An Accidentally Vegan Dinner

by Marina Chotzinoff

Our new (and first official) garden is finally starting to produce edibles on a daily basis. Yesterday I harvested a zucchini the size of my head (or “soft baby” as my daughter would point out) and wanted to do something different from the usual for us. Usual being salt “cooked” noodles topped or tossed with a protein, a saucy whiz of some sort and some other vegetables. This was a big sucker and I figured it would be plenty to form a base of a meal for the three of us.

The garden that sits over the old pool.

It is too hot for zucchini bread or fritters and I had just used our first zucchini in a soup so I went to Food & Wine and searched just “zucchini.” The first recipe to show up with a photo was a grilled zucchini and peach dish with macadamia cream. I have to say that zucchini and peaches was not working for me and spontaneously buying and hoping for successful peaches is a crap shoot anyway. But the macadamia cream reminded me of the cashew cream we used to make quite a bit and so I settled on a grilled zucchini alfredo and pondered the rest.

We had a pint of cremini mushrooms which are always a great steak-like stand-in…though why I was now thinking of meatless and even, gasp, vegan meals was beyond me. But of course once the notion struck me I was determined. I wanted more than just a pile of mushrooms and picked up a globe eggplant. I briefly considered adding sundried tomatoes to the dish which I still think would be good, but decided to punch up the flavor on the “meat” instead.

I marinated the mushrooms and eggplant cubes in soy, balsamic, lemon zest, thyme, oil and pepper. My daughter helped me skewer them while wearing her new goggles (handy eye protection) and swim floaty because that’s how 3 year olds roll. Meanwhile, I cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch strips which was challenging, and tossed them in more zest, thyme and olive oil. I grilled the whole lot while running in to saute some broccoli and tend to the cream.

For my first Meatless March I relied heavily on vegetarian ideas from Heidi Swanson. One such recipe that became a permanent fixture in our kitchen was cashew cream. You soak raw cashews (or macadamias apparently) in hot water and then blend them with lemon juice, pepper, salt and nutritional yeast. I won’t lie and say you can’t tell it is not just a fabulously rich dairy cream, but it is thick, velvety and really tasty. It is great drizzled on black bean enchiladas, folded into mashed potatoes or cauliflower or, it turns out, tossed with grilled zucchini noodles.

I threw some chopped parsley and hazelnuts in with the cashew cream, zucchini and broccoli, seasoned with s&p, topped with some aleppo pepper and served it with the skewers. My daughter wanted something sprinkled on hers so I offered parmesan which, once it was on the table, needed to be on the rest of my dish too.

Overall it was filling, balanced and, in my opinion, a great meal. Ryan also enjoyed it once he got home, but commented that it would be better with some grilled steak next to the mushrooms (duh) and he was not keen on the hazelnuts. Perhaps pine nuts (which I am scared of) or sliced almonds would be better.

Cashew Cream:
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup hot water
1 1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Main Dish:
2 teaspoons soy
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
3 sprigs thyme, chopped
1 pint cremini mushrooms
1 eggplant
1 giant or 3 medium zucchinis
1.5 ounces toasted nuts (hazelnuts, sliced almonds or pine nuts)
1 head broccoli cut into small pieces
red pepper flakes or aleppo pepper


Soak cashews in hot water while you prep rest of meal.

Heat grill.

Mix soy, vinegar, 2 T oil, 1/2 t zest, garlic, 1/2 of thyme and pepper. Cut sides of eggplant to make a brick shape and cut into uniform cubes. Trim mushroom stems and toss with eggplant in marinade. Thread onto skewers.

Cut zucchini into 1/4 inch strips. Toss with remaining 2 T oil, zest, thyme and salt and pepper.

Grill skewers and zucchini until tender and let cool enough to handle.

Heat pan over medium high heat. Cook broccoli in a bit of oil with salt until crisp tender.

Blend cashews, half of soaking water, yeast and lemon juice until very smooth adding salt and pepper to taste. Add more water to get the consistency of a thick cream sauce.

Cut zucchini into noodles and tossi with chopped parsley, nuts and broccoli and serve with skewers. Add some cracked pepper and, if you are not a vegan, some grated parmesan.

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