Vegetarian Dishes for Autumn

Inspired ideas for vegetarian entrees!


A funny thing happened on the way to growing old, I mean growing up. For several reasons I’ve found myself eating less meat. Part of the reason is simply that most meat for sale kind of sucks. Like so much supermarket fodder, it looks great and tastes like as little as possible. I’ve been able to source some meat direct from local farms, so the meat I do eat is better than ever, but I still eat less.
I don’t miss meat, in fact I feel better eating less of it, and when I do get a hankering for some I know where to get what I want. The truth is that you can go meat free in so many ways, you’ll barely even notice that some of your favorite dishes have turned into vegetarian masterpieces. Of course it’s easy to cook vegetarian meals in the summer, what with the bounty of fresh produce everywhere, but as our trips to the farmstand diminish it may take a bit more thought to create delicious wine friendly vegetarian meals. That is not going to stop me, so in light of the arrival of Fall let’s take a look at five great vegetarian option for a hearty dinner and the wines to pair with them.

Vegetarian Cassoulet

Beans are a great substitute for meat when you want something rich and hearty that will stick to your ribs and warm your cockles. Having said that this is not really vegetarian cassoulet but rather resembles beans prepared for cassoulet. Regardless, it’s a delicious preparation and if it were up to me I’d add some diced polenta that had been fried to a golden crisp to add some textural contrast here. 
This is a great recipe to start our wine pairing discussion with. When cooking a vegetarian dish you generally don’t have the dense, chewy textures and rich fat of a meat based dish so you’ll be looking for wines that are typically less tannic than wines that pair with meat, though you’ll still need plenty of acidity. This is a great dish for a simple and even rustic Cotes du Rhone. It’s a poor man’s dish befitting a poor man’s wine, not that all Cotes du Rhone fit that category today, though many remain affordable, a bit rustic, and simple; offering a big burst of Grenache fruit that’s  perfect to pair with deeply flavored bean dishes. 
Two to Try 

Quick Vegetarian Paella

Not only is this dish vegetarian, but it’s also quick! I am sceptical regarding “quick” paella and even more sceptical about any recipe that uses quick cooking brown rice, especially for a Paella, but the base of this recipe is good and includes all the ingredients you might also find in a slow vegetarian Paella, you know, like one cooked with Spanish Bomba or even Italian Arborio rice. I’m sort of old school about these things. Classic rice dishes shouldn’t be reinterpreted or jacked up, the rice after all is what inspired these dishes so use one that works with the dish and tastes good. 
This is actually a very difficult dish to pair with wine since it's laden with olives and artichokes. the artichokes in particular can be wine killers but that’s why we have Gruner Veltliner! Not terribly fruity and often almost a bit vegetal a good Gruner can work wonders with a dish like this.
Two to try

Vegetarian Biryani

Since we’re playing with rice, and what a great canvas rice can be for these sorts of dishes, let’s not overlook the great Indian rice dish the Biryani. Though many of us or most familiar with meat bearing Biryani it’s probable that the original dish resembled this version to an extent. Though this is packed with vegetables, I’m sad to see that cauliflower has somehow not made the list of ingredients. Roast some up after seasoning with some of the spices included in this recipe and add it to the pot for a nice chewy bite.
There’s so much going on in this recipe that you might think it’s a challenge to pair with wine but the combination of all these flavors actually tends to make it fairly easy. You’re going to be looking for a simple wine with flavors that won’t compete with the complexity of the Biryani. Red or white, either would work here though I’m going to opt for a spicy little white wine. Some of the blends that use just a bit of Muscat and Gewurztraminer would be perfect for pairing here. 
Two to Try

Caramelized Cabbage on Creamy Polenta

Now here’s a dish I really want to get to know. It looks like a modern interpretation of Samacafam, Trentino’s  hunger smacker of  days gone by, though back in the olden days this would have been made with buckwheat or a corn and buckwheat blend. There’s a lot of pancetta in this recipe but we can easily leave that out and for a flavor boost substitute a a handful of smoked almonds instead, sliced if you can get them or just chopped up and tossed in as a substitute for the pancetta. 
This is a hearty dish, but it’s pretty lean as well and with that polenta base it cries out for a classic alpine red. Something crisp, and transparent and red fruited would be ideal here, though those wines tend to be both rare and not inexpensive. Les Cretes Torrette is a great introduction to the style, a blend of Petite Rouge and other local varieties that is red fruited, sapid and a bit wild. Another option is the Maison Anselmet Petit Rouge which is lighter bodied and shows more of the edgy, peppery character of the variety. 
Two to Try

Twice-Baked Potato Cups with Caramelized Shallots

While this may have been just a side dish to me a year or two ago I now can see this taking center stage at lunch or dinner. Round things out with a nice salad and a nice dish of lentils de Puy and we are styling. It’s also a great dish wine pairing, simple with two main flavor influences on a big base of potato. The shallots here add sweetness and the cheese, in this case Havarti but I am more likely to use a mountain Gorgonzola here to add salt and richness. 
Faced with those two elements it’s easy to imagine the type of wine that would work well here, something fruity and bold enough to stand up to both the shallots and cheese yet no so bold as to overpower the entire dish. Two wine immediately come to mind, both blends of delicate wine enriched with a more powerful local wine. On the one hand one has the Alto-Adige’s Santa Magdalener blend of Schiava with a little lagrein, which seems to be mostly missing from the US market these days, and on the other one finds many examples of Sicily’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria. A blend of Nero d’Avola cut with some Frappato, which would work perfectly with this fancy stuffed potato!
Two to Try
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