Annie Somerville, Executive Chef and Flexitarian

Somerville offers 10 essential tasting tips for a vegetarian-friendly fête.


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For more than 30 years, my life has revolved around the vegetarian fare at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. When we first opened, vegetarian food was far from the mainstream. I’m confident that Greens forever changed the image of vegetarian cooking in America: With a mix of casual elegance and a subtle message of health and harmony, a distinctive cuisine was born.

That said, I don’t proselytize on behalf of vegetarianism at Greens; we solely celebrate the bounty of extraordinary produce that’s bursting with flavor, color and texture. In the same vein, the emphasis of our wine program remains on small, high-quality producers from Europe and the West Coast of the U.S. who practice sustainable viticulture. I live a predominantly vegetarian lifestyle, but I’m actually a flexitarian, meaning I eat the occasional chicken or fish at get-togethers with friends. I understand, it can be especially difficult during the holidays to stick to a vegetarian lifestyle if your family and friends are carnivores.

For example, my husband—a true omnivore—respects and encourages my eating choices, but he eats anything and everything. I’ve figured out how to adjust during the holiday festivities and am happy to provide some tips for vegetarians (and nonvegetarians, too) during the busy season.

1. Food brings people together no matter what type it is, so first and foremost, enjoy the time you have with family and friends.

2. If your loved ones want to help, invite them into the kitchen. Perhaps if they see how vegetarian food is prepared—the care it takes and the beauty of it—they will appreciate it more.

3. Shopping for food can be fun. Find downtime at your grocery store and wander the aisles, finding the best ingredients for your recipes.

4. Take a trip to the farmers’ market and talk to the farmers and purveyors to learn more about your local produce.

5. Make a vegetarian dish ahead of time, such as little veggie empanadas, a simple goat cheese platter with chopped chives, olive tapenade or white bean pureé.

6. Don’t try to outdo yourself. Know what you’re good at and shine. The best dishes are those that celebrate the true flavors of the ingredients; the lighter, leaner, simpler cuisine.

7. Mike Hale, our wine director, lives by the theory that a rich dish needs a rich wine, or the opposite, that a light dish works with a light wine, red or white—this is particularly true of vegetable-focused dishes. With our curried cauliflower soup, for example, we like the Bella Valle 2008 Gewürztraminer from California; the main aroma is fresh lychee, and the grape exhibits other spices.

8. Everyone knows that preparing for the holidays can be stressful—don’t take it out on anyone, but instead pace yourself and breathe.

9. If you’re not vegetarian, eat your animal protein before or after the party—or be adventurous and find out what it’s like to be vegetarian for an evening.

10. Find vegetarian dishes that are satisfying and filling enough for meat-eaters (mushrooms are a great example). Your carnivore friends won’t even miss the meat.

Pairing Wine with Vegetarian Food

“In the spring, our Artichoke and Sunchoke Gratin with leeks, green garlic, tomatoes, Manchego and fromage blanc custard works so well with Preston’s 2009 Roussanne from Dry Creek Valley; it has a touch of yeast, pear and apple and a very nice mouthfeel. A wilted spinach salad (our version features Olympia pears, pomegranates, pecans, goat cheese and pear vinegar) could be paired with Lioco 2007 Indica, a red blend of Carignan and Petite Sirah from Mendocino with punchy, ripe berry fruit flavors and a hint of smoke.“

Annie Somerville is executive chef of Greens Restaurant and author of two cookbooks, Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant (Bantam, 1993) and Everyday Greens (Scribner, 2003).


Try this delicious recipe from Chef Somerville!

Butternut Squash Mini Empanadas

Courtesy of Chef Annie Somerville of Greens Restaurant

Smoky chipotle chilies, toasted cumin and fresh lime juice bring out the sweetness of the butternut squash in these little empanadas. Use a 3½-inch ring to make “two bite” empanadas and serve with your favorite salsa.

For the empanadas:

Masa Harina Dough (see recipe below)
1 small butternut sqush, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ small onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons chipotle purée
½ teaspoon toasted ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
2 ounces white cheddar, grated
½ red or green jalapeño chili, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon toasted, chopped pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, plus more to taste

For the Masa Harina:

¾ cup all-purpose flour   
¼ cup masa harina         
¼ teaspoon salt                          
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes       
5 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small cubes     
2 tablespoons milk   
Flour (for rolling)                    

To make Masa Harina:

In a food processor, combine the flour, masa harina and salt, and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse 5 times. Next, add the cream cheese and pulse 10 times or until it resembles a course meal. Add the milk and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. Shape the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour before rolling out.

Cut the chilled dough in half and flatten into disks. Roll each piece into a rectangle or round 1/8-inch thick. Use a small stainless steel ring to cut the empanadas. Gather the scraps together, form into a disk, roll and cut until all remaining dough scraps have been used.

To make the mini empanadas:

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Toss the butternut squash and onions together in a bowl with the oil, garlic, chipotle purée, cumin, salt and a few pinches of pepper. Spread the mixture in a baking dish and roast for 15 minutes. Use a spatula to loosen and turn the vegetables and roast until tender, about 15 minutes more.

When cool, return to the bowl and toss with the cheddar, jalapeño, pumpkin seeds, cilantro and lime juice. Lower the oven to 375ºF and get a small bowl of cold water in your work area. Place ½ tablespoon filling in the center of each disk.  Dip your finger in the cold water and run it lightly around the edge of each disk. Fold the dough over the filling and press closed. Use a fork dipped in flour to press around the edges and poke the center of each empanada. Place the empanadas on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until golden.  Makes 18–20 mini empanadas.

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