Vegetarian Meals with a French Twist
When I think of France, I think of my grandmother, an adorable young man named Daniel, and food. Admittedly, being a chef, when I think of anything I think of food. But France, more than anywhere else on earth, seems to be inextricably entwined with visions of the pleasures of eating – often to excess.
The remnants of my grade-school French allow me to inquire how to get to the local métro stop, ask the whereabouts of the pen of my aunt, and understand the chorus to “Lady Marmalade.” Luckily, my kitchen French is a bit better, and I generally know what someone is talking about when they say omelette, bon bon, or café au lait. I even know the word for vegetables, légumes, though I admit I had to look up where to put the accent.
In considering French cooking, vegetables are not the first thing that comes to mind, let alone vegetarian cooking. Even the 1,193-page bible of French cuisine, the Larousse Gastronomique, grants a grand total of one paragraph to vegetarianism and two to veganism, the latter referring to the outdated belief that it’s difficult to have a balanced diet in such a strict regimen. On the other hand, vegetables and grains are the core of Niçois and Provençal cuisines in the south of France, and cooks there wouldn’t think of serving a meal without them. The Niçois even claim to know more than 70 ways to cook vegetables – a claim that puts Americans to shame, since most of us have trouble handling boil-in-the-bag peas.
The French also have a devotion to eggs and things dairy – cheese, milk, cream and butter. For those who are looking for the strictly vegetarian, it often looks like a challenge to cook in a French manner. Luckily, it is indeed possible to cook without dairy and not risk offending your nearest francophile.
Among the vegetables that are available, but not common in use in the U.S., is fennel. This beautiful light-green bulb has a crisp, slight licorice taste that is delicious raw in salads or braised to brighten those cool fall evening meals. Although simple, this recipe is guaranteed to delight your tastebuds.
6 fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and fresh black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock (yes, the omnivores among you may use chicken or beef stock)
¼ cup white wine
Trim the hard outer stalks of the fennel bulbs and wash and dry the bulbs. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Sprinkle the bulbs with salt and pepper and quickly sauté in the olive oil until they just begin to color. Add stock (though homemade would be preferred, bouillon cubes dissolved in water is acceptable) and the wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for an hour until the bulbs are tender to the touch. Slice the bulbs lengthwise, season with salt and pepper, and serve hot. Makes enough for six as a side dish or two as a main course.
Carrots are among the favorite vegetables for many of us. I don’t know if it’s the bright orange color that reminds us of our school days in the safety patrol, or that buttery, sugary taste of candied carrots that mom used to make for special occasions. Updating that classic French dish gives us something that will bring a smile to any adult’s face, let alone a kid’s.
(Fondue is not only the name for the classic Swiss dish with all those long color-coded forks and a bubbling pot of some unknown substance in the center of the table, but also a classic French cooking method of slowly cooking vegetables in butter or cream until very soft. Obviously, this one isn’t for the strict vegans.)
1 pint of heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons Madeira wine
2 tablespoons honey
Peel and finely dice the carrots, or thinly slice them. Put them in a heavy saucepan and cover them with the cream. Add a dash of bitters and the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook over very low heat until the carrots are soft and the cream has mostly absorbed into them. Add the honey, stir and serve. Makes enough for one to four, depending on how far you get from the stove before you taste….
Genre is a gay “lifestyle” and travel magazine. It was launched in 1992 by three entrepreneurs, two of whom shortly thereafter left to found QSF magazine. I went with them…