There are dinner parties when it seems like every single person in attendance requires a different meal. As a vegetarian, more or less, I know well the shameful sense of appearing to be a picky eater, when, in fact, vegetarianism is not exactly that. I do my best to keep it separate from childish pickiness, which I depict as liking to eat only things like vanilla ice cream, skinless chicken breast, and spaghetti with butter. It’s more of a pointed preference, like preferring the ocean to a lake or the Q train to the R.
When I’m cooking for non-vegetarians, even people who claim they don’t mind partaking of the occasional veggie-centric dinner, I sometimes fear they see things a bit differently. I can be self-conscious then about what I choose to serve. I want to make sure they’re satisfied and happy, and I often wind up relying on cheese as something comparably fattening to the richest of sausages and the reddest of meats. Occasionally I’ll even punctuate my meal with a coldcut, like the ham I threw on these biscuit sandwiches
. It’s all fine and dandy—really—but it can
be a little heartbreaking to, say, prepare a brilliant new tofu recipe and then be hard-pressed to think of someone to invite over to enjoy it with. (Thank god, in this respect and others, for the veggie-centrism of Mag Club
Alex, the guest for the meal at hand, is, perhaps unusually, a bona-fide flexitarian. Not in a trendy way, and not in a meticulous way, but when I started dating him a month or two ago, I was thrilled to learn, over sushi, that while he doesn’t turn down meat, if left on his own he aims to eat simple food, veggies and grains and some fish. In other words, food that falls under the heading of Stuff Cara Eats.
So I’ve watched him eat rare steak and been ever so slightly disappointed by the fact that he won’t partake of cheese or cookies. But when it comes down to the wire, it’s nice to know that at a table laden only with pasta primavera, quinoa pilaf, or braised lentils, he won’t miss the meat.
He might, however, miss the fake meat, and in fact, he is responsible for introducing me to Field Roast’s veggie sausages
(made from wheat gluten, mainly). I tried a slice once, from a dish he had leftovers of, and I was pretty impressed by the sheer tastiness of it all. With careful instructions from him to buy only the Italian or the Apple flavors, I purchased my own package of links and decided to imitate for him Phoebe’s Merguez Sausage and Lentils
. I had once scoffed at the idea that it would even be worth trying a veggie substitue for the sausages in this dish. But now I was ready to make my own vegetarian rendition, only stove-top (it was hot out) and braised in red wine.
The result was a quick and easy dish, much of which could be made in advance so I didn’t have to sweat by the stove in front of my date. It oozed flavor and richness and provided an excellent bed for an inspiring fake-meat product.
One last note: Alex is a photographer and a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to his craft. That explains why these pictures are particularly well focused, colored, and framed, and also why the lentils were bordering on tepid by the time I convinced him to sit down, fill his plate, and eat.
From my kitchen, a vegetarian mecca—meatless meats and all—to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Red Wine-Braised Lentils with (Veggie) Sausage
If you’re not convinced by my ode to Field Roast
or my comparison of vegetarianism and subway train lines, I am sure you could make this with your favorite real-meat sausage.
1 cup dried black lentils (don’t use red lentils)
3 garlic cloves, 2 minced, 1 chopped roughly into thirds
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 veggie sausage, preferably Field Roast Italian, cut into thin half moons
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup red wine
Pick over the lentils for any bad ones, then rinse them in a couple changes of water. Put them in a small pot with about 2 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and the garlic that is roughly chopped. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then simmer, partially covered, for 25-30 minutes until the lentils are soft but not at all mushy. Drain any excess water. If you’re doing this ahead of time, refrigerate the lentils; otherwise, set them aside.
Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large, cast-iron skillet. Add the sausage and let the pieces brown and crisp. Remove to a plate and set aside. Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan, then put in the onions, sauté a few minutes, then add the carrots and the minced garlic. When everything is soft, throw in the spices and salt, cook for a minute, and put in the lentils. Cover in red wine and bring to a simmer. When the liquid is nearly completely reduced, 5-10 minutes, add the sausage back in. Simmer another few minutes until the liquid is evaporated, taste for seasonings, and sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil.
Serve with toasted slices of fresh whole wheat bread, with simple steamed spinach or broccoli on the side.