Celebrate spring with a quick veggie version of my Austrian childhood favorite

Chicago Tribune
By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency Wolfgang Puck's Kitchen
March 18, 2015


When I think about the garden my mother and grandmother tended surrounding my childhood home in Austria, it always seems to be springtime. They grew so many fresh vegetables, a harvest that always formed the foundation of our family meals. Even in winter, the garden always fed us, thanks to the root cellar where we stored potatoes, carrots, onions and so many other wholesome ingredients we'd grown ourselves.

To tell you the truth, main courses featuring big pieces of meat were reserved for special occasions. More often, animal proteins played the role of a garnish or seasoning for dishes that were mainly composed of grains, beans, pastas or potatoes. It was a healthy way of eating, surprisingly similar to the way doctors and nutritionists tell us we should be eating today for good health.

One of my favorite recipes that I grew up eating was a traditional Austrian dish called reisfleisch, literally "rice meat." Of course, the name of this pilaf-like dish reflects the fact that rice was the main ingredient, flavored with onion, garlic and other aromatics, moistened with homemade stock, seasoned with paprika and dotted with cubes or slices of whatever meat happened to be at hand (a fresh or dried sausage, a small chunk of ham or smoked pork, maybe a tough cut of beef that grew tender during gentle steaming)

Whatever vegetables we had from the garden that day were added to the pot, and sometimes my mother and grandmother used freshly picked vegetables alone to make what became a vegetarian "rice meat."

With spring and its beautiful array of produce just days away, I'd like to share that garden version of reisfleisch with you here. Feel free to substitute other vegetables you might prefer to the combination I include.

I'd also like to include as part of the recipe another standby of our family kitchen in my childhood: a pressure cooker. I still clearly remember my grandmother's old pressure cooker ... a big, heavy old pot that hissed and rumbled on the stovetop and always seemed ready to burst. But I'm happy to report that modern, electric countertop pressure cookers, including one my team and I developed under my own brand, are models of efficiency and safety, being thermostat- and timer-controlled.

Use a pressure cooker to make this recipe -- including ample time to cut up all the vegetables, preheat the pressure cooker, and let it build up to full cooker pressure once you've sealed on the lid -- and you'll have a bountiful vegetarian main dish to welcome the season in less than an hour or so. Which leaves you all the more time to enjoy the pleasures of springtime.