Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reflections of a Part-Time Vegetarian (and Potato-Leek Hash with Chard and Eggs)

As Lent comes to an end in a few short hours, so too does our vegetarian experiment. In many ways, I am sad to see it come to an end, as it forced us to become more innovative and interesting cooks. Jeff told me that it made him love to cook even more, since we attempted more complicated and involved recipes than usual, expanding our skill bases as well as our palates.

I learned that I do not need meat to survive. In fact, I am often better satisfied without it. I can't say that I had a single meal in the past 40 days during which I missed having meat on my plate. However, I also can't say that I didn't crave it - especially as the weather grew nicer and the scent of burgers wafted off of our neighbors' grills. I would really like a burger right now. But I can't say that I really want a large amount of meat, either. I've missed meat more as an accent than the star of the show - I want some ground sausage in my stuffed shells and some bacon on my twice-baked potatoes. I am going to make a greater effort to try and keep meat in this subsidiary capacity - like Thomas Jefferson, I will use meat "as a condiment to the vegetables which constitute my principal diet." At least, on the days that we're not grilling burgers.

For lunch today, we made one of the recipes on my must-do list: potato and leek hash with Swiss chard and eggs. This is the perfect example of a satisfying vegetarian meal. While it is a bit time-consuming for a lunch, on a lazy, rainy day like today we didn't mind spending some extra time in the kitchen. I think this dish would be suitable for any meal, but would be particularly nice for a weekend brunch.

Chard is the second vegetable on my 30 by 30 list. I actually made it earlier in the week as well, in an asparagus ragout that didn't come out as planned, and so did not make it on the blog. I had never had chard before this week - I find it an earthy tasting vegetable - not my idea of a good time on its own. Combined with other things, that earthiness is suppressed and it becomes palatable. In this dish, it was actually pretty tasty. I would definitely have it again in this context. If you don't like or don't have chard, I think spinach would be the perfect substitute here (and it's currently in season in NJ farmers' markets - I saw some yesterday!).

Interestingly, for the penultimate meatless dish of our Lenten project, this dish tasted like it had meat. If you had told me there was bacon in there, I could easily have believed it - something about the caramelized leeks and garlic evoked a bacony flavor. And if you are eating meat, I think some crumbled bacon on top might be quite nice, too! And if you are like me and do not like runny eggs, scramble some and serve alongside the potato-leek-chard mixture.

Potato-Leek Hash with Swiss Chard and Eggs
From Cooking Light April 2011.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 large sliced leeks (whites and light greens only, chopped and then soaked for a bit to remove the grit)
12 oz fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 tsp paprika, divided (the recipe called for Spanish smoked paprika, which we couldn't find)
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp pepper, divided
4 c thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves (about one bunch)
1 oz shredded Gruyere

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat. Add the leeks to the pan and cook about 8 minutes, stirring frequently (maybe a little less time or heat, if it starts to brown too soon, as mine did).

Add the potatoes and garlic to the pan. Cook 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. (Try to keep the skin-side of the potatoes up so that the flesh browns nicely!)

Stir in 1 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Add the chard and cook 4 minutes, stirring constantly.

Make four egg-sized wells in the mixture with a spoon (like I mentioned above, since I don't like my eggs this way, we only made two eggs in the pan for Jeff and scrambled the others in a separate pan for me). Crack one egg into each space and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/4 tsp paprika. Cover and cook 3 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese over the potato mixture , cover and cook 2 more minutes, until the egg yolks are lightly set.

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