garlic clove, quartered
1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (you can usually get 2 tablespoons of juice from one lemon; I ended up using 1 1/2 lemons for this dip and then the other half of the second lemon for the chickpea "stew")
Kosher or sea salt
Toasted pita wedges or some other vehicle on which to get the dip to your mouth (I made za'atar spiced pita chips, which is this Food & Wine recipe minus the paprika)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove all but 1 inch of the beet stems. Put the beets in a baking dish and add water to a depth of 1/4 inch. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake until a knife pierces them easily, 45 to 55 minutes (mine were done at 45 minutes). When cool enough to handle, peel the beets and cut into quarters.

2. Puree the beets and garlic in a food processor until smooth (this takes a couple of minutes and you will probably want to scrape down the sides a couple times). Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the tahini. Add the lemon juice gradually. You may not need it all, or you may want a little more. The tahini requires a lot of lemon for balance. Season with salt.

3. Serve the dip with pita wedges or whatever else you choose. It will keep, refrigerated, for up to one week.

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