- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

CONCORD, N.H. - This is the time of year when I least enjoy cooking. The end of the holiday season marks my departure from the kitchen for a few weeks. Having spent the past two months in a cooking frenzy, I am sick of my kitchen and just want to get off my feet.

First there was Thanksgiving; then the pickles, candies and caramel-dunked pretzels we gave as Christmas gifts; then the cookie-swap party; then Christmas Eve; then Christmas Day.


For the next few weeks, I don’t want to have to work hard for my food. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to settle for frozen dinners, either (although the holiday leftovers likely will get me through the first week).

This is where stews and casseroles come in. It helps that here in the Northeast, the temperatures hover around freezing with a healthy serving of snow, making oven-baked dinners and stove-top simmers all the more appealing.

So I was pleased by the arrival of Dreena Burton’s “Vive le Vegan!” (Arsenal Pulp Press), which focuses on family friendly veggie meals that can be pulled together with minimal effort.

But simplicity doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor. Miss Burton is big on bold flavors.

Her hummus tortilla pizzas, for example, are topped with hoisin sauce, ground fennel, Kalamata olives, green onions, hummus and cup of fresh cilantro.

Even her baked beans have presence, with a tablespoon of curry powder added to the usual seasonings. And a three-bean curry tomato soup calls for seasonings including ginger, cardamom and mustard seeds.

These are mostly basic recipes that are easy to make — there’s your time savings. But she punches up the flavor by calling on common yet vibrant seasonings.

So if you are as fatigued as I am but still want a healthy and satisfying dinner, start by trying Miss Burton’s Greek basmati rice, a one-pot meal that calls for fresh mint, parsley, garlic and Kalamata olives.

Or try her chickpea ratatouille, another one-dish wonder, which includes rosemary, ginger, oregano and cider vinegar.

Greek basmati rice

The preparation time is 1 hour, 30 minutes.

1 cups brown basmati rice

31/4 cups water

1 cup red onion, diced

11/4 cups tomatoes, chopped, seeds removed

2 medium-large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more for seasoning

2 teaspoons dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

to 3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1/3 to cup chopped fresh parsley

Lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a lightly oiled deep casserole dish, combine all ingredients except the olives, mint and parsley. Stir to mix well. Cover and bake 60 to 65 minutes.

Stir in the olives, then cover and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender and all liquid has been absorbed.

Remove the dish from the oven and stir in the mint and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Chickpea ratatouille

The preparation time is 1 hour, 20 minutes.

3 cups canned chickpeas

13/4 to 2 cups finely chopped red onion

3 to 4 medium-large cloves garlic, minced

28-ounce can diced tomatoes

cup diced red or orange bell pepper

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 teaspoons honey, or alternative liquid sweetener such as brown rice syrup

2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon allspice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 dried bay leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large, deep casserole dish, combine all ingredients except the bay leaves.

Stir well to combine, then insert the bay leaves into the mixture.

Cover and bake 30 minutes, then stir, cover and bake another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the onions are tender and translucent.

Stir once or twice during second baking period. Remove the bay leaves and serve with rice or quinoa.

Makes 4 to 5 servings.

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