Here’s a stupid thing I said on the phone while talking to Mark Bittman: “Many of the recipes we think of as winter comfort foods contain meat.”
“I think you’re building a straw man,” Bittman said.
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“Of course people make hams and turkeys and lasagnas [in winter],” he continued. “But people also make tamales and pierogi and biryani—there’s plenty of stuff that’s vegetarian originally, without any hack. Take macaroni and cheese.”
Yeah, yeah, mac and cheese rules. Still, the recipes that jumped out at me from the new, revised edition of Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian were the comfort foods that, traditionally, are meat-laden: the savory pies, the pans of paella, the bowls of pho. How did Bittman take these beefy, porky classics and make them into hearty vegetarian winter fare? He was happy to explain.
Vegetarian paella is made rich and hearty with the addition of eggs.
Vegetarian Paella Is No Chicken, All Eggs
“I traveled extensively in paella land and I never saw a vegetarian paella,” Bittman told me. “I’m sure they exist, especially now. But traditionally you’d have at least snails, or rabbit.” Still, the real star of paella, the very reason paella exists, in fact, is the rice. Paella originated in Valencia, Spain, where rice has been a staple food ever since it was planted over 1,300 years ago. “It’s easy enough to make any rice dish quite hearty, even just with the addition of vegetables.” But, the addition of eggs to this paella makes the well-spiced rice dish creamy, saucy decadent, and protein-rich.
15 years later, Bittman finally cracked the code on vegetable broth.
How To Make a Better Faux Pho
“The challenge with pho isn’t heartiness. The challenge is getting an awesome broth,” Bittman says. It’s taken him 15 years to perfect a vegetarian broth, one that nails the kind of rich, savory flavor that usually comes from stewing meat and bones for hours. “It’s never gonna be chicken stock. It’s never gonna be beef stock. But, the addition of mushrooms, the addition of soy sauce, and the spices that make pho recognizable, particularly star anise and cinnamon, give you a dark broth that—it would be foolish to say it tastes meaty—but has a lot of umami. And I think that’s the key.”
Adding lots of creamy ingredients creates a velvety, quiche-like texture in this vegetarian savory pie.
For Vegetarian Pie, Make It Rain
“This savory pie is vegetarian in the sense that there’s no meat, but there’s a ton of eggs,” Bittman points out. “There’s sour cream. There’s butter. And there’s mayonnaise.” Needless to say, the key to heartiness in this savory pie is plenty of rich, creamy ingredients. “It’s custardy, velvety, like a quiche.” But, there are plenty of leafy greens in there. This dish is versatile as a warming side at a wintery dinner party, or as the main course along with some salad. And since you can throw in basically any vegetables you have on hand, it’s open to near endless interpretation and inspiration.
This content was originally published here.