Does your meatless Monday game need an overhaul?

As a meat eater myself, I find that the trick to meatless meal-making is to have a small repertoire of recipes that can work as a side dish or first course, or be eaten in larger quantities as a vegetarian main dish. This is the same strategy I use when hosting a vegetarian in my home.

Today’s Quinoa-Stuffed Tomatoes fits the bill perfectly. Serve one tomato as a tasty and toothsome side along some roasted chicken or sliced beef tenderloin, or double up for a vegetarian meal that will fill you up, even if you aren’t vegetarian. These tomatoes can be made in advance, so they are equally brilliant for both company dinners and weeknight family suppers.

Tomatoes, a culinary favorite source of lycopene, are stuffed with quinoa and sauteed eggplant and mushrooms, both hefty, meaty vegetables. But, swap out the quinoa for brown rice, and use whatever veggies you find in the crisper drawer, or even in your freezer. Baking tomatoes is an excellent strategy for using up the less-than-perfectly-sweet ones. A big bonus: Roasted tomatoes are simply gorgeous, appealing to our farm-to-table sensibilities.

While I don’t think you’ll miss the meat, if you must, feel free to add in a little cooked ground meat right into the filling. Either way, you’ll have a healthy and hearty dish that is a nice change from the classic stuffed pepper. And as for the pulpy, fleshy middle of the tomato that you’ll remove to stuff it: don’t throw it out! Blend it up – juice and seeds and all – with a little garlic and onion and then mix it into your next tomato-based pasta sauce, or use it as part of your liquid next time you make rice.

QUINOA-STUFFED TOMATOES

Servings: 8

8 medium sized tomatoes

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)

1 small eggplant, cut into small dice (1/2 inch), about 2 cups

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup roughly chopped or sliced white mushrooms

3 tablespoons dry white wine

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

11/2 cup cooked quinoa

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Slice off the top of each tomato, reserving the tops.

Run a paring knife around the inner rim of the tomato, loosening up the flesh on the inside of the tomato. Use a small spoon and scoop out the flesh, juice and seeds of the tomato. (Either discard or pulse in blender to use in a tomato sauce.)

Sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with half the salt and set aside. In a large saute pan, cook the onion and eggplant in the olive oil over medium high heat until vegetables start to soften, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms soften, about 5 more minutes.

Pour in the wine and stir to let it evaporate. Add the basil, quinoa, remaining salt and pepper and turn off the hveat. Stir in the parmesan cheese. Gently spoon the filling into the empty tomatoes, and top each one with a reserved tomato top.

Place the tomatoes in a baking dish sprayed with a little olive oil from a mister (or nonstick spray). Mist the tomatoes with a quick spray of olive oil from a mister. Cover the dish with an oven-safe lid or foil. Bake until the tomatoes are tender and quinoa mixture is hot, about 35-40 minutes.

Chef’s Note: The recipe works well with up to a half pound of cooked ground meat added to the filling if desired. Tip: Crinkle up foil into a ball if you need to secure tomatoes in baking dish so they don’t slide around.

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