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FOOD REVIEW

The Essential Vegetarian

Speeding past the meat-eaters

By Katie Jeffreys
STAFF REPORTER

Welcome to another lovely day in Vegetarian Land. I would like to start off by clearing up something I said in last week’s column. It seems as though the significance of my statistics on meat and dairy cow manure production were a bit confusing, so allow me to clear that up briefly. The dilemma was that cows used for meat produce half as much manure as those used for dairy, indicating to my inquiring reader that “those numbers indicate that vegetarianism leads to more cow manure.”

Well, that would be the case, if there were, as a friend put it, a “conservation of cows.” However the idea behind eliminating meat is eliminating the need for the extravagant number of cows around today, thereby reducing the amount of manure produced which in turn causes problems in the environment.

Enough about manure! On to food. I recently visited Fire & Ice, located at 50 Church St. (in Harvard Square). The restaurant is a good option for hungry vegetarians who have hungry meat-eating friends. The concept of the restaurant is an all-you-can-eat, do-it-yourself glorified bar and grill. The restaurant is noisy, colorfully decorated, and in general provides a fun atmosphere to dine in.

After you are seated, you are instructed to go to the salad (and meat) bars and fill a bowl with your choice of about twenty vegetables, noodles, seasonings, and of course, for those who might want it, meat.

Then you can pick one of the 15 daily sauces to complement your mix of veggies. I tried several and found that their variations on B-B-Q sauce and fajita sauce went well with the tortillas provided at the table, and the rice accompanied many sauces, including ones flavored with garlic and curry. While their sauces are ranked according to spiciness, I did not find even their most spicy sauces to be overly so.

Now here’s the cool part. When you have your meal assembled, you need to bring it up to the grill to have it cooked. While all the meat eaters are waiting in long lines, vegetarians can go up to the special veggie section where they cook only non-meat dishes using special non-meat utensils. I never had to wait in line! At most one or two others were grilling veggie dishes throughout the evening. While this doesn’t say much about the popularity of vegetarianism, it sure was convenient!

While waiting for your food to cook on the giant grill (and it really is huge), you can watch the cooks work, grab a salad from the salad bar (included in the price), or if you are really eager, prepare your next batch to be grilled.

The grill attendants are friendly and talkative, and want to make sure you are enjoying your food. The same cannot be said about the waitstaff however. I nearly had to shout at my waiter to get his attention when drinks, tortillas, or napkins were needed. I could tell this was not the way with all the waiters and waitresses, so I will not hold the attitude of that particular waiter against the establishment.

Fire & Ice also offers desserts and specialty alcoholic frozen and coffee drinks at an additional charge, which I did not try. In the end I would recommend this restaurant if you want to splurge on a large but slightly expensive meal. Be sure to expect a long wait -- about one or two hours on a weekend night. The hostess told me the earlier you get there, the better. But with it’s location in Harvard Square, it is not hard to find ways to pass the time -- many stores are open until ten o’clock or later.

I will leave you today with my simple yummy recipe for Spinach Orzo Casserole. As always, feel free to E-mail me questions, comments, or concerns at jeffreys@mit.edu!

Spinach Orzo Casserole

1 small bag of orzo pasta

2-3 cloves garlic

1 bag of fresh leaf spinach

1 container crumbled Feta cheese

1 cube vegetable bullion

1 cup water

Cook the orzo as directed on the package. While the pasta is cooking, put the garlic in a blender and dice it up. Add the spinach a little bit at a time until it is diced as well. Add the bullion to the cup of water and microwave until the bullion is dissolved. When the orzo has finished cooking, drain it and mix the spinach and garlic paste in until the pasta is evenly coated. Put the pasta mixture in a casserole dish (about 9”x9”) and drizzle the broth over it. Sprinkle the feta cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes to soften cheese. Works well as a side or main dish.