In Denmark my biggest dilemma was what to buy for dinner, especially during the Winter. Imagine one cucumber being priced the same as a small whole chicken. An avid vegetable lover, I could have eaten that whole cucumber in a minute, but my student budget unfortunately didn’t allow me that “luxurious treat” very often. Growing up with tons of fresh vegetables around me, I’ve loved vegetables all my life. On our family dining table, I was always the kid to empty out all the vegetable dishes. But then, toward the end of dinner, my Mom would stare at an untouched piece of meat on my plate with a stern look on her face. She said, “You need protein. You can’t go to play without finishing your plate”. With a big sigh, I reluctantly wrapped up the meat with a piece of kimchi, in order to mask the smell of “blood”, and then quickly held my nose and swallowed it. Many years later, I started eating meats and loved the taste of the many different cuts. To tell the truth, though, I still love vegetables more than meats and wish I would cook them more often in my California kitchen.
Last weekend, my dear friends Gary and Michael came over for dinner. Gary is a meat eater, while Michael is a strict vegan. To appeal to both distinct palates, I decided to make interesting vegetarian dishes packed with complex flavors. With that, I first served my Tunisian eggplant dip with Na’an as a starter (here is the recipe posted in 2010), then curried couscous and vegetarian Tajine as the main dish. They were a big hit. Vegetables don’t have to be just side dishes to compliment meats. They can turn into incredible meals on their own. Check out these healthy, yet amazingly delicious meals below.
For Tajine, first heat 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or 7th taste curry olive oil) in a thick cast iron pot. Then, sauté 2 onions (sliced), 4 garlic cloves, 1 thumb size ginger (peeled and chopped) and 2 red chilies (chopped) and season with 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon paprika, some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Then, add 1 large potato (sliced) and 2 carrots (sliced) and pour in 2 cups vegetable stocks to the pot. Bring it to boil and blend in ½ cilantro bunch (chopped) and 2 cups green peas (shelled or frozen) to the pot. Finally, fully cover the top surface with sliced tomatoes and simmer with the cover until potatoes and carrots are cooked. Before serving, garnish with some cilantro and harissa (optional) and serve with curried couscous.
For curried couscous, bring 2 ½ cups water to boil in a pot. Then, add 2 cups couscous, 1 ½ cups frozen peas, ¼ cup 7th taste curry olive oil and ½ teaspoon sea salt and boil for a minute. Remove from heat and let it stand with cover for 5 minutes. Separately, heat some curry olive oil in a pot and sauté 1 onion (chopped), 4 large cloves garlic (crushed), 2 small zucchini (finely chopped) and 3 tomatoes (chopped). Then, mix the vegetables with the cooked couscous, ½ cup cilantro (chopped), ½ cup toasted pine nuts and some sea salt to taste.
The Tajine, a slow-cooked North African vegetable stew, has an aromatic, smoky fragrance and a moist, starchy texture with subtle sweet notes. With one bite, my guests’ eyebrows were immediately raised, followed by comments of “wow” and “really delicious”. This was my first time making it without meats. I was pleasantly surprised how tasty it came out. I loved it as much as my guests did! Curried couscous is also a great companion to this Tajine. Fluffy couscous is deliciously seasoned with the curry olive oil, vegetables and toasty nuts. It will delight your taste buds with each bite having interesting texture variations, enticing aromas and warm, gentle flavors. Enjoy the delicious vegan recipes! Happy cooking!