Vegetarian Cooking by a Dummy: An Ongoing Memoir

Cooking is a basic human activity dating back thousands of years. I’m not a very good cook. So, my major resolution for 2009 is to train myself to become a top vegetarian chef. I’m not looking to head up a restaurant in Beverly Hills or sell a line of overpriced cookbooks or anything like that; becoming great at preparing a wide variety of vegetarian food from a bunch of different cultures will suffice.

Before the new year started, I had the cutesy idea of trying to cook something from a different continent every day of the week. (Get it, seven continents, seven days?) That proved to be an unrealistic goal since the ingredients don’t overlap enough–I’d have wasted way too much leftover quinoa and couscous.

So, for now I’m trying to come up with one item a week that I really want to cook (or that my girlfriend demands I make) and then form a chain of meals throughout the week linked by the ingredients of that dish.

I started this week making veggie quesadillas, black beans, and cilantro-lime rice, which I’m already well versed in preparing. (It was so good that I almost changed my middle name to Jose.) This caused me to have leftover onions and spinach. So the next day, I incorporated the onions and spinach into a Hungarian knockoff dish inspired by famed Vermont chef Marta Pauer, sauteeing the onions, adding a tablespoon or so of paprika, and tossing in some carrots, spinach, tofu, and peppers. Good stuff! That left me with half a block of firm tofu, half a bag of carrots, and a swelling food ego.

“Why not go Asian?” I thought. Tofu, carrots, onions–that should fit pretty much any Asian dish. I even had sesame seeds, Soy and Teriyaki sauces, and ginger sitting around the kitchen. I typed some of those ingredients into Google, found a soy-ginger tofu recipe that had gotten rave reviews, and gave it the old post-college try.

Yeah, that did not go well. With all the soy sauce and ginger the recipe required, plus a couple of ill-advised substitutions, it came out tasting like pure iodized salt. I ate just enough to satisfy some basic nutritional requirements and cut my losses.

So, it looks like the major obstacle in my quest to become a top veggie chef is going to be the continent of Asia, which is sad because I really like Asian food and there really aren’t any good Asian restaurants within 100 miles of Burlington. (I thought I found one last year, until it gave me food poisoning.)

I’m sure in the end the struggle to learn to make Asian cuisine will work out. Maybe then I can find a nice open lot somewhere near Spago and set up shop. For a name, how does The Burmese Snowman sound?

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