Dishin' Confidential

Secrets of a veggie gourmet.

By Mara Zepeda
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 26, 2008

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Seitan's bed: Rachel Klein is a vegetarian taking her business personally.

Rachel Klein decided to be a vegetarian at age 5. It was after a week-long marathon of turkey London broil that she finally threw down her fork, looked up at her mother and asked, "What is this?" The answer forever changed her perspective on food. From that moment on, "I announced that I didn't want to eat anything with a face," recalls Klein. Since then, she hasn't.

Instead Klein has devised dozens of recipes that are healthy, delicious and meat-free. She's taking her show on the road with her new personal chef business, Miss Rachel's Traveling Fare. She specializes in homestyle vegetarian comfort food, and works to update old favorites like chicken noodle soup, shepherd's pie and ravioli. Her baked maple rosemary "ham," made from vegetable protein, could convert even the most skeptical porcine lover.

Tonight she's demonstrating how to make seitan tri-potato (bliss, Idaho and sweet) dumplings. This 23-year-old chef who doesn't own measuring spoons reveals some secrets that will greatly improve any vegetarian or omnivore's kitchen.

Reconsider Wrappers

Summer roll skins, dumpling rounds and egg roll wrappers offer the perfect blank canvas to be filled with creative stuffings. After softening a summer roll disk in warm water for a few seconds, Klein fills it with vanilla ice cream, mangos and strawberries, then rolls it up and freezes it for a few minutes.

Dumpling rounds are spectacularly versatile. Instead of the traditional folded half moon, Klein prefers to sandwich a savory filling between two wrappers and then pinch together the perimeter for a tight seal.

Fuss-Free Fragrance

For rice, Klein flavors hers by dropping a (paper tab-free) teabag--jasmine or green works well--into the water.

Tofu Tricks

One of the most common mistakes of the vegetarian-curious cook is to toss heaps of wet tofu into a wok and watch as it disintegrates into a slimy mess. "Dry your tofu!" insists Klein. She swaddles hers in a clean dishtowel and sets books upon it for a half-hour or so to remove excess moisture.

"I wanted to have a restaurant my whole life," says Klein as she coats a batch of marinated seitan in maple syrup.

Though young, she's held more than 13 different jobs, most of which were in customer service or the restaurant industry. Through all of them she's realized that "when you love your job, it shows." This overwhelming passion and commitment is exemplified in Rich Landau, chef at Horizons restaurant, whom Klein considers a mentor. "He definitely loves what he does," she says.

Klein is crossing her fingers and hoping her green business will meet the same success. She insists, "One more desk job and I'm going to be kaput." To that end, she's recruiting more clients in need of personalized culinary attention. Her cuisine is a great option for vegetarians, vegans, children with food allergies and people who are health conscious, gluten intolerant or just plain busy. Klein will shop for the best ingredients at the six different grocery stores so you don't have to.

Don't be surprised when a fresh-faced twentysomething shows up at your door with a carton of Bragg's liquid aminos and cans of coconut milk.

"People don't take me seriously until they try my food," she grins.

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