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Go Veggie for Earth Day

By Lori Grossman

In honor of Earth Day and the coming of spring, let's all enjoy a bit of vegetarian cuisine.

Texans are known for being meat eaters. We do raise lots of cattle here, and who can resist great barbecue or chicken fried steak? There are two good reasons to eat "veggie" at least occasionally: Researchers say we should eat less red meat, plus vegetarian dishes are cheaper to prepare (something to consider in these trying economic times).

With the long growing season we are blessed with, many Texans eat fresh produce from their gardens, their neighbors' gardens or locally-grown bounty from the farmers markets. You don't think of, say, fried okra, being a vegetarian dish, but it is.

A Little Veggie History
Evidence of vegetarianism dates back to 500 B.C. Followers of Buddha in India and Pythagorus in Greece advocated nonviolence and vegetarianism. Other historical figures, such as St. Francis of Assisi, Leonardo da Vinci, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Leo Tolstoy, and George Bernard Shaw were all vegetarians.

Britain spearheaded the vegetarian movement in the 1800s, establishing the British Vegetarian Society. The United States had some famous advocates, including Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who invented Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Vegetarianism really caught on in the 1960s, thanks to hippies and antiwar activists, who believed in natural living. Animal rights advocates also adopted meatless diets because of their love and concern for animals. Linda McCartney, wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney, wrote several veggie cookbooks, marketed a line of frozen foods, and spread the word to a new generation looking for a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

These aren't strict vegetarian (vegan) recipes, because several contain egg and dairy products. So, call them semi-vegetarian. After you try them, you'll call them delicious!



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Black-eyed Pea Fritters
An old-fashioned, yet tasty, way of enjoying a Southern favorite. Remember to allow a full day to soak the peas.

  • 1-3/4 cups dried black-eyed peas
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 1/2 cup scallion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 scant teaspoon cayenne, or mild chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1 cup parsley or fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Canola oil for frying
Put the black-eyed peas in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches. Make sure to leave enough room, as the peas will increase in volume as they soak. Leave for 24 hours. Check once or twice to see if more water is needed to keep the peas submerged.

Drain well and transfer to a food processor with all remaining ingredients except the oil. Pulse until almost smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water if necessary, but keep mixture as dry as possible. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, cayenne, or lemon juice if needed.

Put at least 2 inches of oil (more is better) in a large, deep saucepan. The narrower the pan, the less oil you need, but the more you use, the more patties you can cook at the same time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat the oil to about 350°F. If it's hot enough, a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately.

Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the black-eyed pea mixture and shape into balls or small patties. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned. Turn as necessary. Total cooking time will be less than 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes about 6 servings.

Tomato Cobbler
A great way to use your home-grown tomatoes. Canned tomatoes can be used, too (see the Note after the recipe).

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes (8 to 10 medium), cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), cut into large pieces and refrigerated until very cold
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, plus more if needed
Grease a square baking dish or a deep pie plate with butter or oil. Preheat oven to 375°F.

Put tomato wedges in a large bowl and sprinkle with cornstarch and some salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.

Put flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda in a food processor along with 1 teaspoon of salt. Add butter and pulse a few times until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add egg and buttermilk and pulse a few more times until the mixture comes together in a ball. (If it doesn't come together, add a spoonful or two of flour. If it's too dry, add a few drops of buttermilk.)

Gently toss the tomato wedges again and spread in the bottom of the prepared baking dish or pie plate. Drop spoonfuls of the topping batter on top and smooth a little with a knife. Try to leave some gaps so the steam will have a place to escape as the cobbler bakes.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until golden on top and bubbly underneath. Cool to just barely warm or room temperature. To serve, scoop servings out with a large spoon. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: If using canned tomatoes, use two cans (28-ounce) of whole tomatoes. Drain and save the liquid for use in another recipe, if you like. At the point where you add the cornstarch, salt, and pepper, add 1 tablespoon of chopped oregano and a pinch of cayenne or hot red pepper flakes.

Black Bean Enchiladas
Love enchiladas? Try these.

Filling

  • 1 chipotle pepper, preferably canned in adobo sauce, or dried
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed in a strainer
  • 3/4 cup orange juice

If using a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, place it on a small plate and mince using a knife and fork (don't handle it with your fingers). If using a dried chipotle, cover it with boiling water and soak for 10 minutes. Remove from the water and mince using a knife and fork.

Heat oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and chipotle pepper until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the beans and orange juice, and simmer 10 minutes. Using the back of a large spoon, mash half of the beans by pressing them against the sides of the pan. Cook the beans a few more minutes, until they have the texture of mashed potatoes. Let cool.

Sauce

  • 1 cup mild or medium salsa
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • 6 ounces light cream cheese (Neufchâtel), cut into 12 slices
  • 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Combine salsa, tomato sauce, oregano, and cumin in a bowl. Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap tortillas in foil and bake 10 minutes (this softens them so they won't split when rolled). Let cool slightly. Keep the oven on.

To assemble, lightly oil 2 shallow 2-1/2 quart baking dishes. Lightly cover the bottom of each dish with sauce. Divide filling in half, and then each half into 6 portions. Put 6 tortillas on a work surface and place 1 spoonful of the filling on half of each tortilla. Top with a slice of cream cheese. Roll the enchiladas and place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Pour sauce over enchiladas and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.

Cover dishes with foil. (You can prepare them up to this point and refrigerate up to 4 hours in advance. Bring to room temperature before baking.). Bake, covered, for 25 minutes, or until hot throughout. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

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