Sunday, March 4, 2012

Our vegetarian comfort food favorite

Several non-carnivore friends have asked, “What about us, Blechta? What’s with all the meat?” Now, I may have mentioned that Vicki and I were primarily vegetarians in university. I must admit that it was a mainly financially driven choice, but if we had some sort of meat on the menu for a meal, it was a pretty big deal.

Since we’d both come from families that definitely were not vegetarian, we had to come up with recipes that were good to eat and contained enough protein to keep two young and active music students going. Pasta was always a good choice, so we came up with a very good marinara sauce with mushrooms, and we ate a hell of a lot of Kraft dinner which we could get at Warshaw Supermarket on Rue St. Laurence (we were attending McGill University at the time) for 15¢ a box if we bought a whole case. We did indeed buy it by the case.

We no longer eat Kraft dinner (thank the lord!), but one of our favorite meals from those days is still a regular part of our menus to this day. I’m not certain how we came up with it – actually Vicki made it first – but it is an especially good recipe, easy to make, inexpensive, and with a pretty good protein level.

The main source of protein in it comes from using brown rice. This is a nutty, tasty grain, but it can be a bit difficult to cook. Back in the day, we used to just boil it (with a touch of salt) until it was done and then drain it. It was okay, but we’ve since found a much better way to cook it.

Anyway, we made a lot of this during our university years. One mouthful and we’re right back in our apartment at corner of Hutchison and Prince Arthur in the student ghetto in 1971. Hopefully, you’ll feel the same way…the good memories part, not remembering being in our apartment. That would be a bit too weird.

Brown rice and mushrooms with toasted sesame seeds
Serves 4

The other nice thing is that the recipe is extremely expandable, so if some friends turned up unexpectedly (we’re talking you, Simon Stone!), we could include them in our dinner plans without going hungry ourselves! The meal would also always include a big salad, so you can see that even if we weren’t flush with money, we did it very well indeed. A plate of this always brings back wonderful memories for us.

13 cup sesame seeds
1 cup brown rice
½ tsp. sea salt
½ lb. 
Crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
4 Tbs canola oil for sautéing
dark soy sauce and freshly-ground black pepper

1. Pan toast the sesame seeds until golden brown. (This means you put them into a small frying pan over medium low heat. Keep them moving gently, either by shaking the pan, or by using a spoon. You want them to brown evenly. It doesn’t take much time – and they’ll burn quite quickly, so pay attention!) Set aside.

2. Rinse the brown rice thoroughly in a strainer under running water. Put the rice and salt in a saucepan with 1½ cups of cold water. Bring to a boil uncovered. Now cover the pot tightly (you don’t want the steam to escape, lower the heat to a bare simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, keeping the lid on solidly and let the rice steam for an additional 15 minutes.

3. While the rice is cooking, sauté the mushrooms in 2+ Tbs of oil. Then sauté (separately) the onions in the remaining oil until lightly browned. Season both the mushrooms and onions to taste.

4. If you timed everything correctly, it will all be done at the same time. Portion out the rice onto 4 plates, the top with mushrooms, onions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. If you want to be really plush, a teaspoon of minced parsley is also nice, but we didn’t often have money for fancy stuff like that.

(In looking at this, I think a nice addition would be a bit of dried oregano added to the sautéed mushrooms just before they’re finished cooking. We didn’t use that back in our university days, but I want rat you out if you decide to try it.)

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