Margaret Riesen Cooks

Food for Thought

Favorite Meat Substitutes

When people tell me that they descend from hunters and therefore are primarily carnivores, I remind them that those ancestors were hunter-gatherers. They hunted, yes, but what they ended up eating most of the time were roots, berries, nuts, and other plant foods. Occasionally, they got lucky and trapped an animal and feasted on its meat until it ran out or started to smell bad.
Non-vegetarians tend to worry about not getting enough protein in Main-VegStewan all-vegetarian meal. For many people in today’s busy world, building a meal around a piece of meat has become a habit and an easy way of assuring that you’re getting a “complete” protein. With the abundance of meat substitutes now available in most markets, creating a well-balanced, all vegetarian meal is easier than ever.
So what should you look for? Look for products that don’t have a ton of ingredients. Seitan is one of those products, made from wheat gluten (which is wheat protein), and comes with different seasonings and can be substituted for beef or chicken. Add it to a stir-fry, a hearty stew or rice dish (e.g. jambalaya or paella).
Soy products have been around for a long time and include tofu and tempeh. Tempeh is a fermented product and easier to digest than tofu. It comes in a firm cake, which can be steamed for a few minutes, then chopped and mixed with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and chopped garlic, and included in a stir-fry or rice dish. Look for organic soy products, which do not contain GMOs.
Quorn ( has been a favorite of mine, very versatile and adaptable. You’ll find it in the frozen section of upscale markets, and it comes in “chicken” strips and tenders. The consistency and texture are very convincing and provide a great substitute for chicken. My all-time favorite recipes for Quorn are Mexican dishes, such as enchiladas or posole, as well as Spanish paella or jambalaya. Just make sure you don’t sear the strips – none of the faux meats taste good when seared.
Stay tuned for our blog about Field Roast ( products!

Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

A friend once asked me “As a vegetarian, what do you eat at Thanksgiving if you don’t eat turkey?” and I replied “Everything else”. Everything else can be just as satisfying, especially if you plan side dishes with plenty of variety. Here are a couple sides that can be prepared a day or so in advance.
Oven-roasted vegetables are easy and quick, and can include carrots, GrilledRootsyams, squash, and beets. Did you know that delicata squash doesn’t need peeling? Cut length-wise down the middle and into ½-inch half-rounds, toss in olive oil, add a little salt and smoked paprika and place in a hot oven (425 deg.) until cooked and lightly browned. Roasted vegetables can be served at room temperature, with a splash of good balsamic and some extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (thyme or marjoram).
Pearl couscous (aka Israeli couscous) makes a wonderful grain dish – cook according to directions, add white balsamic vinegar and olive oil, raw veggies cut small (sugar snap peas, green onion, tomato, cucumber, cilantro) and orange zest. Your vegetarian friends will appreciate a legume, let’s say chick peas, for a well rounded meal. Buy them cooked in a can ( or dried (, toss cooked beans with a light vinaigrette, green onion, cilantro, tomato, feta, olives. Our Thanksgiving always includes everyone’s favorite lentil salad. Choose French or Beluga lentils, cook according to directions (no salt); drain and toss with garlicky vinaigrette. Once lentils have cooled, add some finely chopped green onion and walnuts.
Eat, enjoy – and be thankful for all your blessings!

Catering favorites for B’nai Mitzvahs

Whenever we have the honor of catering B’nai Mitzvah celebrations, we love the challenge of creating kosher-style menus that appeal to young App-Dolmas2and old alike. At times, that means offering two menus – one for the adults, and one for the young people. Consider this sampling of menus that consistently meet with success. (Photos taken at Bat Mitzvah at Peninsula Temple Sholom,
Year-round favorites are the cuisines of the Mediterranean, which offer variety, fresh local ingredients, and something for everyone. Appetizers may include a sampling of beautiful cheeses, marinated olives, oven-dried tomato, a hummus bar, a smoky baba ganouj with pomegranate seeds, and black olive tapenade. Main courses span the entire Mediterranean rim: Greece (spanakopita, vegetarian moussaka), Italy (creamy polenta with tomato and gorgonzola, vegetable lasagna with white sauce), Spain (garlicky paella with fish or beans), North Africa and the Middle East (fragrant Moroccan tagines, Sephardic lentils with braised vegetables, falafel with cucumber sauce, pita pockets with Sabich).
Side dish favorites include seasonal grilled vegetables, Israeli style vegetable salad, Israeli couscous with julienned vegetables and orange zest, pasta salad (with fresh mozzarella, tomato, garlic, artichoke hearts, pecorino romano), or watermelon salad with feta and mint – to mention a fraction of our selections.
Let’s not forget dessert . . . an ice cream bar for the young crowd is a hands-down winner. We include two or three flavors of artisanal ice cream, syrups, sprinkles, sliced fruit, toasted nuts, whipped cream. For non-alcoholic beverages, young people always enjoy our Italian soda bar with sparkling waters and Monin ( syrups (instead of store-bought sodas).
Seder-cakeIt’s always an honor to cater your milestone celebrations, where family and friends, young and old, come together in loving community. We work with your vision and budget to help create the celebration of your dreams, and to create the ambience that matches the occasion.

We make it easy, and we make you look good!

Avocado Super Food!

Avocado – delicious, versatile, satisfying – is considered a super food Salad-BlBeansfor good reason. Did you know that avocado provides a complete protein? That’s right, avocado contains all nine essential amino acids. Avocado is rich in mono-unsaturated fat that is easily burned for energy. Other essential nutrients include fiber, potassium (more than twice the amount of bananas!), Vitamins C and E, B-vitamins, and folic acid.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, avocado contains compounds that may inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. There are more than 80 varieties of avocados, but most of us are familiar with the year-round Hass avocado with the thick, nubby skin. California produces about 90% of avocado crops in the US, Florida produces the other 10%.
Avocado is actually a fruit, and it is one of the safest ones to buy “conventionally” grown (our euphemism for chemically grown), because its thick skin protects the fruit from sprayed pesticides. As with many other fruits, the greatest concentration of beneficial nutrients is found closest to the peel. For this reason, the best way to peel an avocado is to cut it in half and slide your thumb under the skin in order to release the fruit. If you’re saving half an avocado for another meal, make sure to store it with the seed, as this will keep it fresher and less likely to turn brown. Add it to any meal for flavor and appeal!

High protein, vegan, no soy

Rice and beans, in one form or another, are the staple for much of the world, with the combination of a grain and a pulse (legume) delivering all the “essential” amino acids of a “whole” protein. Sound boring? It doesn’t have to be – your options are endless. Familiar grains include rice, bulgur (cracked wheat), barley, quinoa, maize – or you may want to venture into new turf and try faro or millet. The abundance of beans is staggering – best prices are always in bulk (instead of pre-packaged). Dried beans need to be soaked overnight, rinsed, and then cooked up in fresh water without salt (salt will make the beans tough).

Some of my favorite combinations include vegan paella with a meaty Rancho Gordo red or black ayocote bean. This dish includes seared onions, chilies, bell pepper, lots of garlic, saffron and pimenton (smoked paprika); instead of meat or seafood, just add cooked beans of your choosing. Another favorite rice dish is Mujadara, a Lebanese specialty with yellow lentils and seasoned with toasted cumin, garlic and caramelized onion.

Silk Road Bulgur Pilaf

1 c French lentils, picked over and washedSilkRdPilaf
4 c water
2 Tb. cumin seeds
2 large onions, sliced in fine half-rings
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled & grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chili, seeded & finely chopped
½ dried sour cherries
Pinch of saffron threads
2 c coarse bulgur
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground turmeric
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled & diced
Extra virgin olive oil
Garnish: 1 c chopped fresh dill, parsley, cilantro, green onion, or basil

Combine the lentils with the water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, until lentils are tender but not soggy. Drain and sprinkle with a little olive oil.
Bring 2 cups salted water to a boil, add the bulgur, stir, then turn off heat and cover. Allow to sit for a half hour until liquid is absorbed.
Heat oil in a wok or skillet until hot, add cumin seeds and cook until aromatic (about 10 sec.), add onion and cook for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Add the ginger, saffron threads, garlic, chili, salt, pepper, and turmeric. Add the chopped dried cherries and a little extra liquid to the pan and cover for a few minutes to allow cherries to plump.
Combine the cooked lentils and bulgur, then fold in onion and spice mixture; fluff with a fork. Adjust seasonings, add additional olive oil, and fold in diced tomatoes and half the finely chopped fresh herbs. Garnish with the remainder of herbs. Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

A fishy tale . . .

Salmon are red, Lingcod are blue . . . you’ll probably do a double-take the first time you see one of these on display. Many of the Lingcod caught off the Pacific coast have this blue-green coloring when raw, but the flesh turns snow-white when cooked. Lingcod is actually not a true cod, but is more closely related to Pacific rock fish. Once overfished, Lingcod has made a dramatic comeback along the California and Northwest Pacific coast. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, Lingcod is considered a “safe” choice for all you pescatarians. There is some debate about the origin of the greenish color, and some stores may hesitate to put the blue-green fish in their display. Mild in flavor, the fish can be pan-fried in a little butter with salt and pepper and fresh lemon for garnish, delicious!LingCodCooked

Radical Roots

One of my favorite salads any time of year is a specialty found both in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, a salad of cooked roots with a vinaigrette dressing. This one has potato, carrot, turnip and beets, cut Salad-Meditinto small cubes and blanched. If using red beets, cook them separately from the other vegetables so the colors don’t run. Make a vinaigrette with grey poupon mustard, white balsamic and olive oil, and add finely chopped green onion and dill. Top with chopped egg and smoked fish (sardines or herring). Can be served any time of year!

Salad with a Flair

Now that you’ve got your favorite greens from Dan’s Produce of Alameda, don’t ruin them with bottled salad dressing. Let your salad-esthersalad make a statement at your next potluck:

Agrodolce Dressing

Melt ¼ cup sugar in a non-stick pan; don’t stir, wait until sugar is melted. Add 1 cup of red wine. This will cause a great commotion in the pan. The sugar will turn solid, then dissolve. Turn down to simmer, add fresh herbs (e.g. thyme or rosemary) and smashed clove of garlic. Simmer for a few minutes to evaporate some of the liquid, then turn off heat and allow to cool. Season to taste with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Wedding Menu Winners

I love the challeVegPaellange of a crowd-pleasing vegetarian wedding menu, especially when it involves relatives from the Midwest who want to know “where’s the beef?” The challenge becomes stickier when the couple chooses an all-vegan menu, with relatives from the Midwest – challenging, but not impossible. When a guest list includes a lot of dedicated carnivores, a hearty fare that includes eggs and/or dairy often does the trick.Main-polenta

Many of the Mediterranean specialties make for hearty fare that satisfies vegetarians and carnivores alike. Crowd-pleasing favorites include spanakopita, the Greek phyllo specialty, and any number of Moroccan tagines (many of which can be made vegan). Spanish paella is a wonderful, fragrant dish. My vegetarian version includes red or black ayocote beans from Rancho Gordo and any number of grilled vegetables.

Polenta is always great choice. It has a creamy texture and can be served in a variety of different ways. There’s a wonderful recipe from the Greens Restaurant cookbook which I’ve served on many occasions: layers of polenta with a fresh tomato sauce and lots of basil, marjoram, fontina and gorgonzola. One of my personal favorites is my version of “Torta Azteca”: blue corn polenta with a sauce of caramelized onion, bell pepper, chilies, cilantro and cheese. So even when there’s no beef, there’s no “beef” from the guests . . .


One of the questions I hear all the time is this: “Why should I spend money on organic, Straus Whole Milkwhen I can buy the same thing for a lot less?” Well, it’s not really the same thing . . . here’s the dilemma.
Take a trip to your typical supermarket. In the produce section, choices are labeled “organic” and “conventional”. Does this really mean conventional, the way it’s always been done? In this context, “conventional” means CHEMICAL. But if labeling were consistent with what you’re really buying — “conventional” (meaning organic) and “chemical” (meaning grown with toxic chemicals) – would that be helpful?
As a consumer, I want to know what I’m buying. And as a chef and caterer specializing in vegetarian weddings, I buy only high quality ingredients. As a personal choice, I choose Straus Family Creamery products. Why does it matter? 

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