Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Versatile vegetarian pates simple to make

Eat Your Vegetables

By Angela Stephens
Gannett News Service

I was browsing the aisles of an imported food supplier and spied something I hadn't ever considered to be a vegetarian food. But there it was. Vegetarian pate.

Traditionally, of course, pates or terrines are spiced mixtures of ground meats, often involving the commonly less desirable parts of poultry and meats. In essence, pate is a fancy meatloaf that is spread on crackers or crisp bread slices as an appetizer.

When I returned home from my shopping trip, I did some research on vegetarian pates and found that, no, pates aren't just made from gizzards and liver. And, while a true pate-lover might argue authenticity - perhaps rightly so - pate has become a label for many vegetarian versions of a diplike spread.

I found quite an array of veggie pates, too. Most of them are quite easy to make, which was yet another pleasant surprise to me. When you think about it, a vegetarian pate is probably a lot more palatable to most people these days than the traditional meat-parts version.

Although many traditional meat pates are baked in a long loaf or earthenware terrine pan or enveloped in an elaborate flaky pastry before baking, most vegetarian versions require minimal cooking. Use of a food processor or blender seems to be essential, and the finished product is often not molded or baked.

The most common is some version of a mushroom or mushroom-nut pate. The mushrooms provide the color and texture of a traditional pate and nuts round out the flavor.

Other easy-to-make versions use white beans as a base, and more can be made with roasted vegetables - eggplant, peppers.

I tested two recipes. One was an herbed white bean pate that was fairly good. However, it was too garlicky and too salty - obviously easy repairs for a second try. But, by far, the better of the two was the nutty mushroom pate. The palate didn't tire of the taste or the texture. It was delicious on slices of fresh baguette or small hors d'oeuvre-style crackers. And because we're breaking all the traditional rules about pate, this recipe might also make a tasty spread for a vegetarian sandwich.

Nut and Mushroom Pate

1/2 cup mixed nuts and seeds (see note)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 pound mushrooms, very finely chopped

1/2 cup crumbled firm tofu

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup tahini

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried or finely chopped fresh oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried or finely chopped fresh tarragon

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Salt to taste

Toast the nuts and seeds in a toaster oven or frying pan until lightly browned. Heat two tablespoons oil in a frying pan and add the onion and mushrooms. Fry until the mixture is dark brown and dry. Do not burn.

In a blender, combine the tofu, 1/4 cup oil, the tahini, tamari, lemon juice, garlic and seasonings; blend until smooth. Add the toasted nuts and seeds, and blend until almost smooth. (A little crunchy texture is nice here.)

Remove the blended mixture to a bowl. Stir in the mushrooms and onion. Allow to cool, then taste for salt. Makes 2 cups.

Note: Use almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts or pecans; sesame seeds don't give the desired texture.

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