That Was Vegetarian? But It Tasted Good!

When you order eggplant parmesan or a cheese, pepper, and mushroom pizza, you probably don't think, "Wow, another great meatless meal!"

That is a point cookbook author and cooking teacher Jeanne Lemlin likes to stress. Good vegetarian fare should satisfy vegetarians, part-time vegetarians, and meat-eaters.

Eschewing labor-intensive cooking procedures, Ms. Lemlin takes the approach that vegetarian fare can be quick and flavorful - two necessities for families these days. Simplicity, she says, leads to enjoyment in the kitchen.

Her new book "Simple Vegetarian Pleasures" (HarperCollins, $24) follows the lead of her previous "Quick Vegetarian Pleasures," which won a prestigious James Beard Cookbook Award.

During an interview, Lemlin calls herself a "relaxed" vegetarian. Flavor comes first, and variety is key, she says. If you are preoccupied with calculating and analyzing nutritional food contents all the time your kitchen turns into a laboratory and who needs that?

"You should be informed about what's good for you, but take a sensible approach," Lemlin says.

Balance and portion control are ultimately more important than following the latest craze, she emphasizes. If you like dessert, for example, have a really good one once or twice a week.

Enjoying home-cooked food in a fast-paced world, however, takes planning. People always want to know "is the recipe quick?" says Lemlin. If dishes aren't simple and quick, people will end up eating out all the time. Which is why Lemlin is a big proponent of common-sense planning and organization.

* Keep a shopping list.

* Hold on to tried-and-true recipes and keep them handy. (Sometimes it's a challenge to run through your mental recipe box after a long day of work.) A good recipe is one you'll want to revisit.

Stock staples in the pantry. Don't shy away from time-saving ingredients such as canned tomato pure, canned beans, roasted red peppers in a jar, etc. (Lemlin doesn't recommend bottled lemon juice or jarred garlic; sometimes the flavor is "off," she believes.)

"Try to think of the upcoming week and prepare," she says. Taking time to plan now will save you time later.

At the end of the day, focus on flavor, she implores. Dishes should be substantial, pretty to look at, hearty, and delicious. "Food has to taste really good to hold your interest."

Fresh Fettuccine with Uncooked Tomato Sauce and Goat Cheese

'In the summer months when fat, juicy tomatoes are abundant, nothing beats this pasta dish for flavor and quickness.'

6 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut into small dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup chopped fresh basil

1 teaspoon salt

Generous seasoning of freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

1 pound fresh fettuccine (or 3/4 pound dry linguine)

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt, pepper, olive oil, and goat cheese in a very large bowl and toss gently. Let sit for 30 to 60 minutes.

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Drop in the fresh pasta and cook about 3 minutes. Taste to check its texture. It should be al dente, that is, still chewy. (If you are using dried pasta, it will take considerably longer.) Drain thoroughly in a colander.

Drop the pasta into the sauce and toss well.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Spicy Peanut Noodles

'... This has become a staple dish in our house because it's so quick to prepare and utterly satisfying.'

1/4 cup natural-style peanut butter

1/3 cup tamari soy sauce

2 tablespoons water

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup sesame oil

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 teaspoon minced, fresh ginger root

1/2 to 1-teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

6 scallions, thinly sliced (set aside 2 tablespoons for garnish)

1 pound thin spaghetti

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Whisk together the peanut butter and tamari in a small saucepan. Stir in all the remaining ingredients - except the reserved scallions and the spaghetti - until smooth. Put a low heat under the pot to warm the sauce.

Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook until al dente. Don't overcook the pasta; it should remain chewy. Drain thoroughly in a colander and return it to the pot. Pour on the sauce and toss. Serve in bowls and garnish with the remaining scallions.

Serves 4.

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