Reader Recipe Contest 2008: Reinventing the Classics

This year's top-6 reader recipes deliver irresistible veg variations on some favorite comfort foods

Photo: clyons

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Who doesn’t love a good makeover? For our 2008 Reader Recipe Contest, we challenged VT readers to create vegetarian versions of classic nonveg favorites—and do it using at least one sponsored ingredient.

You responded with close to 400 recipes. A daunting task for some, but at VT we loved whittling them down to find the ones you’ll want to make again and again. From the moment the cooking started, attendance at our regular office tastings spiked. (Even the accounting department got into the act!) Meat eaters and vegetarians alike eagerly lined up to taste and retaste, sometimes going back for seconds and thirds.

After all the plates had been cleaned, these six top-rated recipes managed to keep the praise flowing. Not much of a surprise considering they’re the ultimate in comfort food. Whether you’re trying to satisfy a family with varying dietary preferences or looking for a way to enjoy an old favorite, these winning dishes are sure to please.

1st place Laura Hite, Dallas


Vegetarian Osso Buco with Asparagus-Mushroom Orzotto

Prize $500

“When I was little, I would raid my fridge and create stuff for my friends,” admits Laura Hite. A big fan of Italian food, and a vegetarian for nine years, Hite replaced the traditional veal in this dish with soy-based Veat. Osso buco is usually paired with risotto, but Hite used orzo pasta to create an Asparagus-Mushroom Orzotto that VT testers unanimously declared good enough to be served on its own. For a simpler variation, skip the orzotto and serve the osso buco over plain pasta or brown rice.

2nd place Janet DeGras, Harper Woods, Mich.


Unemployed Shepherd’s Pie

Prize $300

Straying from meat replacements, Janet DeGras re-created this typically lamb-filled classic with eggplant as the featured ingredient. “The density of eggplant makes it a good substitute for meat, and its creaminess goes really well with mashed potatoes,” DeGras notes.

3rd place Nicole Filizetti, Grand Marais, Mich.


Biscuits & Gravy

Prize $200

When Nicole Filizetti isn’t teaching, she spends time cooking up meals from scratch for her husband and two children. “We’re big on having breakfast for dinner,” she explains. “Making this veg version of biscuits and gravy seemed like a good way to add some lentils into my family’s diet.”

Honorable Mention Jennifer Lang


Vegan Italian Wedding Soup

A longtime vegetarian (and soup lover), Jennifer Lang of Oakland Park, Fla., was inspired to make a veg version of Italian wedding soup, she says, “because I’d see it on restaurant menus, and I could never order it because it always had meat.”

Honorable Mention Selange Giannetto


The Devil’s Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Mousse

After 12 or so attempts at making a vegan cake with no funky aftertaste, Selange Giannetto, a trained culinary chef, but self-taught pastry chef, hit the jackpot. Just to make sure, the St. Charles, Ill., resident asked all sorts of people to try it. Most of them didn’t believe it was vegan.

Honorable Mention Erin Patton


Spaghetti and Neat Balls

Erin Patton and her boyfriend, Mike Rabourn, turned their Northampton, Mass., abode into a test-kitchen while perfecting the “Neat Ball” for this recipe. An avid home cook, Erin enjoys creating meatless meals that appeal to all her guests.