Downturn Dish: Fake it 'til you bake it: Ditch expensive meat, keep taste

March 16, 2009

"When on a budget, you need to remember that the fastest way to reduce cost is to eliminate meat," writes chef Joe A. Lieberman. "If you are anything like me, it will pain you to read that." But Lieberman believes you can still have a flavorful and filling meal without angering your inner carnivore. This week, he shares two veg-friendly recipes with Hard Working, both of which serve two people for under $10. Joe--not to be confused with the senator or celebrity chef--graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2004. He cooks at Cue at the Guthrie Theater, a new favorite in the Twin Cities. His new blog, debuting this week,‚  will offer recipes and stories, like how he almost named his cat Bacon.

Vegetarian Risotto (about $9)

Risotto is a wonderful dish made from Arborio rice, a short-grain rice used mostly in Italian cooking. This dish takes patience and vigilance but is worth the time spent in front of the stove.

Prep time: 30 min

Cook time: 30-40 min

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp butter

1 small onion, chopped fine

2 cloves minced garlic

8 oz. Arborio rice

3 cups water

1 bullion cube

1 small zucchini chopped in 1/2-inch cubes

1 red bell pepper chopped in 1/20-pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp Parmesan cheese

Balsamic vinegar for drizzling (optional)

Bring water to boil and add bullion cube. Stir until cube is dissolved. Set aside but keep warm.

Add oil to a sauce pot on high heat.

When hot, add the onions and garlic and sweat onions (onions will be translucent in about 3 min).

Add zucchini, bell pepper and rice. Stir in ingredients and cook until the rice is coated with the oil from the pan.

Take the water/bullion mixture and add 1/2 cup of liquid to your rice. Lower heat to medium-high and stir your rice. You need to let the liquid boil with rice and reduce until there is almost no liquid left. Make sure that you are constantly stirring rice to prevent forming a crust on the bottom of your pan.

Repeat previous step until you have 1/2 cup of liquid left. This is when you want to taste your rice. If the kernels of rice are to hard or gritty add more liquid until you've reached your desired consistency.

When the risotto is at desired texture add the butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper to the risotto. Mix and remove from heat.

Plate the fruits of your labor, drizzle with balsamic and enjoy!

*The veggies can be substituted for whatever you like. Just remember that you will be cooking for a while, so choose veggies that will hold up

Cold Asian Noodles with Tofu ($7)

Can't afford meat? Then fake it!

Tofu is the blank canvas of a vegetarian's world and it costs about one-third the price of meat, chicken or fish. Just marinate overnight with your favorite vinaigrette, crushed red pepper and soy, or chili powder and oregano and you have the base to almost any dish. Great for lunches or a satisfying late-night snack!

Prep time: 40 min

Cook time: 20 min

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. tofu cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp sesame oil

1 tsp crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz. cooked vermicelli noodles chilled

1/2 cup chopped green onion

1/2 cup shredded red cabbage

Place tofu in a food safe container. Cover with water. Add soy sauce and crushed red pepper. Let sit overnight in fridge.

The next day, cook noodles according to directions, coat with the 2 tbsp. sesame oil and set aside to chill.

Add remaining sesame oil to hot skillet. Cook until light brown on all sides (approximately 10 min).

Add green onion and cabbage to skillet with tofu. Toss and remove from heat.

Add tofu and veggies to chilled pasta and toss.

Add salt and pepper to taste. For an extra kick add more crushed red pepper.