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Veggies. They’re what’s for dinner

Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:29 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Kat Erdel and Trischa Splitter skewer marinated vegetables and tofu for veggie-tofu kebabs, which can be grilled or baked and served with a black-and-gold salad.

Sliced white onions, juicy cherry tomatoes and cubes of tofu marinated in herbs, oils and spices lay in a deep bowl in Kat Erdel’s Columbia kitchen.

She and her friend Trischa Splitter were making dinner, and, depending on which recipe they worked on, the air was pungent with cumin, dill or garlic.

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Grilling tips

Mike Odette, Sycamore Restaurant’s head chef, offers these tips for grilling vegetables:
  • Make sure they are dry by using paper towels to blot up excess moisture.
  • To prevent veggies from sticking to the grill, coat or brush them with canola oil for a neutral flavor.
  • Cut the veggies in such a way that they will have nice grill marks on their flat surfaces.

What’s a vegetarian?

When people say they are vegetarians, they most often mean they are lacto-ovo-vegetarians, meaning they eat eggs and dairy products. Lacto-vegetarians include dairy but no eggs in their diet. Pesco-vegetarians include fish. Pollo-vegetarians eat poultry, such as chicken, turkey and duck. Vegans do not eat any meat, fish, eggs or dairy; strict vegans pass on the honey and gelatin, too.

Trial by fire

For vegetarians, the grill can be a point of contention. “Grilling, and just going to barbecues, can be kind of difficult, especially with new people who don’t know you are a vegetarian,” said Danny Matteson, who gave up meat in 2002. Some vegetarians make accommodations with nonvegetarian hosts by bringing their own grill, pans or aluminum foil on which to cook their food so that it doesn’t come in contact with meat. Others make do. “If someone else is nice enough to grill it for me, I’m not too picky,” Matteson said. Kat Erdel, who is a vegan, said she has a friend who keeps one grill separate. Erdel can handle it either way. “I’m not going to make a big fuss,” she said, “as long as they are not on top of each other with the meat juices dripping.”


As she skewered fat button mushrooms, skinny cloves of garlic and chunks of green peppers already dripping with marinade onto kebabs, Erdel explained the thinking behind her cooking: “I’ll find a recipe that looks good and ‘veganize’ it.”

If it hadn’t been raining, Erdel would’ve put those kebabs on the grill. But she improvised and turned to the oven instead.

It’s the high season for grilling. But for the vegetarian who eats no meat or fish, and especially for the vegan who eats no products derived from animals, Fourth of July cookouts require a little more planning — trading burgers and brats for zucchini steaks and portobello mushroom caps.

“It just so happens that the produce from local farms really starts to come in on the Fourth of July,” said Kimberly Griffin, co-owner of the Root Cellar, which specializes in area produce and products. “Zucchinis are what most commonly come to mind, where you can cut them and grill them into what are called steaks.”

These days, grilling vegetables reflects a larger movement that celebrates and uses local farm produce. “Local is the new organic,” said Guy Clark of Fertile Crescent Farms in Columbia, who has noticed greater interest in local foods and produce in the city. “People can put a face on their food,” he continued. “They know where the food is grown, can ask questions and visit the farms.”

Ronda Anderson, who has sold produce in Columbia and Jefferson City for 15 years, has seen an increase in attendance at farmers markets and in talk about buying locally. She said it’s due to more awareness about food safety and transportation practices.

Her 8-year-old son, Dylan, piped up: “On the news it said grocery food goes 1,500 miles.” The boy was referring to a widely accepted 2002 study by Worldwatch Institute that says American food usually travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to table.

“I like the idea of food that’s fresh and close, and I like supporting the people who are growing,” said Sharon Silva, who has shopped at Columbia’s farmers markets for several years. “Whether the food is organic isn’t an issue, but I think shipping concerns are important.”

This Fourth of July she will drizzle olive oil and fresh herbs over a variety of vegetables from the Boone County Farmers Market. She will line a pan with foil and slit the foil to create an effect similar to grilling because she finds it easier to broil vegetables in the oven than grill them over charcoal.

Erdel said she tries to buy her produce locally as often as she can. She said her diet has expanded since cutting out animal products eight years ago.

“I’ll explore new recipes and am open to different flavors,” she said. For example, grilled vegetable and tofu kebabs can be paired with a black-and-gold vegetable salad and citrus potato salad.

“Becoming a vegetarian was impetus for learning how to cook,” said Eli Gay, co-owner and chef of Cafe Berlin. “It forces you to come up with new creative stuff other than meat and potatoes.”

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“Recipes are like flowers,” said Guy Clark of Fertile Crescent Farms, meaning they are meant to be shared.

Here are three that vegan Kat Erdel made for dinner last Wednesday. We invite you to share yours with us by submitting them through the comment box at the bottom of the story. We will post them online as we get them.

Vegetable-Tofu Kebabs

Marinade: 1 C vegetable stock

1/8 C Braggs Seasoning or soy sauce

1 T olive oil

1 T red wine vinegar

1 t dry basil

1 t oregano

1 t all-purpose seasoning

2 C cubed tofu, seitan or tempeh

1 small onion, quartered

Vegetables: cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, garlic or vegetables of your choosing.

Mix marinade. You might need to double or triple the recipe depending on how much tofu and vegetables you are using. “I tripled the recipe because you want to make sure to be able to cover all the tofu and veggies,” Erdel said.

Add the tofu, onions and veggies. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes, but the longer the better. “Overnight would be ideal,” Erdel said.

Skewer the marinated tofu and vegetables on wooden skewers.

Grill or bake in a hot oven, basting and turning them every so often so they don’t dry out.

When the tofu is a golden brown, the skewers are ready to be taken off.

Black-and-Gold Salad

2 C black beans

1 C corn kernels

1 C garbanzo beans

1/2 C chopped tomatoes

1/4 C fresh cilantro

2 T lime juice

2 T olive oil

1 t maple syrup

1 green onion, chopped

1/2 t ground cumin

pinch of chili powder

salt & pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together, and season to taste.

“I like cumin a lot,” Erdel said as she added more. She favors adjusting recipes to suit your taste. For example, she cut way back on the cilantro because she doesn’t like the flavor.

Citrus Potato Salad

3 lbs Yukon gold potatoes (can use red potatoes)

Juice of 2 lemons

1 C orange juice

fresh dill to taste

green onion to taste

capers (optional)

Chop potatoes into bite-sized pieces.

Add to boiling water, and cook until soft.

Drain excess water.

Mix dressing of lemon juice, orange juice, dill, and green onion. (Add capers if you would like.)

Mix potatoes and dressing.

Refrigerate before serving.


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Comments

Sue Bacialli July 7, 2007 | 1:50 p.m.

Dear Writers,

I was happy to begin reading your article on vegetarians UNTIL I saw the sidebar.

I don't know where you're getting your information, but I don't see how a vegetarian of ANY kind eats animals of ANY kind. A "pesco-vegetarian" eats fish? A "pollo-vegetarian" eats chicken, turkey, and DUCK? You gotta be kidding!

A great percentage of vegetarians have become vegetarians because they don't want to eat animals, considering the torture they go through being raised for food. It would be interesting to see what organizations like PETA think of your definitions of vegetarians.

In my opinion, you've set back the vegetarian movement with your crazy allowances for people who still want to eat every kind of animal except red meat. What do you call "vegetarians" who like pork?

Your definitions are the perfect excuse for meat lovers who'd like to think they're eating healthy, when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Leave it to the Midwesterners to redefine terms so they can remain happily in the land of denial.

Shame on you!

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