Foodie Friday: Adventures in Vegetarian Cooking

A group of three friends plus myself comprises what I call my Lunch Bunch: we take it in turns to host the others for lunch. We only manage to find a date that works for everyone every 6-8 weeks or thereabouts, so it’s been awhile since I hosted lunch for them. This week it was my turn – we’d settled on 7 Jan.

While contemplating what to serve them, I realized they’d be here on the first day of the carnival season of Mardi Gras. I only make king cake during the carnival season (which runs from the day after Twelfth Night, 5 or 6 Jan, to Mardi Gras itself, the day before Ash Wednesday), because I find things are more enjoyable when I observe their seasons. Whether it’s Christmassy food, eating fruit while it’s in season in my own hemisphere, etc, it all works so much better for me when I keep it to its season. Obviously, King Cake was in order. But what else?

Adventures in vegetarian cooking …

With our Mardi Gras decorations up and the king cake a definite, some Cajun, Creole, and/or Southern dishes would go nicely. But two of them are vegetarian, and I’ve never come across vegetarian Cajun food in my life. Hm. I called up several vegetarian Cajun recipes online, and found that they weren’t too different from my existing ones, actually. Simply leaving out the meat and substituting vegetarian ingredients doesn’t always work, as I’ve learned with gravy. (I’ve yet to make a decent vegetarian gravy.) But hey, here’s numerous sources telling me essentially to give that a go with these things. Okay, so I did. I broke my rule of always testing recipes before serving them, because it’s a very friendly group. In the end, I served:

  • Red beans and rice – I modified my own recipe slightly for this; it turned out beautifully.
  • Gumbo (with rice) – this uses carrots as the main thing instead of meat. I didn’t like it, because carrots go sweet when you cook them like that. I might try it with potatoes at some point in the future.
  • Hoppin John – in honor of being so near the new year, I introduced them to this traditional New Year’s Southern dish.
  • Cornbread – our recipe has always yielded sweet cornbread, and I wondered how it’d taste with less sugar, so I halved it. It came out far too salty; I’m not sure if I added too much salt by accident, or if less sugar means less salt is needed. It was also more crumbly than usual. I shall keep tinkering with this.
  • King Cake – always a favorite. This time I filled it with blueberry and black currant jams. The filling looks a bit lacking – I think it needs the even-spreading texture of something like that cream cheese filling. As luck would have it, I plan to make the next one with lemon curd, which will have that same property, so I can test this theory!

We usually have a starter, then a main course, then a dessert, like civilized people, but I really couldn’t come up with a starter I could do with the time, ingredient, and cuisine constraints, so instead I served all but the cake together, and told them to look at it sort of tapas style: take a little of each, and then take more of whatever they like.

It worked out pretty well! We all got full enough, I think, and enough praise was heaped on the dishes that I think they all found something they liked. Phew! I knew I was going out on a limb with Cajun food in general – we generally stick to much less ethnic food. But I made it all extra mild so the flavors would come through, and it seemed to go over okay. Hooray! So now I’ve given them some education into the ways of the Swamp People.

The rest of what we’ve been cooking …
  • General Tso’s Chicken – added some seasonings to this to get a great dish. Yum!
  • Egg drop soup – tested making it with vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, for future possibility of serving it to vegetarians. Worked well! They don’t do this soup here – the bog standard British Chinese soup is chicken and sweetcorn, which is good, but it’s not egg drop soup. I’m so glad I found a recipe that’s nice and easy.
  • Hashbrown casserole – This was hideous. I’m trying to clear out the cupboard, and found a can of cream of chicken soup (lord knows why I had that). Did a search on for recipes using this, and thought, hey, we love hash browns, can’t go wrong with this, right? Wrong. It felt like sacrilege in the kitchen to put perfectly lovely hash browns into a casserole, and at the table we confirmed it was. Ho hum. Live and learn!
  • Pasta bake – This was a decent start. I found this one because I was trying to use the can of tomato soup I found lurking in the back of the cupboard. Mission accomplished! We’ll keep this recipe, and improve it gradually.
  • Lemon curd – Chris finished the jar I made him for Christmas ages ago, so I made him another jar. He’s really liking this new cooking spree. 😉

That’s really all that’s worth sharing this week. We’ve just put the turkey in the brine so we’ll have roast turkey tomorrow night – no special occassion, just because they still had turkeys at the store (they’re seasonal here), so I decided we’d have another since we’ve finished most of what we cooked in November (we’d frozen it). On that note, good night!

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