A lifelong vegetarian, Pamela Bednarik of Sayville, who owns her own PR firm, grew up in a household where the centerpiece for Thanksgiving was a multilayered zucchini casserole. "I've never eaten fish, eggs, meat or fowl, so I don't miss them," says Bednarik, whose parents also are vegetarians.
What inspires you to cook?
I enjoy making things and seeing people enjoy what I've cooked. I feel that the vibrations of the love I have for them goes into the food, and people can feel that.
What are some of your favorite ingredients?
People think vegetarian food has to be all about salads and tofu. I love cooking with whatever is fresh at the market. I also like a lot of spices and cheese. I really love potatoes. They're one of my staples fried, mashed, boiled or baked. Other things that I love are zucchini and mushrooms. You can do so much with them.
What would you tell those who think being a vegetarian is boring?
There are so many countries and cuisines to choose from: Chinese, Mediterranean, Thai, Indian, Mexican. And there are mock meats that have a wonderful texture that make you feel like you're not eating vegetarian. If you season it and prepare it the way you would meat, it is hard to tell the difference. It is more than just steamed or boiled vegetables. You can sauté, fry, pan fry, all things that add flavor to a dish. It makes a difference if you know how to use the product to bring out more flavor.
If someone wanted to eat more vegetables, what would you encourage them to do?
There are so many ways to get protein without eating meat. Start with fruits and vegetables you like and think of different ways to use and prepare them. If you feel you want that mouth feel of meat, you can use texturized vegetable protein, meat substitutes, mushrooms, vegetarian burgers and meatballs. Adding chewy, textured, meaty kinds of things to the dish will help you not miss the meat.
ONION AND MUSHROOM PIE
1 9-inch frozen, all-vegetable, deep-dish pie crust
4 medium onions, cut in 1/8- to 1/4-inch slices
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dry basil
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dry oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound low-fat mozzarella or Jack cheese, shredded
1. Refrigerate unbaked shell for 15 minutes or longer to make it slightly pliable. Before baking, using a fork, prick bottom and sides of crust at 1/2-inch intervals.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake empty shell 5 to 8 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven to 350 degrees
3. Meanwhile, sauté onions in vegetable oil in a large skillet until golden. Add turmeric, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are soft and excess liquid evaporates. Remove from heat and stir in most of cheese (saving some to garnish top).
4. Put filling into pre-baked pie shell, and sprinkle additional cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or more until pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Makes 4 to 6 servings