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Students are busy. They have classes to take, coursework to do, and tests to pass. Luckily, that didn’t stop the graduating classes of America’s cooking schools from undertaking our latest assignment: whip up the tastiest, most creative vegetarian recipes, and enter them in our annual Chefs’ Challenge contest. After sampling and savoring their “homework,” we, the VT staff, selected 14 finalists in five categories and asked you, our readers, to weigh in at vegetariantimes .com. More than 13,000 votes later, we have the winners. Read on to study the work of these talented chefs for easy, high-scoring meals of your own. BEST SOUPTHE CHEF:Aylene Lambert Natural Gourmet Institute, New York Aylene Lambert got the idea for this soup while trekking across England with her husband. “We were at this lodge in the middle of nowhere, expecting pretty basic English food,” she says. “Instead, they had the most incredible vegetarian banana curry. The next day we had so much energy for hiking.” On a cold winter night back in New York, Aylene used the same banana flavor to make a velvety carrot bisque. Sweet & Spicy Carrot BisqueServes 4 1 Tbs. canola oil 1 medium yellow onion, diced (1 cup) 1 tsp. plus 1 pinch salt 2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger 1 Tbs. curry powder 1 pinch cayenne pepper 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds (4 cups) 1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced 1 13.5-oz. can light coconut milk, divided 2 1/2 Tbs. lime juice 1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and pinch of salt, and sauté 5 minutes, or until onion is soft. Stir in ginger, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add curry powder, cayenne, and 1/4 cup water. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring to coat onion and ginger with curry mixture. 2. Add carrots, banana, 1 tsp. salt, and 4 cups water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, 25 minutes, or until carrots are soft enough to be pierced with fork. 3. Purée soup in batches in blender or food processor. Return soup to pot, and stir in 1 cup coconut milk and lime juice. 4. Simmer remaining 3/4 cup coconut milk in small saucepan over medium-high heat 10 minutes, or until reduced by half. 5. Ladle soup in bowls, and swirl 11/2 Tbs. coconut milk reduction into each serving. PER 11/2-CUP SERVING: 225 CAL; 3 G PROT; 13 G TOTAL FAT (6 G SAT FAT); 27 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 716 MG SOD; 6 G FIBER; 12 G SUGARS BEST SIDE DISHTHE CHEF: Leah Matthews Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I. Leah Matthews came up with this tabbouleh-inspired salad while working as a sous chef at Twist, a Rhode Island restaurant specializing in gluten-free food. When the summer menu needed an additional item, she worked out a recipe in a matter of hours. “I grabbed seasonal and versatile ingredients from the refrigerator, knowing that cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon, and parsley form a flavor profile,” she says. Using quinoa instead of wheat-based bulgur or couscous keeps the dish gluten-free. Refreshing Quinoa SaladServes 12 | 30 minutes or fewer 1 1/2 cups quinoa 1/2 cup pine nuts 1 English cucumber, peeled and finely diced (21/2 cups) 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced (3/4 cup) 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup) 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley 1/4 cup olive oil 3 Tbs. lemon juice 2 tsp. grated lemon zest 1. Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Add quinoa, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 12 to 14 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and small “tails” bloom from grains. 2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread pine nuts on baking sheet, and toast 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool, then transfer to large serving bowl. 3. Drain quinoa, and rinse under cold running water. Drain again. Add quinoa to pine nuts, and stir in cucumber, tomatoes, onion, and parsley. Fold in oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. PER 1/2-CUP SERVING: 167 CAL; 4 G PROT; 10 G TOTAL FAT (1 G SAT FAT); 17 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 53 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 2 G SUGARS BEST APPETIZERTHE CHEF: Mariano Gascon The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, Chicago Flavor chemist Mariano Gascon knows all about developing snacks and seasonings in a laboratory. “Instead of using onions and garlic, we use chemicals X and Y,” he says. Mariano enrolled in culinary school to understand food from a different perspective, but he still approached his vegan take on kung pao chicken with scientific precision. “I made tons of attempts at the tofu,” he says. “I microwaved it, I baked it, I compressed it, I froze it. It was a project.” Kung Pao SlidersMakes 16 slidersSliders 1 14-oz. pkg. extra-firm tofu, patted dry 4 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce 2 Tbs. natural cane sugar 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil 1 tsp. cornstarch 16 wheat or white slider-size buns Slaw 3 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce 2 Tbs. vegan mayonnaise 2 Tbs. no-salt-added creamy natural peanut butter 5 tsp. natural cane sugar 2 Tbs. rice vinegar 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil 1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.) 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper 1 pinch cayenne pepper, optional 4 medium carrots, julienned (8 oz.) 2 medium zucchini, julienned (8 oz.) 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped 1. To make Sliders: Cut tofu into 8 slices lengthwise; halve slices to make 16 pieces. Transfer to baking dish. Whisk together soy sauce, sugar, oil, and cornstarch in bowl. Pour over tofu, cover, and chill 1 hour. 2. To make Slaw: Whisk together soy sauce, mayonnaise, peanut butter, sugar, vinegar, oil, garlic, pepper, and cayenne (if using) in bowl. Stir in carrots, zucchini, and peanuts. Chill. 3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Drain tofu, and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes. Flip, and bake 20 to 25 minutes more, or until crispy. Fill buns with 1 tofu slice and 2 Tbs. Slaw. PER SLIDER: 131 CAL; 6 G PROT; 6 G TOTAL FAT ( BEST ENTREETHE CHEF: Lila Y. Cornelio Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I. After going veg at age 15, Lila Y. Cornelio began making meatless versions of her family’s Mexican recipes. For her athletic performance cuisine class, she fed a wrestling team this tortilla casserole, based on a chicken dish her grandmother used to make. Her aim: keep it nutritious but just as flavorful. “Instead of frying tortillas, I baked them, which eliminated hundreds of calories alone,” she says. ChilaquilesServes 8 15 6-inch corn tortillas, cut into strips 8 plum tomatoes (3 lb.), divided 12 tomatillos (3 lb.), divided 1 medium onion, chopped (11/2 cups), divided 2 jalapeño chiles, divided 6 cloves garlic, peeled, divided 2 1/4 tsp. dried oregano 1 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns 3 sprigs fresh thyme 1 bay leaf 4 cups cilantro leaves 6 large egg whites, beaten 3 oz. crumbled queso fresco, divided 1 oz. part-skim mozzarella, grated (1/4 cup) 3 cups shredded iceberg lettuce 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream 1 avocado, sliced 1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread tortilla strips in single layer on baking sheets. Spray with cooking spray, flip, and spray other side. Bake 7 to 10 minutes, turning once, or until crispy. Cool. 2. Place 4 tomatoes, 6 tomatillos, 3/4 cup onion, 1 jalapeño, 3 cloves garlic, oregano, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaf in large pot; cover with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and simmer 15 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and tomatillos are pale. Remove bay leaf; remove pot from heat. 3. Preheat oven to broil. Spread remaining 4 tomatoes, 6 tomatillos, 3/4 cup onion, jalapeño, and 3 cloves garlic on baking sheet. Broil 25 minutes, or until vegetables are browned, turning occasionally. Cool slightly. 4. Adjust oven temperature to 375°F. Transfer broiled vegetables to pot with boiled vegetables, and stir in cilantro. Blend in batches in blender until smooth. (You should have about 9 cups.) 5. Coat 13- x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Wipe out pot, and heat over medium heat. Slowly add sauce to pot (sauce will sizzle). Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes, or until sauce is slightly thickened. 6. Increase heat to medium-high. When sauce boils, stir in egg whites 5 seconds, or until they feather into sauce. Add half of queso fresco, mozzarella, and tortilla strips. Toss gently to coat tortilla strips. 7. Spread in prepared baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake 10 minutes, or until tortillas have absorbed most of sauce. Let stand 6 minutes. Serve topped with lettuce, sour cream, sliced avocado, and remaining queso fresco. PER 1-CUP SERVING: 286 CAL; 11 G PROT; 8 G TOTAL FAT (2 G SAT FAT); 45 G CARB; 8 MG CHOL; 170 MG SOD; 7 G FIBER; 9 G SUGARS BEST DESSERTTHE CHEF: Wendy Roberts El Centro College, Dallas As a kid, Wendy Roberts loved baking holiday cookies for her neighbors. “I realized I really liked the joy it brought to other people,” she says. That’s why she enrolled in a baking and pastry program and left her desk job to work full-time for a bakery. Wendy thought up this version of a pecan tart while rushing to make dessert for a party. Lime vodka “leaves behind a lighter, crisper flavor” than whiskey in the rich, chewy filling. Cranberry Pecan Lime TartServes 12 Crust 1 1/2sticks (6 oz.) butter or margarine, softened 1/3 cup sugar 1 large egg yolk 1/2 tsp. vanilla 2 cups all-purpose flour Filling 4 large eggs 3/4 cup light brown sugar 1/3 cup light corn syrup 1/3 cup molasses 2 Tbs. lime vodka 1/2 tsp. salt 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted 3/4 cup chopped pecans 1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries 1/8 tsp. grated lime zest 1. To make Crust: Cream butter and sugar in bowl with electric mixer 3 minutes, or until smooth and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Add flour 1 cup at a time, beating until just combined and dough comes together. Knead dough with hands 3 or 4 times, then shape into flat disk. Press dough disk onto bottom and sides of 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom, and freeze 2 hours, or overnight. 2. To make Filling: Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat eggs in large bowl until frothy. Whisk in brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, vodka, and salt until sugar dissolves. Beat in melted butter. Fold in pecans, cranberries, and lime zest with spatula. 3. Remove Crust from freezer, and place in center of baking sheet. Spread Filling in Crust, making sure cranberries and pecans are evenly distributed. Bake tart 35 to 45 minutes, or until Filling is set and Crust is golden-brown. Cool in pan before unmolding and serving. PER SLICE: 417 CAL; 5 G PROT; 22 G TOTAL FAT (10 G SAT FAT); 53 G CARB; 126 MG CHOL; 217 MG SOD; 1 G FIBER; 29 G SUGARS