Valentine’s Day Meal, Vegetarian Style: Ideas for a Festive Celebratory Meal

My favorite Valentine’s Day food is those little candy message hearts. The flavors bring back memories of grade school parties and stacks of cute cards brought home at the end of the day. Plus, I love the messages: “My Guy,” “Sweetheart,” “# One,” etc. I like to scatter the hearts all over the table along with Hershey’s kisses and put the plates on top of large lacy paper doilies for a quick Valentine’s Day theme decoration. I never got around to decorating any Christmas cookies, so I might try making some decorated hearts: wild colors, icing to make dots, squiggles, and any message I want! Somehow, I think that is going to be one of those nice ideas that never materialize. (Remember that baby? She’s walking and climbing now. . . .)

Realistically, the Tofu Hearts with Red Peppers is very fast to make, and spinach capellini cooks in five minutes, so that is a feasible feast in my life. And there’s always heart-shaped sandwiches—rose petal jam and nut butter sandwiches just might be the entree of the day this year! Carol’s moussaka is delicious, so go for that if you can spare the time. Either entree is good with the composed salad, or you can even make a meal of just the salad. Add a special drink, good bread, some fresh flowers, and celebrate the holiday of the heart. Love & Kisses!

Tofu Hearts with Red Peppers
(Serves 4)
Serve this over spinach pasta tossed with olive oil, parsley, and parmesan. Or try with couscous, rice, or any grain, and a green vegetable or salad.

2 pounds firm tofu
1 large red pepper

4 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
4 tsp. soy sauce
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4 tsp. catsup
4 tsp. lemon juice
Pepper or dash tabasco

1. Mix together marinade ingredients in a large, shallow baking pan.
2. Cut tofu into 1/3-1/2″ slices, pat out excess liquid, then cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter. Add to the marinade and refrigerate (covered) overnight, or for a few hours (or a few minutes).
3. Preheat oven to 375°. Cut red pepper into chunks and add to the tofu. Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning tofu and peppers halfway through.

Vegetarian Moussaka
(Serves 6-8)
This recipe is adapted from The Tassajara Recipe Book and it is delicious! The unique flavors smell incredible while it’s baking. Al­ though there are three separate components, they are each straightforward to prepare. It’s definitely worth the effort for a special occasion.

For the Eggplant:
Two 1-11/4 lbs. eggplants: 2-21/2 lbs. total
Olive oil

1. Peel and slice the eggplant 1/2″ thick, layer in a colander, and lightly salt each layer. Press down the salted slices using a plate with a weight of some kind on top. Let this sit until the bitter juices are drawn out to the surface of the eggplant slices—about 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 425°.
3. Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry.
4. Brush both sides with olive oil and bake until browned. The bottom will brown first—in about 10-15 minutes, turn over and bake another 10 minutes until second side is done. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the Tomato Sauce:
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion chopped small (opt.)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
1/2 tsp. dried leaf oregano (Greek is best if you can find it)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cinnamon (freshly ground)
Pinch of ground clove
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped—(or canned, if fresh ones aren’t good; I like Muirglen)
3/4 cup red wine (not cooking wine)
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Saute the onions and garlic over a medium-low heat until the onions begin to soften.
2. Add the herbs and spices and continue to cook until the onions are completely soft. Then, raise the heat and add the tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the sauce is thick.

For the White Sauce:
1/3 cup cream
11/2 cups milk
11/2 Tbsp. butter
11/2 Tbsp. flour
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/3 lb. ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano (or the best you can get)
Nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
Salt & pepper

1. Combine milk and cream and heat slowly. Don’t boil.
2. Melt the butter in a saute pan, add the flour and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat stirring constantly—don’t let it brown too much.
3. Whisk in the warm milk-cream mixture.
4. Stir until the sauce is thickened, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Remove from the heat and whisk it slowly into the egg yolks. Add the ricotta and half the Parmesan cheese.
6. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

To Assemble:
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13″ baking dish with a shallow layer of tomato sauce.
2. Layer half the eggplant slices and sprinkle with remainder of Parmesan (and salt and pepper if you like)
3. Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over eggplant, covering evenly.
4. Make another layer with the rest of the eggplant slices. Pour the white sauce over the top. If very full, put on a cookie sheet with sides to catch any bubble-over.
5. Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is set and browned. Remove from oven and let sit 20 minutes before serving.

Menu Suggestions:
Serve with a big green salad or some steamed green beans, spinach, or broccoli tossed with lemon juice—something light and green to balance the richness of the moussaka. (This dish is even better the next day.)

Composed Vegetable Salad
(Serves 6-8)
A beautiful combination of cooked and raw vegetables that looks and tastes great year round. Add some marinated tofu chunks, serve with bread, and you have a meal.

Lettuce or spinach leaves, washed and spun dry
Cooked vegetables: your choice of broccoli, whole asparagus, whole snow peas, green beans, wedges of
red cabbage, carrots, sweet potato, cauliflower, potato, etc. Steam until tender and cut into slices or chunks, as necessary
Raw vegetables: strips of red and/or yellow sweet pepper, radishes, daikon, sprouts, etc.
Salad dressing: olive oil, balsamic vine- gar or lemon juice, salt & pepper, and a bit of honey, if desired
Garnishes: black olives, nuts, sliced eggs, pickles, etc., also may be added
1. Arrange the lettuce on a platter or individual plates. Put all of one type of vegetable together on the platter or plate and make sure there is a pleasing contrast of color and texture.
2. Whisk together dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Garnish if desired and serve immediately.

Baked Pears in Raspberry Sauce
(Makes 8 small or 4 large portions)
This is light, quick, easy, and looks pretty. You can serve store-bought pirouettes with them or make your own thin cookie of some kind, like the Lemon Heart Cookies.

For the Pears:
4 pears (Bartlett or Comice), ripe and fragrant but not mushy
1 cup water or fruit juice (apple, pear, raspberry, etc.) or cream
2 Tbsp. sugar (or more to taste)
Raspberry sauce (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 350°
2. Peel and slice pears in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and stem with a spoon.
3. Place in buttered baking dish in one layer. Pour water (or cream or juice) over pears. Sprinkle evenly with sugar.
4. Cover with foil and bake until tender and hot, 20-30 minutes.
5. Serve pears on a dessert plate, cut side down, with sauce underneath. Stick a mint leaf in the top of the pear to look like a pear leaf. Ladle a stripe of sauce diagonally across pears for a nice presentation.

Raspberry Sauce:
One 10-oz. container of frozen raspber- ries in sugar syrup

1. Thaw completely. Drain juice and reserve.
2. Place drained berries in food processor or blender. Add just enough juice to make pureeing possible.
3. Strain through a fine colander, using the back of a ladle to press the pulp through the mesh.
4. Add reserved juice to strained raspberries and stir. You can add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like.

Pound Cake Hearts with Chocolate  and/or Raspberry Sauce
A “no-cook” elegant dessert.

1. Slice homemade or Sara Lee pound cake into 1/2″ slices. Cut into hearts.
2. On a small plate put a small amount of raspberry sauce, then one heart, then a dollop of whipped cream and then another heart. Add a bit more sauce. Garnish with chopped nuts, chocolate, or a fresh mint sprig. Or you can arrange more random­ ly—experiment!

Lemon Heart Cookies

Try baking different sizes—from tiny to a big special one for your favorite sweetheart.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4-1 cup sugar (or even less if you’re using a lot of icing
2 cups flour
Dash salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1-2 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest

1. Cream together butter and sugar. Mix together dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture.
2. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Chill dough for about an hour.
3. Preheat oven to 350°.
4. Roll out dough 1/8″ thick, or thicker for large hearts. Cut into hearts.
5. Bake about 10 minutes, more or less depending on the size of your cookie(s). Cool on racks.

Chocolate Orange Cookies: Substitute 1/3 cup cocoa for 1/3 cup of the flour, and substitute orange juice and zest for lemon.

1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 egg white or about 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Food coloring: Add a little at a time until spreading consistency is reached

1. Mix sugar and liquid.
2. Divide into as many bowls as you want colors for. Tint with food color. Then spread or pipe on cooled cookies.

Drink Ideas

Rose Lassi
Passion Fruit Spritzer

Rose and Almond Milk (Add rose & almond flavoring and sweetener to hot milk)
Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Hibiscus Tea with honey and a cinnamon stick

A Few More “Hearty” Ideas

• Make your own pasta and cut into heart shapes, or cut out shapes from cooked lasagna noodles. Add to a clear soup broth with some perfectly cut vegetables for an elegant soup.
• Bar cookies (i.e., lemon, etc.) and brownies can be cut into heart shapes and are less time consuming to make than rolled out cookies.
• Make dough for heart-shaped scones the night before, refrigerate, then bake fresh in the morning for a quick and delicious breakfast.
• Sprinkle heart-shaped croutons or organic rose petals in your salad.
• Don’t cook a thing and go out for a romantic meal. Or even better, spring for a midwinter vacation somewhere “warm”!