Greens, a San Francisco's restaurant, has established a reputation for unusually fine vegetarian food. The story is told of a person who dined at the restaurant every night for more than a week before realizing there was no meat on the menu. Based on fresh foods, mostly locally grown, the cooking is done by young chefs who use salt, butter, and cream carefully, but who are not out to cook austere, plain food by any means.
Deborah Madison, who developed the menu at Greens and was its first chef, says that although she created a whole new style of eating, she doesn't try to be original.
``What pulls it all together is our reliance on the freshest vegetables, herbs, and spices,'' she says. The cooks draw on a wide variety of traditions - the Mediterranean cooking of southern France and Italy, dishes from Mexico and the Southwest, a few adaptations from Asian cuisines, and others.
For those who don't mind breaking with tradition, she suggests an entirely different way to plan a vegetarian meal.
``Offer a series of foods one after another - some grilled vegetables, a small bowl of pasta with aromatic herbs, bread and butter, a saut'e of peppers followed by thick slices of tomatoes baked in cream, a salad, some figs and sheep's milk ricotta, a little pastry, a fragrant tea or coffee.
``Or, the main parts of the meal can be brought to the table all at once, an assortment of bowls and platters in different shapes, colors and style, holding various foods that do not necessarily relate to one another in the traditional way,'' she says.
Ms. Madison has worked with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., and at the American Academy in Rome. She wrote ``The Greens Cookbook'' with Edward Espe Brown, author of ``The Tassajara Bread Book.'' This recipe from their cookbook is served at the restaurant with brown rice and herb butter. Vegetable Brochettes With Tofu Brochette Marinade (recipe below) 16 medium mushrooms 1 green bell pepper, or any color, in squares 8 cherry tomatoes 16 boiling onions, peeled, parboiled, or large onions in wedges 2 or 3 of following:
Zucchini and yellow squash, in rounds
Sweet corn, in 1/2-inch rounds
Winter squash, in 1-inch cubes
Small potatoes or large cut in cubes
Sweet potatoes or yams, in rounds
Japanese eggplant, in 1/4-inch rounds
Fennel, thickly sliced 16 to 24 ounces Marinated Tofu (recipe below) in 1-inch cubes 8 bay leaves Salt and pepper
Brochette Marinade 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon herbs - parsley, thymne, marjoram - finely chopped 3/4 cup olive oil Salt and pepper
Combine and mix garlic, mustard, and herbs. Whisk in oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Parboil some vegetables as follows: corn - 2 to 3 minutes; winter squash - 6 to 8 minutes; potatoes - 10 to 12 minutes. Keep in mind vegetables will cook about 10 minutes more over coals. Toss eggplant slices in oil.
Gather all vegetables and tofu. Plan to place a mushroom on each end, then skewer an assortment of vegetables, tofu, and bay leaves to make a colorful brochette. Place on baking sheet and brush all sides generously with marinade. Grill 6 to 8 minutes over coals, turning every few minutes to expose all sides to heat. When nicely browned, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on fire heat, remove to a platter, brush with more marinade, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Makes 8 10-inch brochettes; serves 4.
Marinated Tofu 1 or 2 packages firm tofu, 14 to 18 ounces each 12 ounce dried mushrooms, porcini or shiitake 1 1/4 cup water 2 teaspoons dried oregano or marjoram 2 cloves garlic, sliced 1/2 cup olive oil 3/4 cup red wine vinegar 1/2 cup tamari sauce 4 cloves 1/2 teaspoon salt Several twists black pepper
Cut tofu into slabs 1-inch thick. Drain for 1/2 hour between two baking sheets or boards, weighted and slanted so water will drain off.
Meanwhile, simmer mushrooms in water 15 minutes. Toast oregano and marjoram in heated skillet until fragrant. Add herbs to mushrooms, bring to boil and simmer a few minutes. Remove tofu from draining and arrange in single layer in non-corrosive pan. Strain marinade in coffee filter or paper towel and pour over tofu. Cover and refrigerate one day, preferably longer (up to 4 or 5 days). Makes 2-1/2 cups marinade.