Recently when I was out to dinner with a couple of friends, they asked if it was difficult for me to find vegetarian options when eating out. In general, the answer is "no", but I also gravitate towards places I know will have something interesting for me to eat. And, by "interesting", I do not mean pasta primavera. In more than 20 years of not eating meat, I can't count how many times the vegetarian option at a restaurant or event has been pasta. I have nothing against pasta and love me a good red sauce, but will usually opt for something else if it's available. It's one thing if I'm in the North End and I know it will be exceptional, but in your average run of the mill restaurant, I don't want to waste a meal on it.
When I find myself in Restaurant Americana, I do have a fallback meal. I will often get the most acceptable salad I can find on the menu, hopefully with something other than iceberg lettuce, and a side of potato (mashed potato, baked potato or French fries). And while we're at it, let's discuss Caesar Salad. I just don't get it. It's lettuce, cheese, croutons usually slathered in an extremely high fat creamy dressing. This is not a salad in my book and I am perplexed as to why people seem to get so excited about it.
Restaurants have come a long way over the years, and I find myself with many more options as I did back in my vegetarian blooming years. And, again, I've also learned where to eat and my palette has become much more ethnically broad. My favorites include Thai, Indian and Vietnamese. Last week I finally visited Red Lentil, a vegetarian restaurant that recently opened in the area. In those situations, I find myself completely overwhelmed since I can eat every single thing on the menu. Typically, I scan the menu for the items I can eat as is, then look to see if any of the others are appealing and could be modified, then narrow my selections from there.
An option I think would be easy for restaurants to offer, yet I never see on a menu is some sort of
veggie grain loaf. This particular one is good because besides the bread crumbs, it doesn't have any starch in it, so you can have potato or rice on the side. I've posted another one in the past that's also tasty, but does include rice. Tonight we are having this with sides of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. The leftovers are great served over salad.
Spicy Bean and Lentil Loaf
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 14 oz can red kidney beans
1 14 oz can lentils (I usually just cook some from dried)
1 carrot, coarsely grated
1/2 cup aged cheddar, finely grated
1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tspn tomato paste
1 tblspn ketchup
1 tspn each: ground cumin; ground coriander; chili powder
salt and fresh black pepper
1 Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x5x3 in loaf pan.
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. When the oil heats, add the onion, garlic and celery and cook gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.
3. Rinse and drain the beans and lentils. Place in a blender or food processor with the onion mixture and egg and process til smooth.
4. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
5. Spoon the mixture in the prepared pan and level the surface. Bake for about 1 hour, then cool and remove from pan.