The Essential VegetarianBy Katie Jeffreys
It’s sometimes hard to be a vegetarian in college if you choose not to take advantage of campus dining programs. Finding interesting lunch options which are quick and easy to pack can be a challenge. Going beyond cheese and lettuce or peanut butter and jelly often requires time investment.
Some easy alternatives are cold pasta or cous cous salads. Add black olives, chickpeas and feta to prepared boxed cous cous for a Mediterranean treat. Or boil some rigatoni and in the last few minutes add some frozen vegetables. Drain, then mix a little pesto sauce or olive oil in with the pasta for a tasty salad. These can even be prepared in bulk and will keep for several days.
Sandwiches are traditional lunchtime fare, and since you are foregoing meat, splurge on “gourmet” fillings such as fresh mozzarella, artichoke or avocado, sundried tomato or roasted peppers. Try spinach, dark leafy greens, or mesculan mix for a fresh alternative to iceberg lettuce. Using a variety of breads, pitas, and tortillas can also add a little life to your lunch. Think of what you would want in a salad: carrots, hard boiled egg, celery, etc., and place it between two pieces of bread. Do not be afraid to use things not traditionally associated with sandwiches.
If time is a real issue, consider pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods. By this I mean fruits and vegetables of course. I personally throw a kiwi or tomato in my bag and eat it like an apple -- skin and all.
This past weekend I was fortunate to be introduced to a delightful tapas restaurant called Dali. Located at 415 Washington St., just past Inman Square in Somerville, it attracts a mixed crowd of trendy “Cantabrigarians,” ill-mannered MIT types, and assorted other “normal people”. The atmosphere is remarkable -- somewhat like an antique store with its assorted fans, flowers, and lampshades adding a warm inviting coziness to the dim rooms. One nook, seemingly designed for lovers, overlooks the street (through lace curtains) from the narrow red recess separating it from the rest of the establishment. The bar, too, is framed by hanging flowers, grapes and other dried goods. The Spanish and Latin music add the final flair to the restaurant’s exquisite ambiance.
After settling in among the enchanting decor, I looked at the menu and noted the many delightful vegetarian options. I sampled several vegetarian tapas and was slightly disappointed to find that both the Alcachofas Rebozadas (Artichokes in Saffron Batter) and BuÇuelos de Vedura (Cauliflower, Broccoli and Cheese Puffs) were both lightly battered and fried. I had hoped for a more fresh treat. Despite this, they were both savory and delicious. More notable, however, were the Setas al Ajillo (Sauteed “Meaty” Mushrooms) and Queso de Cabra MontaÇes (Baked Goat Cheese with Tomato and Basil). The mushrooms were rich and dark and mixed well with the warm flavorful cheese. The tapas, topped off with an order of Aceitunas (Marinated Olives) and the complimentary bread, provided for a festival of tastes that defines the tapas experience.
As far as service, I could not ask for more attentive, friendly waiters. It helped, I think, that one of my dining companions spoke both Spanish and Portugese, allowing him to converse in the native tongues of the Portugese and Argentinian waiters. It made the experience that much more enjoyable to hear the descriptions of their beautiful homelands and customs while tasting the food. The waiters’ attire of beaded vests added a final note of festivity.
Be forewarned, however: A meal at Dali is not cheap. Tapas run four to eight dollars, and plates (none of which are meatless) are around twenty dollars each for a healthy portion. But on a celebratory or romantic occasion, the atmosphere is worth the cost of the meal. Reservations are not accepted, so a wait of three hours is not uncommon on weekends. Visit in advance to place your name on the wait list. The menu at Dali is identical to that of Tapeo, on Newbury St. in Boston (they are owned by the same couple). However, the atmosphere of Dali far outshines its Back Bay cousin.
The following recipe was submitted by a reader who shares my appreciation for sweet potatoes. As always, your feedback is necessary to keep this column running, so e-mail any suggestions or questions to <email@example.com>.
Sweet Potato Burritos
4 cloves garlic
2 red peppers
2 large sweet potatoes
2 cans black beans
2 cans veggie refried beans
Put the canned beans in a large pot and heat on low. Stir occasionally. While that’s heating, dice, cube, or slice all the veggies. SautÉ the vegetables in a big skillet, starting with the sweet potatoes, as they take longer. Next, add the garlic, onion, peppers, and finally, the tomato. Cook until the sweet potatoes and onions are semi-mushy.
While that cooks, shred the cheese, sprinkle some on the tortillas and stick in the oven on a low bake temperature. Take them out once the cheese is melted, scoop on the beans, and add the veggies. Throw on some salsa (lettuce, sour cream, and guacamole are also possible) and dig in. Serves 8.