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From A Chef

Vegetarians comprise a growing set

Susan Battenburg Powell

Even in the pages of this paper, it from time to time raises ire and derision, despite the fact that nationwide the numbers of people embracing some version of the practice are rising and supermarkets are devoting more shelf space to this segment of the population.

It is estimated that, for a variety of reasons, between 35 and 50 percent of the population now eat at least three meatless meals per week. Historically, a larger portion of the population ate this way. People observing religious fasts were vegetarian or &

pescatarian&

on certain days and the cost of meat meant that for many people it did not play as large a role in the diet as it does today.

The actual cost of today&

s mainstream meat is obscured by subsidies and environmental degradation which, if accounted for, would place it beyond the every day reach of many. The number of people who are strict vegetarians for ethical, environmental, spiritual and health reasons appear to be rising as well as those choosing to be partial or occasional vegetarians for whatever reason.

The philosophy at Pilaf has always been to destigmatize the concept of vegetarianism by preparing tasty, enjoyable food that simply doesn&

t contain meat. It&

s not a crusade; it&

s just good food. There are a wealth of traditional recipes from all cultures which were developed for the reasons given above and which were (and are) enjoyed without feeling deprived of animal flesh protein. These dishes appear on our menu along with uniquely &

Pilafian&

creations such as the &

panini veganini.&

The &

PV&

has been popular since it first appeared on our menu in 1997. Ajvar (red pepper spread) is now available at a couple of local markets as well as our Global Pantry brand pita/na&

an, so it is now possible to create this sandwich at home. Space doesn&

t permit printing our hummus recipe but it is available by the pound at the takeout counter at Pilaf or you can substitute a supermarket brand.

Here&

s something to try at home:

Middle Eastern Salad

2 bunches of spinach, washed and dried

2 15 oz cans of garbanzos, drained

1/2 medium red onion

4 Roma tomatoes

— bunch of parsley, preferably flat leaf

2 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup lemon juice

— tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup of olive oil

We use a food processor for this, but you can do it by hand with a sharp chef&

s knife if one is not available. Run the first four ingredients through a medium slicing disk. Place in a bowl and remove disk, replacing with the chopping blade. Add the garlic and chop finely, then add the parsley and chop coarsely. Add the remaining ingredients and process briefly to combine. Pour over the vegetables and toss together. Enjoy as is or go on and make a panini veganini.

Panini Veganini

Lay open two Global Pantry pitas with their prettier bubbly side down. Spread one with ajvar and the other with hummus. Place a cup of Middle Eastern Salad in the middle, form a sandwich, and press down gently. Brush the top bread lightly with oil and grill in a panini press (or a George Foreman grill) until bread is toasty and sandwich warmed through. Cut into quarters and serve.

Susan Powell is the owner of Pilaf, located on Calle Guanajuato, along the creek behind the Plaza.

The menu can be viewed at www.pilafrestaurant.com.