I was recently reading the revised version of Deborah Madison’s classic, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and really enjoyed the introduction. She mentioned food trends and gave some fantastic pearls on how to eat more vegetarian meals. I took and revised some of these tips and have found that they work for me and are great advice for many of my patients. Really this is just a reminder that although the garden looks the same, it is wild and full.
These simple tips for becoming veggie-centric are not new but good advice for the person who wants to eat more plants, the one who wants to try tempeh for the first time, or the perennial ethical vegan.
Reframe a meat mindset
Always make one thing the star
You’re already a side lover!
Texture, texture, texture
Growing up I don’t remember eating a lot of meat except during the holidays. Turkey at Thanksgiving, ham at Easter, beef at Christmas. This changed over the past few decades and both the American and western European diets began incorporating more meat along with a greater emphasis on the 3-meal-a-day model. At one point in my late 20s I found myself eating meat (this includes chicken) in almost all of my meals. But as child it was this formula: cereal for breakfast, cheese or a PB&J sandwich for lunch, and dinner favorites like pasta with marinara, soups & stews, and maybe once, twice a week at most, chicken cutlets. I almost never ate fish besides tunafish (did not like until late teens) or fish sticks (feel like this is a forgotten food of my 10-year old self) and it wasn’t until college that I had my first taste of sushi. In my own life and in the western diet, a rapid protein-centric influence took hold. It is still huge, supporting evidence being the great rise of plant-based meat alternatives as the new stars. That being said, reframing a meat mindset is hard but tips 1, 2, and 3 can help us all become more veggie-centric, cleanse our minds, and change our plates from the old meat adage.
Becoming veggie-centric and making a non-meat item the star of the meal might seem daunting but it is not as difficult as you think. The first easy way to incorporate this idea is to take a single vegetable and make it in big format. Enter the dramatic whole head of cauliflower or broccoli baked crispy proudly presented on a large platter reflected by a glistening sauce and sparkling beneath a zigzag drizzle. Or take a single vegetable and make it three ways, a hot mound of zucchini noodles in the center of the plate surrounded by succulent grilled zucchini ovals served with a bright succotash of zucchini, tomato, corn, and peas. Don’t forget the scores of pasta and rice dishes that make us remember.
My third tip, You’re already a side lover! is more than fun with words. It is ironically taken from a Kentucky Fried Chicken marketing campaign, a funny sign I recently saw in the distance. But Side Lovers Unite as this trend has already been discussed around Thanksgiving so bring it forward to the middle of the summer. Everybody loves the potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, and baked beans at a summer barbecue so go ahead and let your side lover self shine.
Finally texture, texture, texture. This is key in all vegetarian cooking as thoughts of pureed foods come to mind for some when they think vegetarian food. Try this texture experiment at home. Take a few raw carrots and prepare them at least three ways. Four, five, or six if you’re feeling creative. Doing that experiment will help you explore the texture and taste differences that can come from a different chop, slice, or shred, juice, boil, or bake. Bring crunch into your meals by baking at high heats or airfrying. Use cabbage, relishes, and pickles. Do not underestimate the humble crouton from the sad salad-bar square to the jagged craggy homemade varieties. Your mouth will thank you and I promise, you won’t miss the meat.