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May 31, 2011

The Spice of Life: Aromatic Spices Add Savory Flavor to Chef Kim O'Donnel's Dishes

A more humane diet can introduce you to a world of exciting new flavors

Guide to Meat-Free Meals

  • Myra Kohn

For longtime food writer and trained chef Kim O’Donnel, shifting her diet to include more vegetarian fare has been a journey of delicious discoveries—not sacrifices.

O’Donnel learned to re-create the “savoriness” of meat in vegetarian dishes by using ingredients such as mushrooms, soy sauce, smoked paprika, and chipotle chilies in adobe sauce. And she reveled in the challenge of making vegetables irresistible. “I’ve converted many a broccoli hater after I served them my roasted broccoli pickup sticks,” she says.

In her quest for successful recipes, the former tofu-avoider experimented until she developed two standouts: pepita-crusted tofu and tofu barbecue. The latter took off after a friend suggested freezing tofu—making it more porous, like a “flavor sponge.” Both are among the recipes in O’Donnel’s Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, which she wrote in part to help readers institute a Meatless Mondays program throughout the year.

“I want people to cook,” O’Donnel says. “And I think that the more that we commit to cooking regularly, the more aware that we become of where our food’s coming from and how it’s raised and grown.”

She also hopes to inspire readers to break out of the meat-and-potatoes rut—and discover what they’ve been missing at the farmer’s market and in the international aisle of their local supermarket. “Committing to trying a different ingredient every week can often be really powerful,” she says.

O’Donnel now eats half as much meat as she once did, feasting instead on some of her favorite recipes from the book: chickpea “crab cakes,” roasted eggplant-lentil “caviar,” and the tempeh hoagie-letta.

Another favorite, the West Indian–style channa wrap—“one of my go-to dishes at home”—replicates the flavorful sandwiches she’d buy in gas stations while visiting friends in the Caribbean. “I wanted to re-create something from that time,” she says, “when I would just swoon over these sandwiches.”

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