"Vegetarian" is a word that finally has come out of the closet.
After years of using euphemisms -- "greens" and "vegetables" were among the more popular ones -- cookbook authors and their publishers have discovered that our health-conscious society is now willing to accept the V word in book titles. In fact, there are so many vegetarian titles today, it has become very difficult to make a reasonable choice.
Below are 4 3/4 recent titles (I'll explain the three-quarters later) that advocate meatless meals. I cannot safely say that each of the recipes will sustain life, but they do give a hint of the seemingly endless manner of doing so.
Perhaps a meat-eater would do well to first ease into "The Occasional Vegetarian," by Karen Lee with Diane Porter (Warner Books, $24.95). Ms. Lee, a cooking teacher and New York caterer who eschews meat about half the time, says meatless meals have become fashionable.
"No longer do we apologize for not serving meat," she says. On the other hand, without meat as the centerpiece of a meal, "Many of us are at a loss as to where to begin."
Her suggested recipes for a meatless family dinner, for example, include Cannellini with Mustard Cream Sauce, Saffron Herb Rice or White Rice, Green Beans Amadine and Stewed Pears with Cranberries. Ms. Lee adds preparation and cooking times to each recipe, but no nutritional data.
As is the case with most vegetarian cookbooks, "The Occasional Vegetarian" concentrates on pasta, beans, grains and, of course, vegetables. So it is with "The Bold Vegetarian," by Bharti Kirchner (HarperPerennial, $16 paperback). No placating the carnivorous here. The Indian-born author presents 150 or so "international" recipes, although I wonder why she attributed to the United States Leek-Mushroom Burgers and Hazelnut-Rice Burgers, using basmati rice.
Ms. Kirchner's global collection includes Sweet Potato Bisque from the Caribbean, Green Beans and Red Pepper Gratin from France, Soy-Glazed Napa Cabbage from Japan, Marinated Carrot Chutney from India and a Poppy Seed Fruit Ring from Eastern Europe. She also provides 25 menus, serving four to six.
The international flavors continue with "From the Earth: Chinese Vegetarian Cooking," by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (Macmillan, $25). This accomplished author does allow for some fish and shellfish dishes, hence the three-quarters vegetarian reference above. Despite what you may think, however, recipes such as Pineapple Stir-Fried with Chicken, Spiced Duck Salad and Sichuan Beef contain no meat; dried bean curd or soybean cakes are the stand-ins.
Many of her vegetable recipes are steamed or stir-fried, "surely the most dramatic of all Chinese cooking techniques," she writes. Cabbage, watercress, eggplant, spinach, bok choy and snow peas all get tossed into her wok. Among the non-vegetarian recipes are Drunken Shrimp, Bean Curd Fish Rolls, Sole with Black Beans, Batter-Fried Oysters, and Scallops with Mango.
"High-Flavor, Low-Fat Vegetarian Cooking," by Steven Raichlen (Viking, $24.95), is an attractive, oversized volume, and the only one among those reviewed here that applies per-serving nutritional values to the recipes. He also tends to rely heavily on herbs and spices for flavoring his recipes, which is what you might expect from the author of the award-winning "Miami Spice" (Workman, 1993). "Think of flavor instead of fat," he advises.
Among the eclectic recipes that burst with flavors are Catalan Bean Stew; Tamales with Cuban Potato Filling; Zucchini, Squash and Tomato Pizza with Fried Garlic; Roasted Vegetable Soup; and Indian Spinach Curry with Homemade Cheese. The cheese is easily made with just two ingredients: 2 percent milk and fresh lemon juice. For the uninitiated in vegetarian ways, this volume is a rewarding introduction.
Finally, we come to "The Classic Vegetarian Cookbook," by Rose Elliot (Dorling Kindersley, $24.95), which is the most colorful and most helpful of all in this small selection of cookbooks. Not that anyone needs a lot of moxie to prepare a vegetarian dish -- most of them are pretty straightforward affairs -- but it does help to see how to roll up a Gruyere with Red Peppers Roulade so each serving will look right on the plate.
Ms. Elliot, who has more than 40 vegetarian cookbooks to her credit (mostly in Britain), often provides lengthy directions of procedures that could be daunting for some. Flaky Leek and Potato Pie; Twice-Baked Goat Cheese and Thyme Souffles; Blue Cheese, Leek and Watercress Terrine; and a Jeweled Fruit Tart are but a sample of recipes that deserve attention to the details.
"The Classic Vegetarian Cookbook" is divided into the classic dishes, international recipes for every occasion and step-by-step preparation techniques. It's a winner, I'd say.
From "The Classic Vegetarian Cookbook" comes this simple yet tasty salad that can be prepared in minutes.
Makes 4 servings
6 ripe plum tomatoes
2 ripe avocados
1 cup mozzarella cheese, sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
several sprigs of fresh basil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Cut the tomatoes either across into rounds or downward into long thin slices, cutting out any hard pieces of the core.
Halve the avocados, remove the peel and the pits, and slice the flesh.
On individual plates, arrange alternating slices of tomato, avocado and mozzarella cheese. Season with salt and black pepper, then tear the basil leaves and sprinkle them over the top.
Mix together the vinegar and the oil, and spoon over the salads. Serve at once.
"The Occasional Vegetarian" offers another solution to using up your summer zucchini.
Balsamic-Glazed Summer Squash
Makes 6 servings as a side dish
1 medium leek, white and light green parts, cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 medium yellow summer squash or zucchini, sliced 1/4 - to 1/2 -inch thick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
In a large skillet, saute the leek in the olive oil over medium heat until it begins to brown, 7 or 8 minutes.
Add the squash and fry until slices soften, 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the salt, pepper and vinegar. Continue to cook until the vinegar evaporates and the squash is glazed and beginning to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.