Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vegetarian Menu Planning

My parents requested I cook them a vegetarian meal this Thanksgiving. This is not so unusual. My mother has always fasted on Thursdays, only eating a vegetarian meal in the evening. So for years, we've celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday with traditional turkey and sides, Indian goat curry, wild pheasant, and other unique dishes. But on Thursday night, we have a delicious vegetarian meal, and for the last few years I've cooked it.
Complicating matters is the fact that my parents try not to eat too many carbs (like pasta and rice), sugar (including most fruits), and sodium. After some discussion with my dad, we decided that whole wheat pasta would be okay and I sketched out the menu. I would make a penne pasta with spinach in a cream cheese sauce made with nutmeg, lemon rind, white wine, and vegetable broth. The recipe was originally meant to include shrimp but the protein is easily omitted. One side dish would be roasted broccoli, a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that never fails to please. The other side dish would be a squash ribbons salad, for which zucchini squash ribbons are stripped off with a peeler and tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and Parmesan cheese.
The key with vegetarian meals is to incorporate unique and distinctive flavors, so you never miss the meat because your mouth is well stimulated. In this meal, the nutmeg in the pasta dish, the caramelization of the broccoli, and the lemony herbs in the salad are all satisfying flavors on their own. I think it'll be delicious. Happy Thanksgiving!

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