I consider myself lucky for various reasons. I live near Prospect Park, have "Botticelli" curls, and am the co-author of a cookbook. Not least, I have a very sweet, handsome boyfriend whose idea of a champion dinner is a bowl of well-seasoned beans. Just recently, after all the indulgences of the holidays, I made a pot of curried lentils and onions and some rice, and his face absolutely lit up when he walked in the door. This, in turn, makes my face light up, and I feel lucky yet again to have such an enthusiastic flexitarian in my life.
Actually, the first meal I ever cooked for Alex, which, naturally, I documented on the blog, was vegetarian: Red Wine-Braised Lentils with (Veggie) Sausage. I guess it impressed him; he's stuck around.
It's not that he or I can't put away our share of pork butt, which is precisely what we did last February 14th. It's just heartening and a bit of a relief to know that meals can be winning without sticking only to what we think of as "man food"-steak at the center, potatoes on the side, and maybe a sprig of green fit in at the edge. Admittedly, Alex's at-home birthday dinner consisted of filet mignon and sweet potato fries with a side of garlicky spinach. I would never deprive us of such things.
I say that being able to make humble lentils a centerpiece is heartening because it means that we can celebrate special occasions with food without necessarily straying from the way we like to eat: simple, healthful (-ish), not too much meat. I still think that of anyone, Bittman explains it the best. We all make our own food rules, but in the end the idea of erring on the side of healthful everyday food seems unimpeachable.
Recently, I made this Chickpea-Vegetable Pot Pie to fulfill a niche for food that's somewhere in between filet mignon (impressive) and curried lentils on rice (impressive to no one but Alex). This pot pie, which doesn't necessarily have to be decorated with hearts, is both attractive in its presentation and wonderfully rich in its taste. Yet it's vegetarian, and made from fairly humble ingredients.
Whatever you're doing this Valentine's Day, and whomever you're celebrating with, how could pot pie not be a welcome addition? And don't forget the secret ingredient (other than beans): love.
--Cara Eisenpress of Big Girls, Small Kitchen
(Also check out these other ideas in our Guide to Vegetarian Main Courses)
Chickpea-Vegetable Pot Pie
If you decide to nix the hearts, simply follow the directions for making crust on this Chicken Pot Pie. Likewise if you're not dairy free and want to make a buttery crust.
1/4 cup oil
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 parsnips, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small potato
1/2 bulb fennel, diced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chickpeas, drained
2.5 tablepsoons flour
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 pie crust, recipe follows
1 egg, beaten
Grease a 9×9-inch baking dish, preferably one that's attractive enough to set on the table.
In a cast-iron skillet or other heavy saucepan, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, then add the carrot, parsnip, celery, potato, and fennel. Saute, stirring often, until all the vegetables are soft, 12-15 minutes. Add the thyme, sage, and garlic, and cook for another minute or two, just until the herbs have wilted. Stir in the chickpeas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a couple grinds of fresh pepper. Push the vegetables to once side of the pan.
Add a drizzle of oil to the free part of the pan and let it heat for 30 seconds. Sprinkle the flour over it and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute, until the flour is vaguely fragrant. Toss the toasted flour back in with the vegetables.
Pour in the white wine and the vegetable stock and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened and reduced, about 4 minutes.
Scrape the filling into the prepared baking dish, and let it cool to room temperature.
When you're ready to assemble and bake the pie, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out hearts from it. You can also just fit the whole crust to the pie and prick it a few times. Brust the crust with the beaten egg.
Bake for 35 minutes, until the hearts are golden and fully cooked, and the filling is bubbling. Serve immediately.
For the Crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
10 tablespoons Spectrum shortening, chilled in the fridge for 1 hour
1 egg yolk
1-2 tablespoons cold water, as needed
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the cold shortening and pulse again, just until the whole mixture resembles crumbs. Add the egg yolk and process until a ball comes together. If it hasn't completely come together, slowly add 1-2 tablespoons of water, processing as you go so as not to add too much.
Gather the dough and form it into a ball, then press it into a disk. Refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling out on a floured surface.