Rachael Ray Veggie Meals: Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals is actually one of her oldest books, from 2001. At $14.95 (list price) for a book that only clocks in at 127 pages, it leans toward the more expensive side compared with her more recent 30-minute meal paperbacks that are much larger for the same price. This would be a great first book for a transitioning vegetarian (especially for students going off to college), but there are better, more comprehensive vegetarian cookbooks such as Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine, Diane Kochilas’ The Greek Vegetarian: More Than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece and Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World that do greater justice to the myriad of Mediterranean flavors and cuisines.
The book is divided into suggested menus, soups, salads, risotto, pasta, and Italian vegetable entrees, Make Your Own Asian Take-Out (Chinese and Thai-style veggie dinners), and Snack Suppers (stuffed potatoes, sandwiches, dips, and spreads).
The “menu” suggestions are quite sparse due to the small number of recipes available; many times, the “menu” consists of a salad and side, albeit themed (Italian, Middle Eastern, Southwestern/ Mexican).
Soups opens with the prerequisite Chili for Veg-Heads, with three kinds of beans (black, kidney, and spicy vegetarian refried), Tabasco and chili powder, and crushed tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and beer (!). Red Beans and Rice Soup was a nice nod to Cajun cuisine and a pleasant alternative to Caribbean-style rice and beans. Three Bean Soup is more of a minestrone, as it contains red-skinned potatoes, carrots, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and fresh green beans (no pasta, though). There are several variations on minestrone, including Chick Pea and Cannellini Minestrone. Gazpacho with Gusto is the perfect starter for hot summer evenings. Ray’s Pumpkin and Black Bean soup is a wondrous update on classic black bean paired with pumpkin puree, butter, oil, heavy cream, and curry (NOT for those on a low-fat veggie diet!). Quick Red Cabbage Soup was a fascinating alternative to German red cabbage, and similarly contains apples, pickling spice, veggie broth and optional liquid smoke flavoring. Mashed Potato Soup is the ultimate comfort food: potatoes, milk, sour cream, heavy cream, and sharp cheddar.
The Salads include Greek-style grilled vegetable platters, a super-easy (and yummo) White Bean Salad, Middle Eastern flair with Lentil Salad and Tabouleh Salad, Italian faves such as Panzanellas and Caprese, elegant spinach salads (one with pears and walnuts, the other with blue cheese and scallion).
If you’re looking for easy entree ideas, look no further than Rachael’s risottos (porcini, artichoke, asparagus, and zucchini), pestos, pastas, green gnocchi, eggplant parmigiano, Vegetable Barley, and Polentas.
The brief Asian section includes stir-fries, Cashew Vegetables, spicy veggies (curries, ginger, pepper). Finally, the recipes are rounded out by Snack Suppers, including baked potatoes, pita pizzas, melts (Eggplant and Mozzarella, Open-Faced Eggplant and Tomato), Portobello Pizza Burgers, Spinach Calzones, burritos and quesadillas, and luxurious spreads (bruschetta, tapenade, spinach artichoke dip, white bean dip, tomato spread, hummus). Many are kid-friendly and make perfect munchies for sports nights.
Although short and on the pricey side, Ray’s choices take classic Mediterranean dishes and make them accessible to harried cooks who need to get dinner on the table in a hurry. Chopping up the fresh herbs and veggies is the most time-consuming step, since the recipes generally come together beautifully once your ingredients are prepped and assembled. Many recipes make use of shortcuts such as canned beans and canned vegetables. There are no nutritional analyses, but many recipes use 2 or less tablespoons of oil (usually olive), and many that call for dairy mention low-fat options. If you want to cut more fat, use nonstick cooking spray to coat your pan before searing or sauteeing veggies instead of oil.