If you still think vegetarian food is all bland brown rice and beans you suffer from a serious culinary time warp.
Vegetarian cuisine has been one of the primary benefactors of the national obsession with all foods ethnic. So many foods from afar are either naturally vegetarian or easily made so there's no excuse for dull eats.
Two recent cookbooks from vegetarian stalwarts tastefully demonstrate this.
First is Donna Klein's "The Tropical Vegan Kitchen," which offers 225 recipes from Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast and South Asia, and Latin America.
There is plenty to love here — Trinidad-style Curried Mashed Potatoes; Malaysian Hot-and-sour Noodles with Tofu and Baby Bok Choy; and Papaya, Jicama and Avocado Salad with Sour Orange Dressing.
If it's more conventional comfort food you're after, check out Nava Atlas' "Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons," a dairy-free reworking of one of her earlier cookbooks.
Atlas walks home cooks through the seasons, offering Curried Red Lentil Stew and Chickpea and Tahini Soup in fall, Taco Soup and Minestrone in winter, plus a host of offerings for the warmer months.
Doubters of vegan cuisine will be won over by her Macaroni and "Cheese" Soup, which combines elbow macaroni with a thick base of vegan "cheese" and pureed white beans. It was delicious and truly satisfying.
This version differs slightly from the recipe in Atlas' book. This adaptation calls for pureeing the entire soup base (minus the pasta and peas), which creates a cheesier, smoother soup.
MACARONI AND "CHEESE" SOUP
Start to finish: 40 minutes (20 minutes active) Servings: 6 to 8
1 1/2 tablespoons margarine or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium celery stalks, finely diced
Two 16-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups water
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 1/2 teaspoons salt-free seasoning (such as Mrs. Dash)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
2 cups small pasta, such as shells or elbows
1 1/2 cups rice milk, or as needed
1 1/2 cups firmly packed cheddar-style nondairy cheese
1 cup frozen peas
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low, combine the margarine or oil, onion and celery. Saute until the onion and celery are golden, about 5 minutes.
Add the beans, water, bouillon cube, salt-free seasoning, mustard powder and dill. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.
When the soup has simmered, stir in the rice milk and cheese. Heat, stirring constantly, until the cheese has melted. Transfer the soup, in batches if necessary, to a blender. Puree until very smooth.
Return the soup to the pot. If desired, the soup can be thinned with additional rice milk.
Add the peas and cooked pasta, then continue cooking over very low heat until hot. Season with salt and pepper.