Without a doubt, eating vegetarian at least some of the time is a trend. And lots of vegetarian cookbooks have been hitting the bookshelves lately, with each publisher trying to find a market niche that hasn't yet been done.
There are vegetarian cookbooks devoted to specific ethnic cuisines, including Italian, Indian, Thai, French and Sicilian, as well as one that features vegetarian cooking from around the world.Others feature hot and spicy foods, or a particular ingredient such as soy or pasta. The main concern of others is speed and ease of preparation.
A couple of hefty tomes believe that bigger is better.
For those looking for a politically correct vegetarian cookbook, there is "Eco-Cuisine" (Ten Speed Press, $16.95) by former Franciscan friar and chef Ron Pickarski. This features recipes "that seek a balance between personal and environmental nutrition."
For dieting vegetarians, Weight Watchers has a book. Even Betty Crocker has gotten into the act.
With all these different angles being exploited, a cynic might wonder if a lot of them are trying to compensate for what they don't have and ask, "Where's the beef?"
Interestingly enough, one "vegetarian" pasta cookbook does have recipes for meat and chicken broths. Carol Gelles' crossover book, "Something for Everyone" (Macmillan, $19.95), includes main-dish recipes for families that have both vegetarians and meat-eaters. Gelles is the award-winning author of a previous book, "1000 Vegetarian Recipes" (Macmillan, $29.95).
Over the past couple of months, I have tested recipes from quite a few of the new books. For my picky 7-year-old and my beans-and-wiener-loving husband, I tried to select those recipes that included fairly "normal" ingredients. (My 4-year-old will eat anything with gusto.)
I chose the recipes carefully. Most of them were really quite good, although I am convinced that adding a few shrimp or chunks of chicken would have improved one or two I found a bit bland.
"Vegetarian Dinner in Minutes" (Chronicle, $16.95) by Linda Gassenheimer is a winner. The book helpfully groups recipes that work together, such as a main dish and a salad.
The recipes are divided among appealing chapters each based on a cuisine style such as "Flavors of the Mediterranean," "Modern American Comfort Foods" and "Tex-Mex and Southwestern Cuisine."
The book includes shopping lists, hints, nutrition information, and beautiful photographs by Jennifer Levy. The recipe for Jambalaya follows.
"Lorna Sass' Short-Cut Vegetarian" (Morrow, $16.95) was also appealing and her recipe for Paella Vegetarian was a big hit.
I loved the beautiful illustrations by Miriam Dougenis in "Sicilian Vegetarian Cooking" (Ten Speed Press, $16.95) by John Penza. Penza's Spaghetti with Peas (recipe follows) uses ingredients I usually have on hand. It was delicious and I plan to make it again. His Broccoli Frittata was also good.
Frittata with Cremini Mushrooms and Spinach, and Spicy Lentils with Tomatoes and Aromatic Vegetables from "The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook" (Houghton Mifflin) by Jack Bishop were well-flavored and my 4-year-old wanted seconds on the lentils.
"Vegetarian Planet" (Harvard Common Press, $14.95) by Didi Emmons is chock-full of appealing and approachable "big-flavor" recipes. I tested her Indian Spiced Rice and I plan to do some more cooking from this book.
Whether you are looking for the healthful benefits of vegetarian cuisine or just want to try something new, there is probably at least one vegetarian cookbook that will fill the bill. (Others have only to wait for the next wave - the meat and steak cookbooks that are starting to trickle onto bookstore shelves!)
3 tablespoons canola oil
Medium yellow onion, sliced (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 medium garlic cloves, crushed
One package (16 ounces) frozen cut okra (4 cups)
4 medium celery stalks, sliced (2 cups)
2 medium red bell peppers, diced (2 cups)
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 cups vegetable broth
2 ripe medium tomatoes, diced (2 cups)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
Hot pepper sauce, for serving
Heat the oil in large nonstick frying pan on medium-low heat. Add the onions and saute 30 seconds. Lower heat and stir in the flour. Continue to saute 10 minutes, letting the flour turn a light tan color (do not let it turn black).
Add the garlic, okra, celery, and red bell peppers and saute 5 min-utes, until vegetables are wilted. Stir in the rice, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and thyme.
Add the broth and stir well. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Fold in the tomatoes and vinegar, and add salt to taste. Spoon onto plates, serve, and pass the hot pepper sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
(Recipe from "Vegetarian Dinner in Minutes" by Linda Gas-sen-heimer (Chronicle).
SPAGHETTI WITH PEAS
(PASTA E PISELLI)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
3 shallots, chopped very fine
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups baby peas (thawed if frozen)
1 red bell pepper, roasted and finely diced (see note)
3 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped small
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound spaghetti
Salt to taste
Grated Parmesan, locatelli, or pecorino cheese for the table
Heat the crushed red pepper in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and saute until they are soft, about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring so they will not burn.
Add the plum tomatoes and stir for 1 minute. Add the peas, roast-ed pepper, sun-dried tomatoes and nutmeg. Gently stir again over medium heat for a minute or so until peas are mixed in and warmed through.
Boil pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain well, return to the pot, and gently toss with the sauce over low heat until all liquids are absorbed into the pas-ta.
Serve hot with plenty of grated cheese.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: To roast the pepper: Preheat the broiler. Cut the pepper into quarters lengthwise and discard the seeds and ribs. Arrange the slices skin-side up in a roasting pan and place on the top rack of the oven as close to the heat as you can get it. Check the pepper often. When the skins char thoroughly, usually within 5 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Let the peppers cool and remove their blackened skins.
(Recipe from "Sicilian Vegetarian Cooking" by John Penza.)