- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

The range of special diets grows each year.

I recently cooked a celebration feast for eight, and the guests included two who were following the Atkins program (low glycemic, low carb), one on a macrobiotic diet, one vegan (no meat or dairy products), one vegetarian who ate fish, and a couple of meat-and-potatoes folks.

Choices were:

• Ignore and incorporate; in other words, don’t serve anything special.

• Try to offer enough variety so the meal could be enjoyed by everyone.

I decided to use my creativity and see if I could come up with a menu that would work for each of my dear friends.

It took some learning about the diets. I had followed most in the past, so I knew which ingredients were highlighted and which were avoided. The Internet proved a wonderful resource. (Try the Conde Nast Web site Epicurious.com, where home cooks rate their success with the recipes.) I also browsed through my substantial collection of cookbooks.

The most successful results were for the vegetarians. I served a basic vegetarian main dish (a stir-fry of fresh vegetables flavored with orange and sesame), sides of two grains for the macrobiotic and vegan and extra protein for the Atkins follower. I put the dishes out on the table, offered salad and bread and advised all to help themselves. It was a hit.

Three of the recipes I tried will remain in my collection for this month’s parties. I may not have the stamina or the patience to prepare a variety of meals for unexpected diets, but at least I know I can do it in a pinch.

Orange almond tofu stir-fry

This delicious and elegant main dish for vegetarians is adapted from the new “Zone Perfect Cookbook” by Kristy Walker (Silverback Books). It undoubtedly will appeal to guests and family members on low-carbohydrate diets such as the Zone or Atkins plans.

6 ounces firm tofu

2 tablespoons chopped scallion

¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grated ginger root

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic

Nonstick vegetable spray

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup thinly sliced red bell peppers

1½ cups broccoli florets

⅓ cup sliced, canned water chestnuts, drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon orange extract

¾ cup whole snow peas

1½ teaspoons toasted slivered almonds

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Drain tofu, pat dry and cut into small squares. Place in shallow pan with scallion, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon ginger, ½ teaspoon sesame oil and garlic. Toss to coat. Let stand 20 minutes at room temperature, turning tofu occasionally.

Spray 10-inch nonstick skillet with vegetable spray and set over high heat. Add mushrooms and red peppers and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.

Remove tofu from marinade and add to skillet. (Reserve marinade, if desired, to enhance flavor later.) Cook tofu, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Add broccoli and water chestnuts. Add remaining soy sauce, ginger root and sesame oil, along with orange extract. Cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes or until vegetables are tender but still crisp. Add snow peas; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. For a flavor boost, add reserved marinade to the stir-fry before serving, if desired. Remove from heat; top with almonds and parsley. Makes 1 to 2 servings.

Baby pumpkins stuffed with wild rice filling

These are elegant enough to serve as a side dish, but they easily can become an entree for vegetarians.

8 4-inch baby pumpkins

⅓ cup reduced-fat stock

½ cup chopped onion

2 cups cooked wild rice

1 cup chopped apples

½ cup chopped dried apricots

2 large cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon dried sage, crushed

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup toasted bread crumbs

¼ cup toasted pine nuts, optional

⅓ cup chopped celery

Salt, black pepper

Slice off top ½ inch of each pumpkin and scoop out seeds. Place pumpkins on baking sheet and bake in 350-degree oven 15 minutes. Let cool.

In 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, bring stock to a boil. Add onion and cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until soft. Add rice, apples, apricots, garlic, sage and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, 3 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in bread crumbs, pine nuts and celery. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fill pumpkin shells, mounding at top. Place on baking sheet. Bake in 350-degree oven 15 minutes, or until stuffing is lightly browned. Makes 8 servings.

Holiday vegetable brochettes with portobellos

This recipe veers from the traditional, but it’s elegant and appealing to vegetarians. Serve with wild or basmati rice.

4 portobello mushroom caps, halved

1 red onion, quartered

1 tart apple, quartered

½ small eggplant, quartered

1 yellow squash, cut into 4 sections

1 red bell pepper, quartered

1 yellow bell pepper, quartered

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Thread portobellos, onion, apple, eggplant, squash and peppers onto 4 stainless-steel skewers. Place in resealable plastic bag. Add olive oil, sesame oil, vinegar and salt. Seal and toss to coat.

Preheat broiler. Remove brochettes from marinade. Reserve marinade. Place brochettes on broiler pan. Broil on high heat, turning frequently and basting with marinade, until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

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