Being a (part-time) vegetarian definitely requires a little more extra effort in planning but if you put in that time, you are rewarded with healthy, tasty, fresh foods and your experiment need not be an exercise in misery. Here are some of dishes I've made since the new year.
When I started, I naturally gravitated toward salads as part of menu planning. An important lesson here is that delicious salads are not made by tossing some greens with low-cal dressing and calling it a day. In fact, I believe your body needs some fat in order to absorb nutrients from your veggies. This is not to say your salad should be loaded with ranch dressing and tons of cheese, but I believe a lovely middle balance can be achieved. Confronted with such a tasty salad, there will be no need for meat. Delicious (and in my mind, mandatory) additions include:
- Fruit - You see here some clementines in one salad and apple in another. At this time of year, pears would also be outrageously good. The only fruit I might NOT add would be bananas. I also enjoy sprinkling in some dried fruit (think dried cranberry, golden raisins, apricot).
- Nuts(+Seeds) - My hands down favorite are toasted cashews. But naturally any kind of nut will do. Toasted walnuts, pecans, pistachios, yum. Sometimes I throw in sunflower seeds...
- Cheese - Don't go crazy here, but some cheese adds a nice flavor punch. Nice options include parmiggiano reggiano shavings, goat cheese dollops or feta crumbles.
- Beets - I'm not at all creative with how I use my beets, but I do love them. So I like to roast some and keep them in a jar in the fridge as pictured and add them to salads when desired (always).
- Homemade dressing - Whenever I buy a salad dressing I am inevitably disappointed. These days I don't bother, but always concoct my own. I don't like a super tart vinaigrette, so depending on the tartness of my vinegar I'll add more olive oil. I always add a sweetener; these days it's maple syrup but sometimes it's honey. If you use rice vinegar you can add a small splash of soy sauce. Finely minced garlic is nice, as are herbs (scallions, parsley, basil, etc). Remember to add a nice pinch of salt and some pepper. Taste as you are making and tweak as you go. This is minimally more work than buying dressing and tastes a million times better. Fresh lemon or lime juice is also tops. I make up a bottle and use it within a few days.
To ensure you don't get bored of salad, try to change it up every week. Use baby mesclun one week and then a sturdier leaf like romaine the next. Try different dressings. And for the love of god, if you are getting sick of salad just stop eating it. Don't ruin a good thing. Salads should be a pleasure not a deprivation.
Ratatouille with Polenta
I haven't made this in forever and only came across it while idly flipping through my recipe book. And I've been kicking myself ever since because it is delicious. Now, ratatouille is probably more of a late summer or fall dish but whatever. Grab yourself eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, onion and a can of tomato and you are good to go. Add some dried basil, oregano and rosemary. It is entirely satisfying, especially with the polenta to add a bit of bulk. I forget exactly where my polenta recipe came from, but here's how to make a creamy cheesy version:
Boil 4 cups of water. In a separate bowl, combine another cup of water with 1 cup of coarse cornmeal (whole foods has this in bulk bins, handy). Add the cornmeal mix to the boiling water a spoonful at a time and whisk to avoid clumps. Add 1/2 tsp of salt. And then you just simmer it while stirring frequently for around 15 minutes. You don't want it to stick on the bottom, and it will get quite thick and hard to stir. At the end I like to stir in a couple of big handfuls of extra sharp cheddar.
Polenta is wonderful and I will be trying it out with other combinations once my ratatouille runs out.
Korean/Japanese Inspired Dishes
If you want to eat highly flavored, low fat vegetable dishes, you can't beat Korean food. I'm throwing in Japanese because I like to combine such things as kimchi with a side of miso soup or green tea. In the picture above, I'm eating sprouted brown and red rices with homemade kimchi. Tofu obviously, plays a central part in these meals. I like to keep it simple because I really enjoy the taste of tofu as it is. So sometimes I simmer cubes in some soy sauce, water, chopped scallions, garlic. The liquid only comes up to about half the height of the tofu cubes so I give things a stir now and then. A few minutes to heat through and simmer is good for me. Winter is an excellent time for greens, so I like them sauteed with some oil and a sprinkling of soy sauce at the end. Simple and tasty! Kimchi obviously, provides the biggest punch. The other dishes are purposefully mild. I'm going to start looking for other Asian pickle dishes and will report back.