To those who believe that vegetarian cooking is time-consuming, difficult or expensive to prepare, Sarah Fritschner has a one-word reply, "Nonsense!"
"Just because I like vegetarian Moroccan couscous or Chinese stir-fries doesn't mean I can spend all day traveling around to a bunch of specialty shops or trying to perfect foreign cooking techniques. I want food quick, with little cleanup, and I absolutely require one-stop shopping," says Fritschner, who is food editor at The Louisville Courier Journal and mother of two school-age children. "If I can't pick it up when I stop for milk, it isn't dinner."
Her latest book, Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook: Really Easy Meals for Really Busy Cooks (Chapters Publishing Ltd.; June 15, 1996; $14.95/softcover), is full of singularly simple dinners for time-challenged cooks like herself. Every meal can be made with ingredients from a quick trip through the supermarket express lane.
Vegetarian dishes have always been mainstays of some of the world's greatest cuisines, Fritschner points out. And, she notes, "The mothers who make them are as busy as we are and can't spend all day at the stove."
With compassion for the dinner-planning anxiety that plagues even the most confident cook, Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook provides delicious reality therapy in the form of more than 125 recipes, from Pizza Salad to Sweet Potato Soup, from Greek Potatoes to Vietnamese Fried Rice and from Ginger-Roasted Green Beans to Green-Chili Muffins. All are simple and straightforward enough to appeal to the most harried cook.
In Fritschner's view, the key to cooking vegetarian dishes is to relax. "Don't overplan," she counsels. "Some of the best vegetarian meals are the simplest." Leftover broccoli heated in a skillet with garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes tastes great over pasta. A can of black beans, with some mild canned green chilies, topped with a little Colby cheese and heated in a microwave, becomes a satisfying main course. Grilled vegetables—eggplants, onions and peppers—make irresistible fillings for supper sandwiches.
Organized into broad categories like salads, pasta, grains and pizzas, Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook opens a world of delectable opportunity, always keeping the convenience of the after-work cook in mind. Salads like Marinated Green Beans, Nutty Rice Salad and Honey-Mustard Carrot Salad don't require painstaking washing as do ordinary greens and are good choices for time-stressed cooks. Simple Lo Mein, made with fettuccine and stir-fried vegetables and flavored with soy sauce, can be made with kohlrabi, cabbage strips or broccoli stems. Greek Pita Pizza-marinated artichoke hearts, bell peppers, cheese and olives on pita bread-is an almost instant dinner.
Also included are some foolproof desserts, including Caramel Brownies, Ultra-Easy Pound Cake and German Apple Cake. "When I bake, I want recipes I can prepare blindfolded," says Fritschner. "These qualify."
Fritschner advocates making the transition to cooking more meatless meals gradually, and dishes like Better-Than-Canned Tomato Soup, Artichoke and Potato Stew, Mediterranean Stir-Fry or Black Bean Burritos are certain to help smooth the way. "Start with just one dish that helps you become more confident-and more curious," Fritschner advises.
Tips for simplifying preparations and quickening the pace and suggestions for accompaniments make Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook the perfect book for no-nonsense cooks who want to opt for vegetarian after a busy day.
Sarah Fritschner is known for her fast and healthful approach to family cooking. She is food editor of The Louisville Courier Journal, and her articles have appeared in such magazines as Food & Wine and Cook's Illustrated. She is the author of Express Lane Cookbook (Chapters ) and co-author of The Fast-Food Guide: What's Good, What's Bad, and How to Tell the Difference (Workman).
In the far east, peanuts are commonly used to add intense flavor to vegetables and noodles. These will look like big helpings, but your family will probably be able to eat the whole dish in one sitting. You can use any leftovers in fried rice, adding fresh ginger and garlic to the vegetables.
Bring water to a boil in a large pot, adding salt. Add rice, stir once, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 18 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is tender.
To make sauce: Trim and discard roots and any wilted green tops from green onions. Chop them and combine in a small bowl with soy sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, sugar and red peppers. Stir to blend liquid with peanut butter. Set aside.
To make vegetables: Heat oil in a large skillet, Dutch oven or wok. When it is quite hot, add green beans and stir-fry for 3 minutes for fresh, 2 minutes for frozen. Add yellow squash, zucchini and green peppers and stir-fry for another 2 minutes.
Add sauce and cook, stirring, until vegetables are coated and heated through, or until they reach the texture you like.
Serves 3 or 4 over rice.
Serve this on the side or on top of cooked vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, winter squash, sweet potatoes or zucchini. I especially like it with green vegetables: broccoli, green beans and sautéed fresh spinach.
Toast sesame seeds in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir them frequently, removing the pan from the heat for several seconds if they seem to be cooking unevenly. When they are golden and smell toasty, remove from the heat.
Combine sugar, vinegar and soy sauce in a jar or dish. Stir to dissolve sugar and stir in sesame seeds.
Makes about 1/3 cup.
Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook
Real Meals for Really Busy Cooks
Chapters Publishing Ltd.
June 15, 1996
Illustrations by Lingta Kung
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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This page modified January 2007
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